The cheapest ticket into a V6-powered Volkswagen Amarok is finally here, after multiple international obstacles and hold-ups. It’s the 2020 Volkswagen Amarok V6 Core manual with a starting price of $49,500 drive-away.
Along with three pedals and six ratios, this base-specification Amarok also gets a more ubiquitous part-time 4x4 system with a low-range transfer case compared to the single-range, all-wheel-drive automatic Amarok.
The V6 diesel makes less overall torque: 500Nm at 1250–3000rpm. Peak power remains the same with 165kW at 4500rpm, which is a high number in terms of both power and redline for a diesel ute.
The 3.0-litre engine can also make 180kW through its ‘overboost’ function, for short bursts when certain conditions are met.
The manual gearbox does net a slight disadvantage in fuel economy when comparing officially claimed numbers. While the auto V6 Amarok Core does a flat nine litres per hundred kilometres on the combined cycle, this manual V6 Core lists 9.7L/100km. Extra-urban and urban numbers are slightly higher as well: 8.1 v 8.6 and 10.6 v 11.4, respectively.
Other than the driveline differences, the ‘TDI500’ Amarok V6 Core has the same specification as a Core V6 automatic (which goes for $52,590). That means a 6.33-inch infotainment screen, single-zone climate control, cloth seat trim, vinyl coverings and a basic multifunction display.
The six-speed manual gearbox is similar to the unit you’ll find behind the less powerful four-cylinder Amarok engine, but this unit has updated gearing to suit the application, and has also been strengthened to handle that extra grunt.
Because the manual-geared Amarok weighs 15kg less (2076kg), the payload is slightly better. But, the towing capacity is 3000kg. Not 3500kg like the automatic option, but it's worth noting the GCM remains the same (6000kg).
This is an important point for those wanting to tow maximum capacity. While the automatic has a higher towing capacity, your payload is reduced to 409kg when towing the biggest possible weight.
This isn’t going to be a big volume-seller for Volkswagen. Like most (if not all) other segments, automatics are the order of the day in dual-cab land. There will be a select brigade of enthusiasts and off-roaders very happy to see this model launched, and for those guys I have great news: it’s still a good operator off-road.
The manual-geared Amarok is a much more involving off-roader compared to the point-and-shoot nature of the automatic ute. Gearing reduction is good: a 2.72:1 transfer case, 5.07 first gear and 3.7 diff gearing combines to make a 51:1 overall reduction – better than most other dual-cab utes.
Having some extra cubic capacity in the diesel donk is never a bad thing for off-road, either. Engine braking is a strong suit for the Amarok, along with a handy pulse of off-idle torque always at the ready.
Along with low-range gearing, you’ve got Volkswagen’s smartly tuned off-road mode that is a sharp responder to wheel spin off-road. It operates in the same manner as the automatic-geared Amaroks, handling traction control and hill descent control through one button.
Another thing to point out is the drive system. Rather than an all-wheel-drive system with a non-locking Torsen-style centre differential à la the auto, the manual Amarok doesn’t have a centre differential to worry about. Whack it in 4WD and the torque split between front and rear is locked.
The bad news is that the off-road traction control doesn’t work in concert with the locking rear differential, the Amarok being one of the few base-spec utes that gets this off-road feature. Turn on the diff lock (which only works in low-range) and that suite of electronic traction aids turns off. So your rear end is locked, but your front is now 100 per cent open.
This was shown to great effect by our lead instructor of the day, who managed to inch his way up a wet, slippery and steep clay hill by relying on the traction-control system instead of the locking rear diff. A nice example of what good off-road traction control can achieve, and it was a great display of smart and controlled off-road driving.
This also means that with the rear diff lock engaged, you have no hill descent control to rely on: only engine braking. At least it’s decent.
In a nutshell: the automatic Amarok is easier overall, but the manual option appeals strongly to those who want more in the way of mechanical control over the vehicle. In the sloppy mud, clay and bogs we were driving (with tyres at 22psi), the Amarok V6 Core manual was both capable and enjoyable.
Like other Amaroks, ground clearance is a little on the skinny side when compared to other dual-cab utes, and listed at 192mm. Nothing an aftermarket suspension kit won’t fix, however, which are in plentiful supply and a worthwhile addition for those wanting to do reasonably challenging off-roading.
Good news in this regard is the bash plate, which does get a workout and is up to the job of taking slides and big hits.
Our test vehicles had a variety of rubber fitted, with Continental and Michelin as parallel suppliers. Which tyre buyers get will be a lottery – both brands have a strong reputation, and these tyres have a mostly on-road bias.
They’re certainly better off-road compared to 20-inch rubber on higher-specification V6 Amaroks, and there are at least a few tread voids for directional and lateral off-road grip. The Michelin LTX tyres had slightly broader gaps between tread blocks, if we were going to start splitting hairs.
On-road driving is the same story for this Amarok: despite its age, it's still one of the best on the blacktop. The suspension feels well sorted and balanced between front and rear, giving a comfortable and controlled ride. It’s still one of the more car-like driving experiences out of the utes.
This base-specification V6 Amarok still scores the same big disc brakes front and rear. They just fit inside the 17-inch alloy wheels, and pack some serious stopping power with a nice pedal feel.
Although it’s missing 50Nm of torque compared to the automatic-geared V6 Core, you cannot tell from behind the wheel. Big squeezes of that throttle give a very similar surging shove, that V6 gargling on compressed air as it pushes away impressively quick. For a high-revving diesel, it’s also bloody refined.
I’d hazard a guess that straight-line performance between the two would be very close, provided you don’t fluff the gear changes.
Only two driven wheels and no centre differential means the manual Amarok is never going to put down power as cleanly and effortlessly as a comparable all-paw unit. However, it’s not overly skittish or spin-happy.
Only when you’re intentionally looking for trouble do you find it, the tyres doing an admirable job of gripping down against lateral slip. Even then, traction control is tuned with some panache and give, skimming power rather than killing it altogether. It feels composed and controlled, despite channelling all of that grunt to only two wheels.
Gearing in high-range feels a little on the low side when compared to manual-geared passenger cars. But for a ute that will be spending time off-road, towing and loaded, it’s pretty close to exactly where you want it to be.
To be honest, adding some additional tyre diameter wouldn’t be too bad, as it’s geared low enough so far to handle it.
It’s been a long time since I have driven a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder Amarok with three pedals, but I remember it feeling more notchy and less forgiving than this new set-up.
The V6's gearbox accepts ratio changes happily and easily, letting you row through the gears without any trouble. It’s not a chore, in other words, as long as you’re happy to use both legs. That goes for on-road and off-road.
A huge difference comes from the off-idle torque and mid-range pulling power and overall composure that this V6 diesel gives the Amarok. Somebody from Volkswagen once said that it’s the engine that the Amarok deserves, and I 100 per cent agree. On-road and off-road, it’s a ripping engine.
Although it’s base specification, the Amarok does a great job of pulling off a feeling like champagne on a beer budget. Volkswagen didn’t skimp on the steering wheel (which goes a long way), and some extra details like lined door bins and overall clean design help it feel better than a poverty pack.
There’s a solitary 12V plug in the interior of this base-spec Amarok, the other two have been blanked off. While on the small side, the infotainment display is bright and easy to use. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but no digital radio or native navigation.
The centre console is deceptively small, but the door bins are big and lined. Extra storage nooks under single-zone climate controls and on top of the dashboard are handy. One extra 12V would be nice, though.
Volkswagen has yet to finalise where the manual Amarok V6 sits within its capped-price servicing program. We can’t imagine it being too far-flung from the 165kW V6 automatic's pricing, which is listed at $478, $677, $571, $841 and $478 per visit. They’re required every 15,000km or 12 months.
I’m repeating myself a little here, but I think Australian ute buyers shouldn’t go out and blindly buy the automatic option, irrespective of which marque they settle on. Manual-geared options give you better value, better fuel economy, and although they have more complexity to drive off-road, there is the potential of more control with the right driving techniques.
Because of the more engaging driving characteristics (especially), great gearing reduction and easy gearbox operation, this manual-geared V6 Amarok would be my pick of the range. Buyers still need to be aware of the shortcomings of safety, but throw in some suspension and tyres for improved off-road ground clearance, and you’ll have a 4x4 ute that’s strong and adept both on-road and off-road.