So, you’ve got around $55,000 to spend on your next ute. You’re tossing up between a trusty four-cylinder diesel Toyota HiLux SR5 and venturing out for what seems like the bargain of the century, a turbocharged V6 Volkswagen Amarok Core diesel.
Bargain of the century is a relative term, simply because most other manufacturers in this segment churn out four-cylinder diesel jobs like they’re going out of fashion. So picking up a V6 diesel for the same price just seems like a no-brainer, but is it?
We’ve extensively tested both the Amarok V6 and HiLux SR5 in the past, so you can check out those reviews separately, while this review will focus specifically on how they perform off-road. We’ve used the Australian Automotive Research Centre for this test given the variety of off-road conditions we can simulate in the one spot.
Volkswagen recently introduced the off-road-focussed Amarok Core V6 to a range that previously kicked off with the four-cylinder version of the Core. The HiLux has also received a specification change and a facelift as part of the MY19 range, plus now comes with a five-year warranty, so what better time to head off-road and see how these two compare?
Kicking off from $38,490 (plus on-road costs), the Volkswagen Amarok range starts with the rear-wheel-drive four-cylinder with eight-speed automatic transmission. The Amarok Core V6 is priced from $52,590 (plus on-road costs), but is currently being advertised for $49,990 drive-away, and is available exclusively with an eight-speed automatic transmission (there is a manual gearbox coming for the V6).
Under the bonnet of the Amarok is a turbocharged six-cylinder diesel that produces 165kW of power and 550Nm of torque, sending torque through a constant all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed automatic transmission.
According to Volkswagen, the Amarok consumes 9.0 litres of fuel per 100km on the combined cycle. Even with our off-road stint of predominantly low-speed driving, we came fairly close to that figure pulling in 10.2L/100km.
While it may look somewhat barren on the outside, the Amarok Core is equipped with most of the modern features you’d expect to see. You’ll find:
What once was the top of the HiLux range, the SR5 now sits beneath a couple of special editions. Starting from $19,990, the HiLux Workmate kicks things off as a rear-wheel drive, low-riding manual ute with a 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
The range steps all the way through to the SR5, which is priced from $54,440 (plus on-road costs) for the six-speed manual SR5. A six-speed automatic transmission adds an extra $2000 to the asking price.
Powering the HiLux is a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 130kW of power and 420Nm of torque, sending torque through a six-speed manual transmission and to the rear wheels (unless four-wheel-drive high/low-range is selected).
It too can be had as a drive-away deal at the moment with a $54,440 drive-away price (free registration, stamp duty, dealer delivery and CTP).
As you’d expect, the smaller engine affords Toyota some leeway for extra features, coming standard with:
In the context of off-road driving, both of these utes offer rugged interiors that are easier to clean. Arguably, the Amarok does the best job with a vinyl floor that could be hosed out if required, compared to carpets in the HiLux.
From a visual perspective, the Core offers lots of hard plastic surfaces that scratch easily, but upon first glance it’s a presentable interior that aims to offer a split between ruggedness and visual appeal.
If you’re out in the bush, you’re going to love the ability to use off-road maps through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – a function that you can’t use on the HiLux.
Away from the technology, there’s a desperate lack of modern safety equipment on both of these vehicles, but the Amarok stands out the most with a lack of airbags.
While there are front and side airbags in the first row, the second row is unprotected and features no airbags at all. The HiLux steps it up slightly with seven airbags (including a knee airbag), but critically both Volkswagen and Toyota fail to offer their utes in Australia with potentially life-saving autonomous emergency braking (AEB) technology that stops the car if you don’t.
That’s despite AEB being available on some HiLux models sold in Europe. Poor form, Toyota.
If you’re hauling mates on an off-road adventure, they’re not going to love being wedged into the rear of the Amarok. While there’s adequate shoulder room due to almost 100mm extra width, there’s a desperate shortage of knee room, especially if the driver or front passenger occupies a position that has their seat pushed back.
It’s better in the HiLux, but only marginally. On the upside, the HiLux comes with rear air vents and a centre armrest, which you’ll miss out on in the Amarok.
So from a presentation and functionality point of view, the HiLux is a winner here with an interior that really shines. But if it’s modern infotainment technology you crave, it’s hard to look past the Amarok. We’d just recommend giving it a wide berth if you want to carry kids in the back seat given the lack of safety equipment.
Before we go any further, it’s worth pointing out that while we would have liked an automatic HiLux for this comparison, we were only able to get our hands on a six-speed manual, so there’s a minor discrepancy between the two vehicles in that regard.
Also, for the record, most of Toyota’s HiLux sales (over 60 per cent) are automatics and most Amaroks sold are V6 variants.
For our off-road test, we lined up a few tests to benchmark the utes. These are fairly basic tests, but they’re things you would encounter while driving off-road to your favourite camping spot.
The first test we devised was an offset mogul that aims to lift diagonal wheels off the ground, which prompts the four-wheel-drive system to attempt torque distribution to wheels with traction, whether that’s by virtue of a locked differential or by traction control.
We sent the Amarok over it first.
One of the things that constantly surprises us with the Amarok is just how impressive it is off-road without a low-range transmission. It relies almost entirely on a short first gear and electronics to help it climb over most obstacles.
With two wheels in the air and the car seesawing, the traction-control system stops rotating airborne wheels from spinning before shunting torque to wheels with traction.
We found that it only needed a light lean on the throttle to overcome wheel slip and it would continue over the mogul without fuss. In instances where it struggled, the rear differential lock could easily be engaged with the push of a button.
The HiLux performed well over this obstacle, too, but we found that it would allow a lot more wheel slip before intervening with traction control. On top of that, it required the driver to stay on the throttle while it sorted out traction.
If you were to ease off at any point without staying in the throttle, it would bog down and lose the momentum it had built up edging forward.
The other downside to the HiLux is that the rear differential lock can’t be activated without the ute in low-range. It’s not overly difficult to do, but it’s something you need to have sorted before you discover you need to be in low-range.
With that said, if you simply keep stuck into the throttle, the HiLux always just manages to walk its way out of any snarls you get it stuck in.
Our next test was a set of deep ruts designed to stop both of these in their tracks. The intention of this test was to see how far we could progress before stopping and how easy it would be to recover the ute when trying to reverse out of it.
Much to our surprise, the Amarok became beached a lot earlier than we thought it would. That’s partly thanks to its meagre 192mm ground clearance. It would scrape on even the shortest of mounds and got stuck in this particular test long before the HiLux threw in the towel.
We also found when all four wheels lacked traction, the Amarok didn’t perform as well as it did in the offset mogul test. It required us to engage the rear differential lock and disable traction control to get out of the rut.
The HiLux in comparison made it a lot further through the ruts before also getting its differential stuck on the top edge of the rut. It offers 279mm of ground clearance, but you need to read into that a little further before assuming it offers almost 100mm extra clearance beneath the body.
Toyota quotes the HiLux figure as running clearance, not ground clearance (despite what the specifications say). The difference is running clearance is the distance from the ground to the vehicle’s lowest point excluding its unsprung mass.
When the HiLux became beached, it was much easier to recover. By switching off traction control, it easily walked out of it by dialling up throttle in reverse and staying in it until the ute walked out of it.
Walking both cars over rocks again demonstrated that the extra clearance on offer from the HiLux gave it an edge over the Amarok.
The main difference between the two (aside from the rocks touching the underbody of the Amarok more often) was the ride firmness in the HiLux. It was noticeably firmer than the Amarok, which meant every rock or imperfection you drove over was translated through to the cabin.
Our next test was a wade through water. The Amarok offers 500mm of wading depth, while the HiLux steps it up a notch with a superior 700mm of wading depth. Crossing a 500mm-deep crossing, both vehicles made it through without any dramas.
The only thing we did notice was the piece of plastic that came off the front lower corner of the Amarok. Truth be told – we only noticed it was missing when writing this comparison; we didn’t realise it had come off while we were crossing the river.
Finally, it was a steep descent to test both utes’ hill descent control systems. Both are pretty straightforward to operate with a simple push button to activate.
The key difference between the two is that the Amarok’s works as part of a broader off-road program that modifies the vehicle’s stability control, which benefits stopping distances on gravel and allows for extra wheel slip off-road.
Despite both doing the same thing at the end of the day – controlling speed while descending a hill – it’s the Amarok’s system that works best. It was quieter and a bit more accurate when descending over loose rocks and gravel.
If you sum up the off-road experience as a whole, the HiLux takes the win. It really is an allrounder when thrown at virtually any off-road situation. It’s hard to stop when all the systems are working in tune.
Finally, both Volkswagen and Toyota have come to the party with five-year warranties, which is great news for consumers.
Over a five-year period, the Amarok V6 Core will cost you $3228 with service intervals every 12 months or 15,000km.
In the other corner, the HiLux will set you back $2400 over a five-year period. But, keep in mind that servicing is required every six months or 10,000km.
The latest addition of a manual diesel particulate filter burn switch in the HiLux means you’re less likely to run into issues with the diesel particulate filter in your HiLux.
We thought the Amarok would walk all over the HiLux off-road given its punchier V6 diesel engine and advanced electronics. But, even with a manual disadvantage, the HiLux really impressed off-road. Nothing felt forced, and while some of the traction-control systems were a little noisy, it’s virtually unstoppable in low-range with its rear differential locked.
Out on the open road, the Amarok really excels with a stellar six-cylinder diesel engine and a refined ride and handling combination. That’s where the HiLux is really left behind – the ride is still too firm out of the box and the diesel engine lacks any punch, which leaves it lacking in this field.
Which would we pick? Tough call. If you’re going to be spending a stack of time off-road, it’s the HiLux. It’ll go anywhere, and being a Toyota it’s been tested to death.
If, on the other hand, you’re only occasionally heading off-road and potentially plan on towing, the Amarok ticks all the boxes. It does the off-road thing well enough for most people, and wipes the floor with most other utes for highway cruising and overtaking.
Our ratings for this comparison are entirely for the off-road component with the total rating not an average of the individual ratings. You can see our individual reviews of the Amarok here and the HiLux here.
Have you faced the V6 versus four-cylinder dilemma in this segment? Which way did you go and why?