The 2023 Volkswagen Amarok ute has been reimagined by CarAdvice’s resident Photoshop guru Theophilus Chin, who has created an artist impression of what the new model could look like – based on the only design sketch released by the German car giant so far.
As reported earlier, the second-generation Volkswagen Amarok will be a twin under the skin to the next-generation Ford Ranger, after a commercial vehicles partnership was forged between both brands.
Such joint ventures are becoming more common as car companies seek to improve their profitability and minimise their financial risk by joining forces on certain models.
Halving the development costs on some projects enables global car giants to invest more in electric vehicles and autonomous tech, both of which require significant funding with, initially, minimal financial returns.
That’s why Isuzu and Mazda formed a partnership with a ute (Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50), Toyota and BMW joined forces to create the BMW Z4 convertible and Toyota Supra sports car, and Mitsubishi and Nissan will work together on their next pick-ups.
There are numerous other examples of joint venture vehicles, including a recent failed marriage.
The partnership between Nissan and Mercedes for the Nissan Navara and Mercedes X-Class utes went sour after costs spiralled out of control and customers didn’t take to the X-Class’s price premium.
Mercedes invested heavily, and made genuine, worthwhile, and noticeable changes to differentiate the X-Class from the Navara – including chassis strengthening, a wider track, bigger brakes, revised suspension and steering, and a unique body.
However, it was a costly disaster – and one which Mercedes isn’t keen to repeat. For now, Mercedes has no plans to return to the ute market.
Which brings us to the partnership between Volkswagen and Ford.
The new joint venture came about because, despite the success of the Volkswagen Amarok in Australia – the second-biggest market outside South America – the Amarok has not sold as well as expected internationally.
Since 2011, Volkswagen had been producing the Amarok in two factories – in Germany and Argentina – however customer demand wasn’t strong enough to support the operation of two concurrent facilities. Annual output ranged between 80,000 and 110,000 across the two sites; most car production lines need to run at a rate of 250,000 a year to be efficient.
Production of the VW Amarok in Hannover, Germany, has been wound down in the past few months to make way for production of future electric vehicles. Pacheco, Argentina is now the sole source of VW Amarok utes globally while the current generation remains over the next two years.
While the VW Amarok hasn’t been a runaway success for Volkswagen, it does not want to walk away from the pick-up segment.
And so when there was an opportunity to work with Ford – who had become available after its 48-year in partnership with Mazda came to an end, after Mazda hooked up with Isuzu – Volkswagen leapt at the opportunity.
What we now know – based on images released and comments made last week by Volkswagen representatives in Germany and Melbourne – is that Volkswagen has been working on the next Amarok with Ford for at least the past 18 months.
Indeed, up to a dozen VW designers have been based at Ford Australia’s styling studios in Melbourne for more than a year.
With two design teams – on opposite sides of the world – working on the Volkswagen version of the new Ford Ranger, it is clear the VW Amarok will look vastly different from its twin. However, there are still more questions than answers.
Will it drive still like a VW Amarok? The current model has more SUV-like handling and superior road-holding than its current ute peers. Will VW have the scope to tune its own suspension and steering settings?
The Ford Ranger is due to have a choice of a basic single turbo 2.0-litre, a twin-turbo 2.0-litre and a single turbo V6, the latter two paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission.
VW will likely get access to the top two powertrains, but will VW get access to calibrate the 10-speed auto? In the Ford, it shunts between gears. In General Motors products (the 10-speed was a joint venture between Ford and GM) it’s as smooth as silk.
The current VW Amarok TDV6 is paired to an eight-speed auto and constant all-wheel-drive. Will constant all-wheel-drive be available on the next VW Amarok, or it will go backwards, to a part-time 4WD system, as per the current Ford Ranger? That’s a lot of grunt to go to only the rear wheels, especially in the wet.
Will the next Amarok go backwards and have rear drum brakes? The current TDV6 has four-wheel discs.
Furthermore, the current VW Amarok has the widest cabin and ute tub in the class. Is the revised Ford T6 platform scalable enough for the Amarok to maintain or improve on its width advantage? Or will the next VW Amarok need to shrink a little to conform to the Ford frame?
We know the Ford Ranger T6 platform will have a slightly longer dash-to-axle ratio – to accomodate the V6 – so at least the footprint of the Ranger will be bigger. How this compares to the current Amarok remains to be seen.
One improvement that would be welcome on the next VW Amarok: back seat space. The Ford Ranger is the benchmark in the class but the current Amarok’s knee room is a touch tight.
Will the next VW Amarok have Volkswagen cabin controls, luxury steering wheel, instrument display and infotainment tech? Or will it get generic tech shared with Ford, as per the Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50, which have almost identical interiors?
While the Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50 look different from the outside, they drive the same. Mazda didn’t touch the steering or suspension. The tyres even run the same pressures. So there is no difference whatsoever in the way they drive.
So what about the next VW Amarok and Ford Ranger?
Last week, when asked by Australian media how much engineering input Volkswagen would have on the new Amarok, executives gave mixed responses.
One executive said that level of detail was yet to be revealed by Germany, another said Volkswagen “is not a silent partner”. The highest ranking executive in the room said it was not a return to the bad old days of “badge engineering”, and insisted the next Amarok will have “Volkswagen DNA”, even though it will be based on a Ford and made in a Ford factory (likely in South Africa rather than Thailand, the source of Rangers sold in Australia).
While we hope the new model still drives like an Amarok – or better – and doesn’t take a step backwards in terms of dynamics, it will surely have a big leap in technology.
By the time the 2023 VW Amarok rolls around, it will be equipped with the safety tech it has sorely lacked since 2011.
While top-sellers and more recent rivals such as the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50 come with the works, the current VW Amarok has been left behind in advanced safety tech.
But Volkswagen will make up for lost time with the next Amarok. It will need to come with the works if it is to achieve a modern five-star safety rating.
That means technology such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, speed sign recognition, blind zone warning and rear cross-traffic alert will likely be standard fare (it’s already on every model in the new Isuzu and Mazda ute ranges). And VW and Ford will also likely need to adopt centre airbag protection to meet new side impact requirements for a five-star safety score.
Other mod cons are likely to include wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto (being introduced on the 2021 VW passenger car and commercial vehicle range), wireless phone charging, USB-C charge ports, rear air vents, heated and cooled seats, and paddle shifters on more models. For now, only the top-of-the-range Amarok gets paddle shifters.
Given the early success of the VW Amarok TDV6 W580 special edition – a partnershipbetween VW and the Walkinshaw Automotive Group to help breathe new life into the old Amarok before it reaches the end of the line – there is a chance the next generation could spawn a similar project.
For now, the VW Amarok TDV6 W580 is focused on road performance, however the company has made no secret of the fact it is interested in an off-road version of the W580, inspired in part by the success of the Ford Ranger Raptor.
With that in mind, our resident computer illustration expert dreamt up two versions of the 2023 VW Amarok: an on-road version and one skewed towards off-road customers.
The other big clues about the 2023 VW Amarok will come part way through next year, when the next-generation Ford Ranger arrives. The tech underneath that vehicle will tell us what to expect with the Amarok.
Until then, we’re waiting to see spy photos emerge of either the Ford or the VW ute. The lack of prototypes and mules for the new Ranger have been conspicuous by their absence. The only image we’ve seen so far is the design study that appeared on the cover of Wheels magazine last year.
Until then, all of the above is speculation. But hopefully it won’t be long before we finally get some answers to these questions. Then VW Amarok fanatics can decide whether they want to buy the new one – or one of the last original ones.