Who would buy a brand-new car and chop it in half? It sounds crazy, but it’s a practice that might be more popular than you think. Australian buyers besotted with payload prowess have been chopping, converting and stretching otherwise perfectly good vehicles for many years now.
Why? Because their wants and needs outgrow the footprint of a ‘normal’ 4x4 ute.
There’s another option in this world to now ponder, with Volkswagen offering an XL and XXL conversion. While there are plenty of aftermarket options out there that provide a similar service, none can match the factory backing and warranty retention that this ‘Body Builder Program’ has.
And to see what life is like when you go long, we’ve got an extra, extra-long Amarok to test out: a 2020 Volkswagen Amarok V6 XXL. How better to sample this modified 4x4 ute than a weekend family camping trip with a good dose of off-roading on the menu?
There are a few additional details to cover off with this Amarok in particular. There is a GVM upgrade courtesy of Pedders (more on that later), and we’ve also got a custom tray fitted from Jacksons 4x4 Accessories.
|Engine||3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||190kW @ 4500rpm, 580Nm @ 1400-3000rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type||Permanent AWD|
|Fuel consumption, claimed||8.9L/100km (standard vehicle)|
|Fuel use on test||10.5L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||5 star (2011, unmodified vehicle)|
|Warranty (years / km)||Five years / unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Ram 1500, HSV Silverado 1500, aftermarket|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$110,782|
Having a tray fitted like this one is the better option, in my opinion. Why? Volkswagen’s solution for an extended tub, with its clearly visible seam, is an expensive and imperfect option.
Plus, once again in my own unbridled opinion, a tray is significantly more practical and versatile for a 4x4 ute. Another interesting point is that this 2.4m tray weighs 220kg compared to 230kg for a factory tub, bumper and sports bar. The 650mm chassis extension adds in 100kg of extra heft.
While XL gives a 310mm stretch to the Amarok’s 3095mm standard chassis, XXL goes big with a 650mm growth spurt. That 3745mm equals 147 inches of wheelbase, making it longer between the wheels than an entire Suzuki Ignis.
With the shorter extension asking for $10,595, I’d suggest going in for a penny and pound, paying $13,595 for the XXL conversion like ours. This price is a cab-chassis conversion, and doesn’t include the modified tray.
The conversion is done by a company called Adaptive Manufacturing, which carries out the conversion according to a process licensed from Netherlands-based Veth Automotive. It’s pretty simple in theory: cut the chassis in half just in front of the rear spring hangers, then graft in some extra steel to leave the end product just as strong, if not stronger than before. With the suspension components intact, things like electrics, exhaust, brakes and tailshaft need to be extended to suit.
Another small but important detail is stability-control calibration. The conversion includes tweaking the chassis electronics to suit the stretch, and can also accommodate various levels of suspension lift.
The conversion is no small sum of money, and will account for a significant percentage of the vehicle’s purchase price, regardless of which specification you go for. In our case, a top-specification Amarok 580 Ultimate ($80,069, registered in New South Wales) grows to $110,782 for the model as you see here. Before on-road costs, you're looking at $72,790, with the modifications making a total of $103,503.
|Base Vehicle: 580 Ultimate||$80,069|
|Jacksons 4X4 Custom tray||$11,990|
|Pedders 3305kg GVM upgrade||$4,358|
Not cheap, I think you’ll agree. But line it up against a Ram 1500 or Silverado 1500, both of which have less payload at the ready and are more imposing to drive, and suddenly you can see a niche that this extra-long Volkswagen ute is able to fill.
Let’s imagine the test car was a cheaper exercise: V6 Core automatic with an asking price of $52,590. Throw on a cheap alloy tray for roughly $4000, and you’ve got a V6-powered dual-cab ute with a 2.4m tray and decent payload for well under 60 large (before on-road costs).
However, buyers on a budget will also want to consider the LDV T60 megatub, which has 315mm more wheelbase and a 275mm longer tub. There's also the Ssangyong Musso XLV, which gains 280mm worth of tub.
With a GVM growing from 3080kg to 3305kg, the Pedders GVM upgrade kit allows this Amarok’s XXL's effective payload to grow from a still-respectable 779kg into four-digit territory: 1024kg. This includes the 230kg tray. Towing capacity and GCM remain the same at 3500kg and 6000kg respectively. Although, our test car was missing the requisite towbar.
The Pedders GVM upgrade kit includes uprated springs and twin-tube foam-cell dampers, along with associated hardware, new polyurethane suspension bushings and driveshaft bolts. Pedders also replaces the brake pads with its own ‘kevlar ceramic’ brake pads.
‘Foam cell’ shock absorbers have a microcellular foam insert in the outer tube area, which negates the need for pressurised gas. Instead, the shock absorber is filled with oil, and the foam cells replace the need for pressurised gas, and keeps cavitation at bay when working hard over rough ground.
Considering the increased GVM is a relatively meagre 225kg, it’s a shame the Amarok’s ride is affected so much. Especially when unladen, our tester lost that initial suppleness that makes the Amarok such a good around-town ute (despite its age).
My seat-of-pants experience is putting it down to the polyurethane bushes replacing rubber, and firmer tuning for the major components. It did settle down noticeably when laden, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of unladen driving, the initial firmness of the ride could get tiresome.
There is a bit more firmness in brake pedal feel as well, which we either got used to as we drove more, or went away as the brakes continued to bed in. Braking performance did seem good, although we didn’t test this out thoroughly. But it makes sense, because the V6 Amarok has a big braking package, and is one of the few 4x4 utes to have disc brakes front and rear.
Otherwise, the Amarok is an enjoyably unique experience to drive. A lot of that comes down to the engine, which makes such silky and accessible torque. While it easily out-powers most of the competition (aside from those big Yank V8s), it’s also much smoother than anything with four or five cylinders. Unsurprising, considering the kind of expensive and premium applications that this driveline has been honed for.
While Volkswagen doesn’t list a turning circle for the extended-wheelbase Amarok, you can rightly assume that it’s quite big.
This experience reminds me how good Volkswagen’s seats are in their top-specification seats. They are called ‘ergoComfort’, and are the best seats I have sampled in a commercial vehicle. There are 14 different modes of adjustment, and they’re all purposefully effective. The seats alone make the Amarok an enjoyable, comfortable, car-like and premium experience.
Off-road, the fact that Volkswagen omitted side steps on this test vehicle goes a long way to helping the clearance. The rampover angle naturally takes a big hit thanks to the big wheelbase, but approach and departure angles remain the same. Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tyres in a 275/55R20 size, which is slightly bigger than standard, offer more traction and clearance over the aggressively highway-oriented tyres that Ultimate specification otherwise gets.
While the V6 Amarok with an automatic transmission has no low-range transfer case, and would undoubtedly be a better off-roader with one behind that eight-speed ZF gearbox, it’s still an impressive off-roader nonetheless. Press the Off-Road button, and instead of a transfer case choosing the big gear, the Amarok retunes the throttle, gearbox and traction-control calibration to help make the car off-road capable.
It makes the automatic Amarok a real point-and-shoot affair off-road. While there is something to be said for the engagement that comes with twisting knobs and pulling levers, the Amarok is approachably easy to drive for novices, especially with that locking rear differential.
There is one very annoying thing about the Amarok off-road. Parking sensors are difficult to turn off permanently, and turn themselves back on when you jump between D and R on multi-point turns. I find it hard to handle the beeping personally, and the problem compounds when you turn off the parking sensors button (again), the reversing camera gets switched off. And sometimes, on tight tracks with a mega wheelbase, you’re really depending on that camera.
You also need to be aware that although a relatively short first gear helps for low-speed off-roading, the reverse gear (without any reduction gearing) remains too tall for off-roading. While I didn’t have the issues of overheating transmissions and not enough torque to spin the wheels like some others have, I did find reversing through a tricky rocky riverbed quite jerky and hard to control, as the gearing was simply too high.
The Jacksons 4x4 tray is of solid construction, suiting dirt bikers and the like quite well. Storage compartments are aplenty, and the design maintains a decent amount of ground clearance. However, it’s worth pointing out that two of those side boxes did fail to seal against water ingress when driving through rivers. This tray misses out on removable sides, but there are enough tie-down points to secure a bunch of boxes to carry our camping gear.
Otherwise, servicing costs remain the same for this extra-long-wheelbase Amarok XXL. With intervals every 15,000km or 12 months, the 190kW/580Nm (or 200kW on overboost) V6 Amarok costs are laid out through the capped-price program for each visit at $445, $605, $554, $894, and $445 respectively.
The shortcomings of the Amarok are still apparent to see, and stem from the age and lack of investment in the platform. A five-star ANCAP safety rating from way back in 2011 doesn’t hold any credence today, and a lack of second-row airbags is of particular concern for family buyers. This is especially poignant now that other utes are increasingly adopting autonomous emergency braking and additional interior airbags to keep pace with the times.
However, the Amarok has an impressive ability to shirk its years. The interior still feels premium and has aged particularly well, especially with its extra width over comparable 4x4 utes. The infotainment is small but competent, and some details like door bin carpeting and steering wheel finish hit the nail on the head.
And it’s still one of the best utes to drive on the road, which is a real compliment for the old battler. Part of that is the engine, but it’s also the suspension and steering. The chassis extension and GVM take the shine off that somewhat, but turn the Amarok into a unique prospect for Australian buyers. For many, a 1500mm long tub or 1800mm long tray simply isn’t long enough.
And if you want a big cargo area and room for more than one passenger, in a package that isn’t a full-blown work truck, then the Amarok XXL is certainly worth considering.