When our old second car/camping bus/dog hauling chariot (1998 Mitsubishi Challenger) ticked over 350,000kms, my wife and I decided that a new (to us) car might be a good idea. The old Challenger never really broke down or left us stranded, but every month or so it would need another $300 part. We could either continue down the never-ending path of replacing worn out components – or bite the bullet and take the opportunity to upgrade.
With our needs encompassing everything from daily inner-city commute, or taking two large dogs to the beach, to weekend sausage tastings at Bunnings, and sometimes even towing an 18-foot ski boat, a dual-cab 4x4 ute was obviously the vehicle for us. But which one?
With the dual-cab market going from strength to strength over the last decade, to be in the market for a 4x4 ute is a double-edged sword. As a prospective buyer you are spoiled for choice as there are more brands than ever with dual-cab 4x4s on offer, wanting you to part ways with your cash. Nowadays potential buyers need to contrast and compare across no less than eight brands, cross-shopping your way through models, features, performance, economy, safety, tech, ride quality, specifications, and the all-mighty dollar. No longer do you simply pop down your local Toyota dealership, say “I’d like a Hilux please” and choose a colour.
I had narrowed it down to either an Amarok or a Ranger, and after test driving examples of both in our budget the VW won out in the end.
The things I like:
• Economy – always getting at least 1000kms to a tank
• Interior space
• Refined driveline
• Rear diff lock
• Ute tub size – Great Dane approved!
Not so much:
• Lack of OEM-rated recovery points in the front of the vehicle
• Clunky gear shift feel – a Honda S2000 this is not
• Lack of aftermarket accessories – although this is getting better as time goes by
• Interior plastics feel hard and utilitarian
• Servicing costs & replacement parts
Around town the Amarok does a reasonable job. Good build quality and low NVH levels do their part in isolating you from all the other cogs in the gridlock machine. Stop-start traffic can be a bit of a pain in a manual, however the reasonably light clutch and good ergonomics make an Amarok at least a comfortable way to survive the daily grind. The downside of the generous width in the cabin is the physical width of the VW, which is most apparent when negotiating perpendicular parking bays in a multi-level car park. The rear-view camera and the generously-proportioned side mirrors do their utmost to assist with this, however there is no escaping the fact that the Amarok is a wide vehicle (1944mm).
On the open road the Amarok can stretch its legs and settle into a pace where it seems the most comfortable. The nicely-weighted steering, while not the most communicative, does provide enough feedback that makes punting through the back roads more rewarding than other dual-cab 4x4’s. When unladen, the rear leaf springs can be a little skittish in negotiating road imperfections, however with a load in the back the rear settles down and transforms to be far more compliant – breaking tradition with their horse and cart heritage.
The Amarok will keep up with all the usual contemporaries when you venture off the beaten track. Engaging “off road” mode recalibrates the ABS, greatly improving stopping distances on loose gravel roads. When rock-hopping, the benefit of having low range comes into its own, allowing the driver a greater level of throttle control and wheel placement. Engine braking on steep downhill sections is okay - never a strong point of small displacement engines – and still allows for “feet off pedals” descents. This allows you to concentrate purely on the steering and placing the Amarok right where it needs to be. Uphill there’s a rear diff lock for when the undulations exceed the articulation capabilities, helping to maintain forward momentum up and over obstacles that lie ahead. The shortcomings of average underbody clearances and limited wheel travel are the only real downsides to the Amarok off road, these can however be rectified by the aftermarket suppliers, and would go a long way into turning the Amarok into a touring vehicle well worth considering.
Would I recommend a second-hand Amarok? Absolutely. However (there’s always a “however”) make sure you do a very thorough check of the vehicle’s service history. VW parts and servicing costs are on the higher side and if the previous owner has skimped on servicing it could spell disaster for the next owner. The 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine is a fantastic unit provided it has been serviced correctly and OEM replacement parts have been used, particularly filters, timing belts pullies and hose connectors.
After 9 months and 10,000km’s of ownership I couldn’t be happier!