A dual cab ute, what would the Germans know about that?
You can imagine the thoughts that would have gone through some people’s heads when Veedub announced its foray into the lucrative dual cab market. After all, if Toyota can make money doing it, then surely the biggest car group in the world could get a slice of that action.
Initially, there were doubts. The engine to power it is only a 2.0 litre, four-cylinder; how is that going to be enough to motivate a workhorse? How well would it tackle the rough stuff? And how would its interior hold up to the rigours of trade life?
The doubters were silenced at its launch. The Amarok is a massive beast and is able to take a full-size pallet in its tray, while the interior is large enough to hold five people with little complaint. In fact, the interior is one of the things which distinguishes it from rival dual cabs.
When it comes to build quality, Volkswagen leads the segment – no ifs, no buts. While the dash plastic is hard-wearing and therefore less rubbery than we’re used to seeing from VW, it’s nicely grained and not too dark. The quality of the dashboard is excellent, with even cutlines and no sharp ridges where the plastics have been moulded.
The steering wheel is wrapped in smooth leather, and the instrumentation is bright and clear (though very basic). All the control stalks are lifted from other Volkswagen models, so the driver’s seat is a familiar place to sit. But it’s also the best place to experience the Amarok from.
Slip behind the wheel and the seats are padded well, despite being a little flat in shape. Comfort is the first priority here, and given the average tradie isn’t the size of a jockey, the seat shape is a good thing.
Turn the key and the 2.0-litre diesel fires up quickly and settles into a quiet but thrummy idle. With two turbochargers for assistance, the motor produces 132kW and a healthy 400Nm in manual form (as tested) or 420Nm in automatic guise.
Fully loaded, however, the smaller size of the engine becomes apparent as it can struggle a little up long, tall inclines, though the auto and extra 20Nm definitely helps in that situation. For the majority of its work, the Amarok’s engine does a great job in getting around, and one of its main benefits is that it’s both economical and very quiet compared to the rest of the segment.
The manual has arguably the best shift action in the segment, making changing gears much less of a chore. Go with the excellent ZF eight speed auto and you’ll miss out on a proper low range transfer case, but you get beautifully smooth shifts and it keeps the engine in the best part of the torque curve.
Dynamically, however, the Amarok stands head and shoulders above the pack. The steering is typical of Volkswagen, meaning excellent weighting but not particularly true in feedback, however its turn-in feels like a large car, rather than a work ute. Likewise the handling. It flows from bend to bend with the stability of an SUV, not like something that’s able to carry a tonne in the tray.
And VW has performed a sort of magic on the suspension, eliminating any bounce from the rear, such that it’s quite unlike any other ute. In fact, the Amarok rides better than some passenger cars.
As a city-based load lugger, there’s absolutely no doubt that the Amarok is the best of the current crop. However, things change a bit when the going gets tough.
With the Amarok, there are two options: You can have a proper low range or you can have a 4Motion system (Veedub-speak for Haldex all-wheel-drive). Tested here is the low range version which can only be had with a manual transmission.
Volkswagen’s work on the stability control means it’s a progressive system that eases off its aggressiveness the higher you get into the rev range. By doing this, it can tackle both mud and rocks or sand with the same programme.
With low range engaged, it will happily wade through muddy trails, but it’ll only climb them successfully if you exercise some self-control. Rather than heading up a slope at full pace, it needs a feathering throttle to use the ESC’s more responsive action for low revs. The brakes will then chatter away as it finds and loses grip, inching its way up. Become more urgent with the loud pedal and it simply spins up and slips back.
Sand’s a different story. Let the tyres down, get the revs up and let it spin its heart out and you can churn your way through boggy patches. With 192mm of ground clearance, there’s little risk of bottoming out, and the taller sidewalls allow the tyres to bag out plenty.
Learn how to drive it to its strengths and the Amarok rewards. Attack it like you’re driving a HiLux and it definitely seems to lack ability. In terms of pure physical grip and ground clearance, the BT-50 and Ranger twins have it beat. But if you’re going to be spending most of your time on the road, with the occasional off-road stint, then the Amarok is the top of the pack.
Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. For proper off-road work, the manual’s the way to go. But if you’re serious about getting into the rough, the aforementioned competitors are probably a better choice. The automatic version is the better car, so it’s hard to see who will opt for low range.
Thus, if you want a dual cab with the comfort of a passenger car, the Amarok is probably the best option out there.
It seems the Germans do know a thing or two when it comes to dual cabs.