Local assembly of the VW Amarok W580 will start later this month ahead of the first customer deliveries in April.
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The 2021 Volkswagen Amarok W580 – Australia’s first “grand tourer” performance ute – has completed local durability and torture testing, and the first customer deliveries are due from the middle of April.

Jointly developed with Volkswagen and the Walkinshaw Automotive Group – formerly the parent company of Holden Special Vehicles – the VW Amarok W580 is exclusive to the Australian market.

As previously reported, there are two versions of the special edition VW Amarok – the W580 and W580S – which will become a permanent part of the local line-up.

They are priced from $71,990 and $79,990 plus on-road costs respectively and are due to be part of the range until an all-new model arrives in 2023, based on the next Ford Ranger.

Maximum towing capacity (3500kg), the fuel economy rating label figure, and five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty all carry over from the donor vehicle. The W580 is about the same weight as the Highline model on which it is based, so Volkswagen expects payload to be similar or the same. Final numbers are due soon.

Volkswagen Australia has so far committed to building 1200 examples locally, which would account for up to one third of the Amarok model mix.

The first production batches have already been spoken for, either with customer names on them or allocated to dealers.

“There’s no better time than right now, the ute market is humming … so we’re looking forward to a really strong start with this car heading into the really important end of financial year period,” said Nick Reid, national marketing and product manager for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Australia.

At a time when most ute rivals are designing rugged off-road flagships, Volkswagen has doubled down on an area it excels in: on-road performance.

“The Amarok is already the benchmark in the segment for (on-road dynamics) so why not take it to another level,” said Reid. “It’s a point of difference to the bulk of rivals. We’re zigging when everyone else is zagging. When everyone else is going off-road we’re going to hone our performance on-road.”

Volkswagen said the W580 program was “not as simple as just bolting on components and pushing it out into the traffic”.

The modifications – while they seem straightforward – needed to be validated and durability tested to Volkswagen manufacturer standards.

The W580 starts life as a VW Amarok Highline in Pacheco, Argentina, before being shipped to Walkinshaw’s facility in Melbourne where the locally-engineered parts are fitted.

Indeed, it’s the same assembly area that previously transformed the Holden Colorado into the HSV Sportscat.

However, it could be argued the Melbourne suburb of Clayton is also a spiritual home to Volkswagen, as Beetles were assembled a few blocks away in the 1960s. Hence the name of the W580's alloy wheel: Clayton.

The headline changes include new front and rear shock absorbers (with carry-over springs), new wheels and tyres (which deliver a wider offset and a taller ride height), fender flare extensions, a new grille and garnishes for the lower grille and foglight surrounds.

Volkswagen commissioned Walkinshaw to durability test and validate the changes, for the program to get the green light from Germany. Indeed, one of the first examples of the W580 will be shipped to Germany for final approval. No pressure, then.

Led by veteran engineers who worked on HSV cars for the past 20 years – including the supercharged GTSR W1 flagship – the W580 went through accelerated torture testing over 15,000km in eight weeks, taking three vehicles to extremes to make sure the changes can handle our harsh conditions.

Even though the W580 is aimed at road use, engineers still put the vehicles through their paces in dirt and mud. They also did maximum towing tests in 38-degree heat, to ensure airflow and cooling weren’t compromised by any of the changes.

A four-post shaker rig (pictured above) enabled chassis engineers to stress test the shock absorbers in lab conditions while another team was pushing components to the limits in the real world.

For the tech heads, the standard monotube passive dampers made by Monroe are replaced by a newly developed twin-tube passive damper (also supplied by Monroe, but to Walkinshaw specifications) with an increased bore size (from 32mm to 35mm) and an increased shaft diameter (from 16mm to 18mm).

The extra fluid capacity in the dampers gave the engineers more tuning ability and increased durability rough conditions.

While the front and rear springs are carry-over parts, the front spring platform has been lifted 20mm which, combined with the larger tyre diameter, delivered an overall 50mm lift at the front and a 10mm lift at the rear.

The W580 has a wider footprint thanks to new wheels with a 20mm wider offset, to “improve stability and performance in corners”.

Volkswagen says the unsprung mass on each corner is the same as before because the lighter wheels have offset the increase in size.

The wheel design went through numerous iterations and subtle changes as strength was assessed in the real world and the virtual world.

The wheel had to meet Volkswagen’s pothole impact testing standards. Further rough track testing was targeted to test wheels and shocks in severe conditions.

The W580S has a new dual exhaust system. While it delivers no extra claimed power, Volkswagen says it is more free flowing and delivers more oomph in the middle of the rev range.

Why is there no more power from the turbo-diesel V6 (which has an output of 190kW/580Nm)? Volkswagen explains while independent workshops can turn up the wick, vehicle manufacturers do not have the same freedom and must meet stringent global emissions standards, the testing alone for which costs millions of dollars. Such an investment would not likely be recovered this late in the Amarok’s model lifecycle.

“One thing we’re very confident about … is the (TDV6) engine, we’re well and truly above the pack,” said Reid.

“We truly don’t believe the car needs the extra power. What would another 30kW or 30Nm give us? It might (trim) a few tenths of a second but … we would have to get the car re-certified (to new emissions standards). We didn't really investigate it.”

The extra cost of a full round of emissions tests would likely have made the W580 prohibitively expensive.

The VW Amarok TDV6 already the quickest ute among its diesel rivals by a considerable margin.

Volkswagen makes a 0 to 100km/h claim of 7.3 seconds, but we routinely extract repeatable 7.8-second times. Most other diesel double-cab utes are in the 9.5 to 11.5-second bracket, based on our testing.

In today’s showrooms only the V8 petrol-powered US pick-ups are quicker. The current DS Series Ram 1500 V8 stops the clocks in an identical 7.8 seconds but the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 V8 matched to a 10-speed auto does the 0 to 100km/h dash in an impressive 6.4 seconds.

In the meantime, Walkinshaw is getting ready to ramp up production later this month while Volkswagen gets ready to roll the W580 into dealers from the middle of next month.

Media test drives are due in early May, so be sure to check back then for our first review and any further updates.