With the growing popularity of increasingly fancier and pricier 4x4 dual-cab utes caught in an engine-downsizing culture, an alternative choice that’s big on heartbeat capacity, if low on frills and somewhat budget friendly, mightn’t be the trendiest for our times. But while it's pushing against convention, the base Volkswagen Amarok Core V6 is surely hugely compelling for some buyer tastes.
What's not to like about a fulsome three-litre six-banger bolted into an honest, pared-back package? Well, how much meaty goodness has been stripped from the bone, be it in specification or in the user experience, for its still substantial $51,990 list price will dictate whether it’s any good and/or decent value.
Clearly, bang for buck is key to the Core V6’s pitch. And I’ll wager almost no-one will foot for its fifty-two-large ask without taking a good long gaze at the alternative landscape in search of justified value.
For a positive start, this entry-level six sits well below the median price ($55,240) of the broader Amarok range, and it’s a whopping $20K more affordable than the flagship TDI580 Ultimate. Looking further afield, V6 Core money otherwise slips you into the middle rung of the four-cylinder HiLux range (between SR and SR5), cross-shops the ‘old engine’ 3.2-litre five-banger Ranger XLS most closely on price, and gets you a four-pot ’Benz X250d in rudimentary Pure form. Similar coin also affords a four-cylinder Navara or Triton in their absolute flagship forms (ST-X and GLS Premium respectively).
Crucially, the Core V6 asks a five-grand premium over a similarly equipped four-banger (TDI420) Core. And judging good value depends on which numbers you favour. The six-cylinder version adds a nominal 30kW (45kW on overboost) and 110Nm (140Nm on overboost) and ups braked towing from 3000kg to 3500kg.
But trade-offs? At 9.0L/100km combined, the V6 is a half-litre thirstier than the four-cylinder Core on the form guide and, perhaps interestingly, has a lower maximum payload capacity (989kg plays 1018kg), even if by quite a slight margin.
It’s no bare cupboard for standard equipment. Outside, it sits on 17-inch alloys whereas other V6 Amaroks fit 18 to 20 inches, you get halogen rather than bi-xenon headlights, you lose front parking sensors and there’s less chrome on the grille. You also get black rather than colour-coded addenda, scubas the rear bar and mirror caps, and you lose some fancy brightwork – sidesteps, roll bar – and privacy glass some buyers won’t lose sleep over. Bar the el cheapo ‘V6 turbo diesel’ stickers on its flanks and its jacked-high rear ride height – it sits much flatter in marketing pics – it’s quite a classy and premium-looking rig.
Spec-wise, the seats get hardy Austin fabric rather than the higher-grade Salipra trim you find further up the range, and there’s a basic single-zone air-con unit rather than proper climate control. But bar some decorative trim, it’s otherwise a dead-ringer for the pricier Sportline.
Volkswagen’s done a commendable job maintaining an upmarket feel inside, much of it thanks to the sheer width of the cabin, the contemporary passenger-car-like design, the neat and clear displays, and pleasing textured satin-finish surfaces that at least look semi-premium. It sidesteps the garish aesthetics some of its Asian rivals revel in, and benefits greatly from applying good taste to the working environment.
The steering wheel is a superb leather-trimmed unit, and the clear instrumentation with monochrome driver’s screen and digital speedo isn't any cheaper than any Amarok below the Ultimate range-topper (with its colour screen). The Composition Media infotainment system, while not as fancy as the Discover model fitted to the Highline or Ultimate, offers smartphone mirroring for sat-nav, media streaming and has a CD player. It does fall short on connectivity, offering only single USB, AUX and 12-volt (a Sportline gets four) outlets.
While it's hard to ignore the blank panels on the console and central stack where switches and buttons otherwise reside in pricier variants, you get smatterings of brightwork, nice flocked door bins (to stop oddments from rattling around), neat fabric-like headlining, a rubberised phone cubby, a removable ashtray cup… Clever and thoughtful details conspiring to lift the general vibe. The device tray on the dash top is slippery hard plastic; though, to be fair, you'll only use its convenience when you’re parked up anyway.
The front seats are comfy – nothing wrong with that Austin trim – with decent height and under-thigh support, outward visibility is superb, and the switchgear is good for the class, though the reversing camera is only modest in size and a bit too 'fish-eye' distorted. It’s a welcoming space for the daily grind or when long-hauling, but there is an annoying hump in the driver’s side floor (presumably for some powertrain or exhaust clearance).
As we discovered in reviews past, the second row is more 'afterthought' than up front, its packaging maximising head and shoulder room well, but leg room is modest at best. Disappointing is an almost complete lack of rear occupant facility: no air vents, no device connectivity and – as we forever begrudge – no rear airbags. Add the lack of side skirts hindering access for youngsters, and the Amarok really is a tough sell as a part-time family hauler.
Volkswagen advertises the Amarok ute tub as widest in the class, and should you need to load a pallet there’s adequate (1222mm) clearance between the inner guards even with, as fitted to our test ute, the five-piece plastic tub liner accessory. The liner has handy low-mount tie-down points, though there are no hooks for an elasticised tonneau cover in the rear bodywork. Volkswagen only offers the more elaborate, if more secure, lockable hard roller cover.
The tailgate has a low 780mm load height, and when dropped the tailgate itself can withstand a 200kg load (which is handy), but there’s no 12V outlet in the tub (which isn’t).
How quickly you forget omissions in the addenda once you hit the road and open up its headlining feature: that 3.0-litre 24-valve V6. In theory, 165kW and 550Nm seem merely ample for what’s quite a big 5.25m 2.1-tonne rig, but jeez doesn't that oiler and the beaut eight-speed automatic do a fantastic job of thrusting an unladen Amarok towards the horizon. And that’s off the mark on the lower gears: throttle pinned in third or fourth above 50km/h and that extra, overboosted 15kW and 30Nm fatten up the ute’s roll-on punch very nicely indeed.
How's it feel against the big daddy 190kW/580Nm Ultimate? Fortuitously, we had the latter on hand for an impromptu comparison. And, frankly, the latter (7.3sec 0–100km/h claimed) doesn't feel to have the 0.6sec advantage to 100km/h as advertised. Why? Call it some placebo effect, but, as resident off-road guru Sam Purcell agrees, you can feel the base version’s 150kg weight saving by the seat of the pants. Around town, unladen or laden, the Core never seems to break a sweat and is plenty quick enough, particularly for the vehicle mass and handling package in play.
Volkswagen touts the Core as something of the off-road specialist in the range, and it’s certainly no different in spec to pricier variants bar the high-profile 17-inch wheels. Further, that permanent all-wheel-drive system – mechanical locking rear differential engaged or not – doesn't just pay dividends on a beaten path, because those narrow all-terrain tyres don’t have a huge amount of purchase on tarmac, particularly in wet conditions. I wouldn’t tie this powertrain to the switchable 2WD driveline as favoured by most of the Amarok’s rivals unless you’re a burnout enthusiast, put it that way…
The Core V6’s on-road manners are impressive by diesel dual-cab ute measures, and the breed has long proven to be the most pleasant on-road experience in the segment. But the whole ‘car-like’ cliché is, in my opinion, a bit of an optimistic stretch.
Those 17s do add an extra layer of suppleness, granted, but without a load in the back to settle the suspension, the ride quality is resolved if still a bit fidgety and jiggly to be certifiably comfortable in a passenger vehicle – rather than a commercial vehicle – context.
There’s a similar sentiment with the handling package. Commuting around town, the Amarok is surefooted, confident and, bar the excessively hefty steering at parking speed, light and easy to drive. But it doesn’t take much enthusiasm to push through the tyres’ modest grip. A real plus in the dynamic package, though, is the ventilated four-wheel-disc braking system, which is powerful, progressive and confidence-inspiring even loaded up with occupants and payload.
Perhaps the highlight of the on-road driving experience is the refinement in noise suppression. There’s some chatter from the V6 under load, but it’s quite quiet for a diesel. Yet, unstressed and on the move, the powertrain sonics lower to a whisper and the sound-deadening properties of the cabin structure from outside noise is superb. It’s surprising how much this boosts the Amarok’s upmarket ambience vibe for a device that isn’t trying to be upmarket.
But for all the tangible goodness, there’s one big, glaring criticism in real-world ownership, and that’s its somewhat dwindling safety credentials. A lack of airbags for rear occupants is one thing, but the absence of contemporary safety technologies increasingly adopted in the traditionally lacklustre ute segment – AEB, collision warning, lane-departure warning/keeping, blind spot and rear cross-traffic alert systems, et cetera – is becoming a bigger and bigger markdown for this ageing Amarok generation.
Its rudimentary suite comprising of ABS, stability control, front occupant airbags, together with trailer sway control and multi-collision braking (post-collision braking), isn't comprehensive enough.
That five-star ANCAP rating (for four-cylinder 4x4 variants) is now an eight-year-old hangover from 2011, so today's V6 version is effectively unrated. And with the recently announced VW-Ford tie-up and likely long gestation period of a co-developed ute, it’s unlikely there’ll be a revamped, markedly safer generation Amarok any time soon.
Ownership-wise, the Core V6 is covered by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and comes with one year of complimentary roadside assistance. Servicing intervals are 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, which will cost a total of $3228 over the first five years, or on average $645.60 per annum, which is around $75 more (average yearly calculation) than the Amarok diesel-four 4x4 and one of the priciest Volkswagens to service.
Back in 2017, at the introduction of V6 power for the Amarok, we praised the powertrain but lamented the exclusion of safety and driver-assistance systems. And two years on, buyers now have the choice of a measurably more affordable variant with much of the good stuff still included, but nothing in the way of improvements necessarily added.
All of which leaves buyers with a new variant that's not necessarily a better Amarok in fixing existing shortcomings, though, granted, the unpretentious pricing and nature do make it oh-so appealing. At least, that is, for certain buyer tastes.
During our time with the Core V6, I also drove the ’Benz X350d, the $20K-pricier Amarok Ultimate, and Ford’s flagship off-road fun machine, the Ranger Raptor – perhaps the conceptual antithesis of the Core V6 in ute-dom – and Volkswagen’s cut-priced six-banger remained a firm personal favourite, if one that's clearly not for everyone.