2020 marks 10 years since the Amarok was first unveiled to the public, becoming Volkswagen’s first attempt at the forever-evolving 4x4 ute segment.
While never taking on firm category favourites in terms of outright numbers, you can certainly say that the Amarok has managed to give the status quo a bit of a shake-up. In that past decade, the Amarok has continued soldiering on valiantly amidst constant updates and tweaks.
The 2020 Volkswagen Amarok Canyon is the latest limited-edition model, with only 350 units slated for sale in Australia.
The V6 Amarok Canyon has a list price of $57,990, which slots it in between Sportline ($56,990) and Highline ($61,090) trims. Further abroad in the V6 range is the newly minted Core manual at $49,590, and the range-topping Ultimate 580 at $72,790.
From the outside, Canyon specification gets dark-tinted tail-lights, 17-inch alloys with a machined finish, bi-xenon headlights, special Canyon decals, and a black rear bumper.
The interior is also unique to the Canyon, with a black headliner and highlights that match (in our case) the no-cost Outback Orange exterior hue. There’s no leather, nor is there any electric adjustment to be had. However, it’s an interior that is ergonomically sound. For those looking to spend bulk hours behind the wheel each day, the Amarok is a good place to do it.
If that burnished, eye-catching orange isn’t your jam, there’s also a no-cost Candy White. Or, stump up $700 and get a pearl Deep Black or metallic Indium Grey.
The passing of time does leave the Amarok’s interior with a few wrinkles these days. While the infotainment display benefits from having Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, it ultimately lacks in overall size. The same can be said for the multifunction display, which lets you flick through your basic array of readouts and functions.
While four 12V plugs dotted around the cabin is nice (one is still a bona-fide cigarette lighter), the solitary USB plug could use a companion or two in these modern times.
The centre console isn’t as big as you’d might think, and half of it is taken up by the handbrake. There’s a good nook for phones and wallets up front, however, and the door bins (lined, by the way) are a good size.
Despite being aged, it’s a good interior overall. In typical Volkswagen fashion, the steering wheel and gearstick feel quality in the hand, and it all feels solidly bolted together.
There are a few omissions to dole out: no keyless entry or push-button start, no blind-spot monitoring, no digital radio, and no rear air vents.
While we’re on the subject of shortcomings, there are a few more punches to throw: no automatic wipers, no adaptive cruise control, no autonomous emergency braking and no rear curtain airbags. The Amarok does have a five-star ANCAP safety rating, but it’s an old rating from 2011 that can’t be compared to recent submissions.
The Amarok’s long tenure hasn’t stunted its solid on-road credentials, either around town or as a kilometre crusher. The ride feels firm at times without being harsh, and there’s a particularly car-like nature to the way the Amarok steers, accelerates and brakes.
The 245/65R17 Continental rubber grips well, and aided by the four driven wheels on-road. The full-time 4WD system (with a Torsen centre differential) pays big dividends: Even in greasy conditions and unloaded, the Amarok doesn’t fall into a quivering mess of single-pegging shame when trying to take off quickly from a standing start. It provides consistent and impressive mid-corner grip, as well, aiding the car-like balance that the Amarok is able to achieve.
Accelerating and braking should be top-shelf, because the Amarok has more hardware in this regard than most others in the segment. The 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel V6 makes 165kW at 4500rpm and 550Nm at 1500–2500rpm, with an overboost function that bumps peak power to 180kW for short periods.
Like it has been widely reported before, the Amarok’s V6 is a cracking engine. It’s smooth, quiet and low-revving most of the time, which progressively ramps up to a fizzing, gargling beast when given the opportunity. When judged on engines alone, it’s Amarok first, daylight second. Except for one, of course.
The 190kW/550Nm Mercedes X-Class V6 is competitive in terms of numbers and performance; however, the list price of more than $70,000 for an X350d Progressive doesn’t line up with the Amarok Canyon. Although, it’s also worth noting the level of price-cutting the current X-Class has is significant, so you won’t be paying anywhere near that number for a V6 Benz ute.
Unlike the higher-specification tune of 580Nm in the Highline and Ultimate variants, this model doesn’t require an AdBlue system to keep emissions below the threshold.
Equally, 332mm front and 300mm rear ventilated disc brakes mean the Amarok is at the top of the class for dropping anchor. The front brakes have a particularly huge swept volume, and the complete omission of rear drum brakes is always a good thing.
Eight forward ratios are smoothly and predictably doled out by the ZF automatic gearbox, giving little room for rebuke. First gear is short, and almost missed entirely when cruising around town. The Amarok cycles through the gears quietly and quickly, aiming to keep revs as low as possible.
The Amarok is also adept at hauling and towing, where the on-point driveline, sharp chassis tuning and sturdy enough suspension handle weight over the towbar and rear axle alike without losing composure. We hauled around some defunct sports gear, where the big tray (1620mm wide and 1555mm long, with 1200mm between the wheel arches) paid dividends.
Head over to our 2019 ute mega test to drill more into the Amarok's towing and hauling performance there.
Listed fuel consumption for the Amarok Canyon is 9.0L/100km on the combined cycle, which drops down to 8.1L/100km on the highway cycle. That mimics our experience of 8.6L/100km, which was a mix of mostly highway and off-road driving.
If you are spending more time around town, the urban-cycle number of 10.6L/100km would be a fair indication of the kind of diesel you’ll burn through.
The driveline is missing a low-range transfer case compared to every other 4x4 ute on the market. Instead, the V6 Amarok gets by with an off-road driving mode, which tailors the gearbox, throttle and traction-control tuning to give you more off-road capability.
No low-range means when you are off-road, there’s no mechanical engine braking to help on long and steep descents. Rather, it’s done via the smartly tuned traction-control system that is activated as soon as you turn on off-road mode. It has a hill-descent control function, in other words. It does a great job, but would be even better if there were some actual engine braking on offer via low-range gearing.
Similarly, another omission with low-range gearing is reverse. While first gear is a little low (4.714), reverse is not (3.317) and could be problematic in tight, technical and steep situations.
When you’re climbing and slowly crawling, the Amarok emulates low-range gearing through the torque converter spinning and loading up the gearbox. While it’s a good emulation, it’s also not as good as the real deal. Low-range gearing gives you more control over a 4WD, and considering how bad heat is for an automatic gearbox, it significantly reduces the amount of strain a gearbox goes through doing this kind of work.
The traction control is impressive: keenly tuned and fast enough to minimise wheelspin off-road. My testing wasn’t out-and-out hardcore – rather, it was the kind of 4WD touring that most Australians find themselves doing. And in that scenario, the Amarok is faultless: one button for off-road makes it easy to pilot for beginners, as well.
Maybe I’ve got too much old-school mentality in my brain, but I do have a preference for mechanical traction aids when out in the bush, rather than electronic gizmos. Anything halfway new these days has the gizmos – even the archaic 79 Series LandCruiser has an off-road traction control and associated sensors and wires. However, the Amarok relies heavily on modern tech for capability.
Here’s a scenario that is uncommon, but also not unheard of: an errant branch or rock damaging a wheel-speed sensor or ABS wire, rendering the traction-control system redundant. This kills the off-road gizmos, and leaves you with only mechanical aids to rely on.
The Amarok isn’t without mechanical traction aids: the rear differential is lockable, and the centre differential is a Torsen-type limited-slip unit that doesn’t rely on electronics to shift torque around. It would be great if that centre differential were also lockable.
It’s important to note here that I didn’t have any trouble with the Amarok while on test. And although it's a little short on ground clearance and wading depth, it’s mostly as capable as the rest of the 4x4 ute pack. It just goes about it in a different way. Personally, I prefer my 4WDs with a transfer case.
The Amarok is still an impressive ute, regardless of the passage of time and fresh competition. It was always well-honed on-road, and the stunning diesel V6 is the engine the Amarok always deserved.
It ticks the important boxes in terms of capability, comfort and capacities, but the major shortcomings of safety are still there. Off-road enthusiasts and purists will lament the lack of a low-range transfer case behind the otherwise excellent automatic transmission, and the interior technology just managed to scrape a pass mark.