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Amongst the range of 4x4 utes available in Australia, Volkswagen’s Amarok is probably the most different and unique. It goes about its own agenda from a different point of view compared to the (mostly) Japanese-branded competition. While the Amarok’s sales volumes aren’t big compared to the leaders in the segment, Volkswagen has managed to wrangle a dedicated and enthusiastic following of buyers to its brand.
Competition is as fierce as ever, and there is little reason to see why it’s going to slow down any time soon. If you leave your product without constant updates and tweaks (or strong sales incentives), you’ll find others helping themselves to your slice of pie. The 4x4 ute buyers aren’t afraid of spending big on top-spec utes, either. And with that in mind, Volkswagen has a new variant available: the muscly Amarok TDI580 Ultimate.
Most importantly, the V6 diesel has been tickled by Volkswagen engineers, who are keen to stay as numero uno for power and torque against the Mercedes X 350d. Previously making 165kW and 550Nm, the 3.0-litre compacted iron graphite engine is now uprated to 190kW@4500rpm and 580Nm@1400–3000rpm.
That’s a lot of torque through a very low and very wide range of revs. You can feel it, too. The V6 is quick to respond, hurling the Amarok forward with a blunt force that no other ute (save for the X350d) can come close to. If your number-one priority is what lies under the bonnet, then this is the ute for you. There is more power available, as well. For short intervals, the power output goes up to 200kW with the unique ‘overboost’ function.
As impressive as it is for power, it’s also quite a refined unit overall. Six-cylinders idle smoothly, without much noise or vibration coming into the cabin. And when you feed that throttle in, it maintains composure nicely, with the single variable-nozzle turbo whooshing loudly to suck in all of the air it can as you are thrust forward. Maybe that bold red ‘580’ lettering on the back helps it along.
It’s worth noting that SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) has made a return on the Amarok 580, helping keep emissions on the right side of the law. For the time being, this is the only 4WD ute that has this system.
The eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox does a good job of handling everything that engine is giving out. You don’t really notice it going about its business and rifling through gears with little fuss. The Amarok doesn’t have trouble putting the power down thanks to another unique selling point: full-time 4WD. It uses a Torsen centre differential splitting torque with a slight bias towards the rear. It’s another no-fuss part of the Amarok, making it feel very planted and stable.
Some think that low-range is on life support, and maybe they are right. I’m not 100 per cent sold on a life without low-range, which you can read about elsewhere. Safe to say, the Amarok is capable enough in the right pair of hands for anything but the most incessant, relentlessly tough off-road work. Not having low-range means the gearbox is left to pick up the tab, working hard and getting hot. An automatic gearbox likes heat as much as I like diets. Not much, in case you’re wondering.
Despite not having a low-range transfer case with the automatic gearbox, the Amarok can still tango with the rest of the field in low-speed, off-road shenanigans. It’s done via gearbox and throttle tuning, giving you good low-speed control. This teams up with a really nicely tuned off-road traction-control system to make the Amarok very capable overall, and easy to drive over rough terrain.
The centre differential isn’t lockable, however, which means the off-road traction-control system is left to pick up the slack. Luckily, it’s quite good. But, it would be better if it could be locked. There is a rear differential lock, which is always a good thing. Don’t think that the Amarok is not capable off-road because it lacks proper reduction gearing: you’d be wrong.
What’s definitely not good for off-road are the 20-inch wheels, which although they look blingy and flash for the urban commute, don’t bode well for technical and challenging obstacles. But, let’s call a spade a spade: precious few who spend the primo dollars on this top-spec Amarok are going to have rock crawling and desert hauling high up on their list. However, it would be nice for Volkswagen to consider a smaller wheel diameter option, similar to Ford’s 18-inch wheel option on the top-spec Everest Titanium.
We were looking forward to hooking up something heavy on the back to see how the Amarok 580 goes with a bit of weight, considering the hefty torque available. What I really like is all of that torque coming on tap at 1400rpm, and very low in the rev range compared to other diesel motors. Alas, our tester didn’t have a tow bar fitted. The towing capacity is 3500kg with a 6000kg GCM. That means at full GVM, you’ve got 2920kg of towing capacity left over. And when towing the full 3.5 tonnes, you’ve got just over 300kg of payload remaining.
If you’re pining for big V6 power but don’t necessarily want all of the niceties, a 165kW/550Nm engine tune is available further down the Amarok range. The V6 engine will also soon be available for around $50,000 in a Core 4x4 specification, with a manual gearbox, part-time 4WD and a low-range transfer case.
The interior of the Amarok sings a different tune to other utes, going for a more sedated yet salubrious overall feel. Quality feels great, with nice touchpoints inside and an efficient, uncluttered layout. For an overall premium feel, I reckon Volkswagen has it nailed. Some might be underwhelmed by the size and visual impact of the 6.33-inch infotainment screen, but it is fast and easy to use. For those who depend upon it, the system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Special mention must go to the ‘Ergocomfort’ seats fitted up to the high-spec Amarok. Aside from looking special and well finished, I found them impeccably comfortable. They are cosseting enough, and give you great support for long stints behind the wheel. Lumbar and thigh support, in particular, are adjustable and very good.
The Amarok still has the significant shortcoming of no airbags in the second row, despite other updates making their way into the range. It’s another area where the Amarok is unique amongst its peers, but this time it’s not one to be proud of. It’s also lacking some of the more advanced safety gear that is starting to make its way into the segment.
Volkswagen has recently upped the ante in terms of factory warranty, matching many of its competitors with a five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty offered on all vehicles, including commercial units. Considering the kind of electro-wizardry under the bonnet, and the fact that this vehicle is capable of off-road and big towing, that big warranty is a pretty big statement by Volkswagen. Servicing is every 12 months or 15,000km, or whichever comes first.
How much does it cost to Service an Amarok? You can opt to pre-pay your servicing costs via their Service Plan program, costing $1,533 for three years or $2,568 for five years. Otherwise, your first five years of servicing will cost each year (and in order): $482, $638, $590, $923, $428. Total: $3,007.
The Amarok has a clear buyer or two in mind: cashed-up urbanites who want a 4WD ute, but also want high levels of refinement in the drive and ride. It’s also quite appealing to those looking to tow full-time because of all that brawn under the bonnet. The end product does leave you with a bit of a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of deal. Although the driveline and ride are a clear winner amongst the competition, along with a really nicely executed interior, there are some big flaws that buyers need to be aware of. Whether you’re happy to live with those shortcomings comes down to you.