Volkswagen Amarok Trendline dual cab 4x4 & 4x2

words - Ken Gratton
Can Volkswagen's new load-lugger break Toyota's stranglehold in the pick-up market?

Volkswagen Amarok Trendline dual cab 4x4 & 4x2

Local Launch
Huon Valley, Tasmania

What we liked
>> Driving position comfort
>> Excellent ride quality
>> Well sorted NVH countermeasures

Not so much
>> Long wait for auto option
>> Heavy tailgate
>> Steering feedback could be better


Overall rating: 3.5/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 3.5/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 3.5/5.0
Safety: 3.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 4.0/5.0
X-factor: 3.5/5.0

About our ratings


OVERVIEW
-- Amarok now or wait?
One of two important new models to shake up the local pick-up market this year is now with us. Originally codenamed the Robust ute, Volkswagen's new Amarok is built in South America for global markets and is a very strong contender for king of the light commercials in the local market.

How long it could be certain to hold on to that crown will depend on when Ford can introduce its T6 Ranger, which has been designed in Australia -- also for global markets.

One thing is certain, life is about to get a little more stressful for Toyota sales staff flogging the HiLux.


PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
-- Competitive pricing and plentiful equipment
The Carsales Network drove the Amarok Trendline in Tasmania. The Trendline variants tested came with rubber floor covering, curiously. That aside, the Amarok Trendline is a vehicle that doesn't seem poverty-stricken alongside some of its competitors -- and that's attributable to generally nice finish and fittings.

Offered in four levels of trim, the Amarok starts at $33,990 for the entry-level model in two-wheel drive. There's a four-wheel drive version costing exactly $10,000 more ($43,990). Other variants currently available are all four-wheel drives as well, with the Trendline model priced at $47,990, the Amarok Highline at $52,990 and the Amarok Ultimate topping the range at $58,490.

Standard equipment for the base-model Amarok includes: remote central locking, electrically adjustable/heated mirrors, electric windows, 16-inch steel wheels/205 R16C tyres, MP3-compatible two-speaker CD audio system, manual air conditioning, cloth trim, rubber floor covering, folding rear seat, three-spoke steering wheel and 12-volt power socket in the centre armrest.

On top of that, the Amarok Trendline adds: front fog lights, rear bumper with integrated step, 16-inch 'Taruma' alloy wheels/245/70 R16 tyres, four speakers for audio system, map lights, carpet for front-seat occupants, drawers under front seats, three 12-volt power sockets and cruise control.

Extra equipment in the Amarok Highline includes: rear privacy glass, body-coloured bumpers/chrome trim, chrome mirror shells, 18-inch 'Durban' alloy wheels/255/60 R18 tyres, flared wheel arches, premium six-speaker audio, dual-zone climate control, anthracite cloth trim, leather gear knob/handbrake lever and leather-bound steering wheel.

As the flagship, the Amarok Ultimate trumps all with the following standard features: unique badging, 19-inch 'Alastaro' alloy wheels/255/55 R19 tyres and anthracite leather trim.


MECHANICAL
-- An amalgam of conventional design and clever thinking
If you were expecting the Amarok to be something like Honda's (North American market only) Ridgeline -- all monocoque body and transverse engine, you can exhale. The Volkswagen is built on a beefy full chassis, has a north/south engine and a live axle with leaf springs at the rear. In other words, it's just like every other one-tonne pick-up in the market.

There's a Euro 5-compliant 2.0-litre turbodiesel up front, with double overhead cams, common-rail direct injection and twin turbochargers. Peak power is 120kW at 4000rpm and the engine produces torque of up to 400Nm between 1500 and 2500rpm.

Driving through a six-speed manual transmission -- with an eight-speed automatic option not due until next year -- the two-wheel drive Amarok uses 7.7L/100km of fuel in combined-cycle testing. Four-wheel drive variants are rated at 7.9L/100km.

Two types of four-wheel drive systems are offered. The Amarok Ultimate, as the flagship of the range, features permanent 4MOTION drive to all four wheels with a Torsen (torque-sensing) differential adjusting the torque between front and rear axles. The torque split is 40 per cent front and 60 per cent rear in normal operating conditions.

For the other four-wheel drive variants in the range, the transfer is by means of Volkswagen's selectable part-time 4MOTION system. All four-wheel drive models, including the Amarok Ultimate, come with an electronic diff lock for the rear axle.

Front suspension is a double-wishbone setup with ‘A’ arms, whereas the rear suspension is a live axle with two different leaf spring settings -- standard and comfort. Each spring is mounted outboard of the chassis rails, to provide a lower load height without detracting from the vehicle's ground clearance at the rear.

Steering is electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion and brakes comprise discs up front and drums behind. Towing capacity, braked, is 2800kg, the Amarok's GVM is 3040kg and the tub measures 2.52 square metres of load area. The tailgate is 1.4 metres wide and the Amarok should be able to accommodate a standard pallet, since the load area is 1555mm long and 1222mm between the wheel arches.


PACKAGING
-- Comfortable but tank-like
VW's designers have done well to capture the Volkswagen corporate look in the Amarok, without putting form ahead of function, or worse, failing to find the balance between bland and grotesque.

Inside too, the designers have got it basically right. The driving position was very accommodating. In some vehicles you must get the seat and wheel positioned located precisely for reasonable comfort, but there's quite a margin for different physiques in the Amarok, without everything being adjusted to the nth degree. Seats were excellent. Comfortable and supportive, (plus easy to vacate), they were very effective holding the occupant in place during heavier offroad work.

The vehicles driven were both Trendline models, but curiously came with rubber floor covering, rather than the carpet, which is supposed to be fitted in the Trendline variants. That said, the rubber on the floor was an appropriate choice for the sort of offroad driving environment encountered. On the other hand, the cloth trim on the door-mounted armrests was a cheap synthetic fibre that promised to last years longer than most owners could bear to touch it. This, in the case of the Trendline variants, would be one argument for upgrading to a higher level of trim.

HVAC controls were a bit finicky, as we've reported of the same unit fitted to the Skoda Octavia 90 TSI. The calibrations are small and difficult to read.

Rear-seat accommodation and access seemed to be above par for the segment. Headroom was plentiful and the legroom was rendered adequate for adults by virtue of copious room to poke the toes under the front seats.

The tailgate was heavy to lift, begging the question of how heavy it would be to raise from the vertical position -- the Amarok's tailgate can be unhooked from the cables that hold it in a horizontal position for it to be dropped through 180 degrees from its closed position. It's a potential problem for buyers who aren't built like typical tradies and bought the VW for its lighter controls and ease of use.

While we couldn't test it -- being on the move in broad daylight -- the Amarok comes with a light for the load area.

During the launch, Volkswagen's event staff drove an Amarok along two logs elevated at one end. With wheels straddling the logs, the rear end pushed the vehicle forward until the front wheels were well off the ground -- providing a clear view of the underbody protection for the engine and transmission. There's an angled piece of steel under the very front of the vehicle to ride over the top of stumps or rocks, with longitudinal bars behind to ensure the engine remains protected but cool and any water or mud from a water crossing or boghole will drain away easily. The underbody protection, based on the demonstration, will certainly support most, if not all, the vehicle's entire weight.


SAFETY
-- Between Amarok and a hard place
Despite the tendency of consumers and the media to associate full-chassis vehicles with poor safety records, the Amarok comes up smelling of roses. Interestingly, as we reported previously, Volkswagen's light commercial rates five-stars according to ANCAP, but only four in Euro NCAP's findings. That's based on precisely the same test too.

There's little reason to suggest the Amarok is in any way bereft on the safety front. No other body-on-frame pick-up can boast a five-star ANCAP score.

Dual front airbags, side-impact head/thorax airbags for the front occupants, offroad-capable stability control and Brake Assist are safety features fitted as standard to all variants.


COMPETITORS
-- Amarok's broad appeal renders rivals wanting
Between its practicality, refinement, safety and affordable pricing, the Amarok has what it takes to mount a challenge against not only the full-chassis pick-ups in the market, but also Ford and Holden's passenger-car-derived utes and any number of small and mid-sized SUVs. The world is the Amarok's oyster, really.

Models most likely to be cross-shopped against the Volkswagen include Toyota's HiLux, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton, Mazda BT-50, Isuzu D-MAX and Ford Ranger. In the case of the Ford, there's a locally-designed new model on the horizon and that's the one vehicle that poses a threat to Amarok's outright critical success.

As mentioned, Falcon and Commodore utes are susceptible to sales conquest by the Volkswagen if buyers care less about straightline performance and more about ultimate comfort and running costs.

Dual-cab utes -- and there's no single-cab Amarok for the time being -- are surrogates for SUVs in the minds of some buyers. Priced at an affordable level, the Amarok could certainly do double duty with a canopy on the rear.


ON THE ROAD
-- Safe, comfy and quiet... this is a one-tonner?
The Amarok's engine is all about torque (400Nm), but not so much about power (120kW). On a hill in a high gear it will maintain road speed, for instance, even at engine speeds down to 1200rpm. There's little in the way of vibration or labouring once the speed falls below 1500rpm, which is commendable. It's a fairly refined engine in this commercial vehicle application, plainly a common-rail diesel from its NVH, but not the rattly sort of powerplant we've grown accustomed to in other 4x4 dual cab pick-ups.

A six-speed manual transmission handles the business of multiplying the torque from the engine.  On the road the ratios seemed fairly closely-spaced for a diesel commercial vehicle, resulting in first and second gears that felt high, although the ratio for first is 4.82:1, which is more than low enough to tackle heavy hauling jobs. In low range the ratios were spot on for off-road work. Volkswagen's engineers have ensured that the gearshift is isolated from the transmission so that the lever doesn't wobble around when the engine is at idle. We found the gearshift was generally pleasant to use, with a positive shifting action that wasn't too light and yet felt car-like.

Ride is outstandingly comfortable for a commercial vehicle of this type. Whether over larger or smaller imperfections in the road, the Amarok could be safely described as supple, but well controlled. There was a little choppiness over the sort of bumps a country road can offer up at speed, but that was without any load in the tray.

While cruising, the Amarok was exemplary for the lack of noise from its engine and the Pirelli Scorpion ATR tyres. The Pirellis impressed also with the way the aided the ride comfort already mentioned and the Amarok's handling and roadholding. On turn-in the Amarok is responsive beyond the usual measure applied to dual cab pick-ups, and front-end grip was equally good. The steering is better (read: tighter and more direct) than the Amarok's older rivals and provides some feedback once the vehicle is committed to a corner, but it still lacks some feel at the straight-ahead and is almost too light. This was true also of the 4x2, although without the added drivetrain components influencing the geometry of the front suspension the rear-wheel drive Amarok felt a bit lighter in the front end.

Based on the car's easy-going on-road nature, it would be understandable to write it off as a try hard in offroad conditions -- understandable and wrong. Up a slushy Tasmanian track that was tougher than anything Jeep had attempted during the Grand Cherokee launch, the Amarok excelled -- despite the Pirellis being less than chunky enough for the conditions.

Approach and departure angles were up to snuff, as was the breakover angle and ground clearance. Underbody protection ensured that practically nothing got within striking distance of the vehicle's mechanical parts or the floor, but even without that the Amarok's ride height made light work of deep ruts and larger rocks. At one point, the lead vehicle slid into ruts on an angle, with the left front wheel on the left of the track, the right front and left rear in a rut in the middle, and the right rear wheel in the right rut.

The driver attempted to clear this muddy, rutted section, but couldn't find traction as the car tried to crab its way to higher, drier ground. Backing up didn't help, because the large rock (at least a metre in length) that the vehicle had circumnavigated to the left on the way in was now blocking the rear bumper and quarter panel on the right side of the vehicle. Eventually, after much packing of the ruts with branches, logs and rocks, the Amarok was able to drive forward and escape the boggy section. It was the one point where one of the Volkswagens came to grief, but interestingly, all the Amaroks behind were able to get through easily, with wheels in the deep ruts and each car travelling straight ahead.

It's hard to know what will chiefly draw buyers to the Amarok. On-road dynamics are class-leading -- and Volkswagen is promoting the vehicle's fuel-sipping qualities -- but we suspect it's the combination of quietness and ride comfort that will deliver the shock and awe.


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Published : Wednesday, 16 March 2011
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