The current-generation Volkswagen Amarok is nearing a decade in production, making it the elder statesman of the dual-cab ute market. But it speaks to the competency of the original design that it’s still a compelling proposition, albeit with a few caveats.
We’ve just wrapped up testing 11 rival pick-ups against each other, including this low-grade 2020 Volkswagen Amarok Sportline V6. What’s clear is that while it’s lacking a few mod-cons and active safety features found in top sellers such as the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux, the core (unintentional pun) engineering is still worth commendation.
It sports a diesel V6 that’s also served time in various premium SUVs from both VW and Audi, an eight-speed automatic from Germany’s pre-eminent gearbox supplier ZF, a road-friendly full-time 4x4 system instead of a part-time one, disc brakes at both ends compared to many rivals that use drums, and top-shelf Pirelli Scorpion AT tyres.
All of this is particularly impressive if you’re after a workhorse that spends most of its time either towing your toys or covering miles on tarmac, given its components seem particularly suited to those chores. You’d be forgiven for looking at this as an SUV with a tub, or even a vague approximation of a sports truck.
We should also add that the Amarok V6’s relevance to Australia is paramount. We’re the world’s biggest market for this version, ahead of Brazil and Argentina (where it’s made). A staggering 80-odd per cent of Amaroks sold here this year are fitted with the V6 option instead of the base 2.0-litre four.
The price of this one is $56,590 plus on-road costs, though at the time of writing it was subject to temporary campaign pricing of $53,990 drive-away, which should be the starting point from which you negotiate. That lines it up nicely with the volume-selling Ranger XLT and HiLux SR5.
The 3.0-litre V6 donk makes 165kW of power between 2500 and 4500rpm, and 550Nm of torque between 1500 and 2500rpm. By contrast, the HiLux’s 2.8-litre four makes 130kW/450Nm, and the Ranger’s new 2.0-litre BiTurbo makes 157kW/500Nm. No other competitor at the sub-$60K pricepoint can match the Vee-Dub’s outputs, either.
It’s good enough for a punchy 0–100km/h sprint time of 7.9 seconds, much of which is also down to the ‘4Motion’ permanent 4x4 system with a 60 per cent rear bias and a Torsen diff, which means you aren’t getting about with a RWD set-up on roads until switching into 4H like most competitors (Mitsubishi Triton with its clever two-mode 4H system excepted).
It’s a ripping engine, which means the VW absolutely hammers compared to most of its more agricultural competitors. And on wet tarmac or gravel its traction is first rate, with none of the tail-wagging we’re used to in the ute class. It also stops better than most thanks to its 300mm rear discs.
The final piece of the puzzle is the eight-speed auto with manual mode, with a first gear designed as a sort of pseudo low-range ratio in lieu of a conventional transfer case, and an eighth designed for highway cruising at low engine speeds to save fuel. It’s the second-most ratios in the class, behind the Ford’s impressive new 10AT.
Other key stats are the class-par 3.5-tonne braked towing capacity (however, the towball load limit is 300kg), and combined-cycle fuel consumption of 9.0L/100km from an 80L tank that I had little issue matching.
Dynamically, the Amarok has double-wishbone suspension at the front and leaf springs with stabiliser bar at the rear. Philosophically, this is one ute that would lend itself to multi-stage coil springs like a Nissan Navara, but VW has stuck with the traditional approach.
Payload is a competitive 976kg thanks to its 3080kg GVM, and we found the Amarok to be impressively composed with 650kg in the tub and a 100kg driver aboard. One big selling point is the tub’s width of 1222mm between the arches. That’s sufficient for a standard pallet.
Dynamically, it’s mostly good: that AWD system we mentioned already, while the hydraulic-assisted steering is well weighted. However, when unladen the rear does skip around a little more than the softly sprung Ranger does, and over undulations the Amarok does ‘betray’ its commercial origins. With an empty tray you’re not going to mistake the body control for that of an SUV.
Off-road, the VW might surprise you. Without low-range it relies almost entirely on a short first gear and hill-descent control electronics to climb over most obstacles. With two wheels in the air, the traction-control system stops airborne wheels from spinning. In instances where it struggles, the rear diff lock can be engaged.
The 192mm clearance and 500mm wading depth are modest, but what isn’t is its off-road program system that modifies the vehicle's stability control to suit the surface, benefitting stopping distances on gravel and allowing for extra wheel slip off-road. It’s also very stable on side angles thanks to its width, and can handle 45-degree climbs at payload.
For more detail, check out Paul Maric’s detailed piece testing the mechanically comparable Core V6 against the HiLux SR5 off-road.
The Amarok’s interior remains great in many ways despite its age. The tough plastic trims are beautifully put together, and unlike a number of rivals it gets a telescopic steering column. The overall body width also means the distance between you and the front passenger feels greater than in other competitors. There’s also a heap of available storage spots.
It’s not exactly brimming with mod-cons, since it’s the drivetrain that commands a premium. You get hard-wearing cloth seats, two-zone climate control, a reversing camera, parking sensors at both ends, cruise control, a leather steering wheel, a smallish 6.3-inch screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (but no sat-nav), a USB input, four 12V inputs, rain-sensing wipers, a digital speedo, 18-inch alloy wheels, and halogen headlights.
If you want ‘lifestyle’ add-ons like Bi-Xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, side steps, and a sports bar, you’ll need to opt for the higher-grade V6 Highline that costs another $4500 based on RRP. You also have to put a key in the ignition barrel and turn it, which feels a bit antiquated.
There’s also a dearth of safety tech. You get a multi-collision braking system that stops you from rolling forwards freely if rear-ended, and front and side airbags for front occupants. But a lack of airbags for rear occupants remains a glaring issue, especially since every competitor at this price does offer these. Moreover, back-seat leg room isn’t great, though the seat bases flip up handily.
There’s also no autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitor, lane-departure alert or active cruise control. More and more rival utes such as the top-selling Ranger, HiLux and Triton are getting some or all of these features now, and safety is more of an agenda item in the LCV space than ever before. Finally, while it does have a five-star NCAP crash rating, this was achieved way back in 2011, and the market has evolved.
Naturally, you can accessorise your Amarok with a tub-liner, tailgate damper, rubber mats, roof loading platform, and either a hard rolling tub cover or soft tonneau cover from your VW dealer, or by delving into the flourishing aftermarket.
From an ownership angle, Volkswagen has come to the party by expanding its warranty to five years with no distance limit. But servicing such a premium engine remains quite expensive, despite the solid 12-month/15,000km intervals. Based on VW’s capped-price plan, the first five visits cost (respectively): $515, $713, $607, $878 and $515.
Evaluating the Amarok Sportline V6 is actually quite simple. Its engine performance, general road manners and behaviour when towing or lugging a load are hard to beat, but if you’re buying a premium pick-up for its modern tech, luxury features and the latest safety systems (particularly if you’re one of the growing list of people using a dual-cab as a second family car), then it’s in fact one to avoid.