We head to Germany to test drive the updated Volkswagen Amarok. The highlight is that newly added turbo-diesel V6 engine, which will land in Australia in two trim grades. Will it be worth the big spend?
It’s hard to believe, but the Volkswagen Amarok has been available in Australia since 2010 (an automatic transmission joined the range in 2012) and now there’s an upgraded 2017 Volkswagen Amarok V6 heading to Australia in the last quarter of 2016. CarAdvice headed to Germany to test the new 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 oiler on- and off-road ahead of its local launch.
The only real criticism the Volkswagen Amarok copped when it first landed in Australia back in 2010 was engine-related. Tradies, punters, Volkswagen fans desperate for an alternative to the current crop, existing dual-cab ute owners and off-road explorers all wondered whether a 2.0-litre, twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine would be too highly strung and too small in capacity to deal with the kind of abuse dual-cab ute owners in Australia love dishing out. The addition of an excellent eight-speed automatic, though, proved that a clever transmission can extract the best out of even a small capacity engine.
Anecdotally at least, the 2.0-litre engine seems to be taking care of business quite well, and it's pertinent to remember the same engine also powers the T6 Transporter, for example - a pretty beefy people-mover within the Volkswagen fleet. In all our off-road testing, we've never felt that the small capacity four-pot was left wanting, such was the urge offered by the twin-turbo system and exceptional automatic gearbox.
While the Amarok didn’t move the dual cab utility segment as far forward as some of us might have hoped, it did bring build quality, interior ergonomics, fit and finish and a car-like driving sense to a segment that previously had none of those factors. Dual-cab ute owners had been forced for years to cop sub-par interiors, loud, unrefined engines, cheap plastics and truck-like driving dynamics. The Amarok changed all that and suddenly the term ‘car-like’ entered dual-cab utility reviews.
In turn, that forced the whole dual cab segment to step the game up. As you would have seen in our recent dual cab ute mega test, pretenders to the Amarok’s throne are many, with Ranger and BT-50 in particular, really lifting the all round dual-cab segment. Australia is an important Amarok market for Volkswagen too - we were the second biggest export market in both 2014 and 2015 behind Brazil, and Australia is currently ahead of Brazil for 2016. You’d like to think that means Australia would have some influence in how to equip the Amarok globally - although with the safety kit that’s continued to be omitted, we’re not so sure.
Now though, Volkswagen trumps the competition in powertrain terms, at least with a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine that outsizes Mazda and Ford, which both use five-cylinder engines. Contrary to what we initially thought, the engine switch isn’t related to the perceived threat that comes in the form of the still in test-mule stage Mercedes-Benz dual cab. Rather, it’s the fact the existing 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that powers the Amarok doesn't meet Euro VI emissions standards.
There are some subtle interior additions we’ll get to in a minute, but the headline story is obviously the new diesel engine. While three different tunes are available in Europe, Australia will get only the most powerful V6 initially (165kW/550Nm), in two trim grades - Highline and Aventura. Both will sit above the current four-cylinder Amarok range, and while we don’t have pricing and final specification details yet, it’s fair to assume both will be more expensive. How much more expensive? We don’t know the answer to that just yet.
In the V6 Amarok's cabin, there's higher quality nappa leather trimming ergoComfort seats, Apple CarPlay, a redesigned instrument panel and that same car-like feel to the ergonomics and insulation. The 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system is clear, there's a rear-view camera as standard, and our test models had optional 14-way electric front seats. The addition of an Apple CarPlay suitable system lifts the feeling of tech within the cabin and brings the Amarok in line with European SUVs. We loved the seats, both in terms of the leather trim but also the comfort - they are supportively contoured and conducive to longer drives.
The engine, which generates that solid slab of torque from 1500rpm, is backed by an eight-speed automatic, and features 24 valves, overhead camshafts and and BlueMotion technology. The European fuel usage claim is 7.6L/100km. The impressive torque figure is a 130Nm step up from the best the four-cylinder can generate. The V6 engine will come standard with VW's 4Motion permanent AWD system, meaning no low range, but there is an off-road mode and rear diff lock standard.
We tested the V6 Amarok on-road with both 19- and 20-inch wheels, but the vehicles we tested on the off-road circuit were fitted with 17-inch wheels and aggressive off-road tyres. Australian buyers wanting to head off-road, then, will be pleased to note they can retro-fit smaller wheels with chunkier sidewall tyres (and proper off-road tread blocks) despite the standard four-wheel disc brake system. Volkswagen Australia is keen to offer buyers the option of different wheel and tyre packages when the V6 Amarok lands in Australia later this year.
We cranked the Amarok up to an indicated 200km/h on the autobahn and it was rock solid at that speed. The new ‘servotronic’ electric power steering system has a meaty heft to it at parking speeds, but the payoff is exceptional balance and surety at highway speeds. You could argue that a little bit less resistance at low speed would be ideal, but we only noticed that heft with the 20-inch tyres.
The interior is incredibly refined right up to 200km/h, too. There’s no clatter from the engine bay at startup, no nasty diesel noises low down in the rev range, and a solid strum as the V6 works up to redline but once you're up to speed, you can engage in a normal conversation with second row passengers without raising your voice. All in all, it’s a very non-diesel experience aside from the thumping torque just off idle. We only noticed a hint of wind noise on the variant we drove with a canopy fitted. Otherwise, the whole experience at speed is impressively quiet. Around town, you could easily convince passengers that they were in a luxury SUV, the interior is that well insulated.
The gearbox is likewise worthy of praise. The eight-speed automatic is a quality item regardless of which engine it’s working in tandem with, and once again the broad spread of ratios and slick shift speed makes for an enjoyable experience. Our test models had paddle shifters, which worked snappily, but Aussie buyers probably won't use them that often. Leave the gearbox in auto and let it do it's thing. Even shifting near redline, the gearbox is smooth, while at town speeds, you barely even notice it going about its work. We think having an engine that is so punchy, but so refined under the bonnet will be a big selling point for Volkswagen in Australia.
The four-wheel disc brakes wash off plenty of speed quickly too - an important feature for a portly dual-cab ute that can belt along at 200km/h. The V6 Amarok weighs in at more than 2000kg. It’s almost comical that rear disc brakes are a feature worthy of mention in 2016, but they are, and the segment will be the better for it when they are implemented across the board. The brakes worked impressively off-road too, even when they were drenched in water crossings.
Off-road, the 4Motion system impresses in how it gets down to the dirty work required of it without low range. The electronics and gearbox work well together, there’s more than enough wheel travel and ground clearance and the rear diff lock is a sensible addition too. As mentioned, our off-road test examples were shod with off-road tyres, but we’re sure the Amarok would have easily tackled the off-road course with road tyres. We loved that the hill descent control was so subtle, you barely noticed it working. There was no squealing, creaking, heaving or any of those nasty sounds that make a 4WD seem like it is breaking - a very impressive tech feature that works.
While some buyers won't care, we still feel the omission of vital safety kit like second-row airbags is a negative for the Volkswagen Amarok. In fact, with that feature, and active safety features now standard on some of the competitors, this V6 Amarok would almost certainly be the head of the dual-cab class. For now, though, it is close - but no cigar. The V6 engine is impressive and the Amarok is still the most enjoyable dual cab to drive though, which is why we rate it as highly as we do.