First Drive

Volkswagen Amarok driven

  • New VW pick-up truck
  • On sale in the UK next year
  • Available from VW van centres only
Words ByWhat Car? Staff

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This is the Volkswagen Amarok, the company's new attempt to crack the commercial pick-up market that's currently dominated by the Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara and Toyota HiLux.

A wolf in wolf's clothing?
Built in Argentina, the Amarok which means wolf in the Eskimo Inuit language is expected to arrive in the UK in around 12 months. However, because it's officially a commercial vehicle, it will be available only through the VWs 65 van centres.

Initially, there will be just one body style (a five-seat, four-door double cab), but two 2.0-litre diesel engines and the choice of rear-wheel drive, and selectable or permanent four-wheel drive. Common to all will be a six-speed manual gearbox, with an automatic transmission becoming available in due course, as well as a two-door single-cab model that will come with rear-wheel drive only.

It will be available in a variety of colours (including red, white, blue, black and green), with a host of add-ons to truly personalise each vehicle. From hard tops to roll bars and side steps, your VW commercial dealer will be able to supply them.

On the road
We drove only the stronger of the two engines with 161bhp rather than 120bhp and, while its certainly not the most refined diesel engine, it does its job well. Hauling something that weighs the best part of two tonnes (unladen) to 60mph in around 11 seconds is quite an achievement, but its the flexibility thats most impressive.

With two turbochargers, the engine pulls happily from below 2000rpm. That means you can often rely on the sheer strength of the engine to haul you around rather than have to resort to the rather notchy manual gearchange to drop down a cog or two.

The Amaroks sheer size means its not the most agile vehicle especially around town, where the short first gear and long-throw gearchange make life hard but this is hardly a car that's designed to be thrown around anyway. Instead, youll be more pleased with its sure-footed feel and the good visibility afforded by the high driving position.

Inevitably, though, given the huge range of abilities it needs running on- and off-road, and carrying everything from just a driver to up to five passengers and payloads of more than a tonne the Amarok feels more like a commercial vehicle than a conventional 4x4 or crossover.

Its ride is not the smoothest and youll certainly need to turn up the stereo to counter the wind and road noise at higher speeds. For all that, however, it compares well with its direct rivals.

In the cabin
Inside, its much the same story, with the plastics designed to be rough and tough rather than fun and funky. Still, theres no faulting the build quality, and the space for the two front passengers is impressive. There's plenty of adjustment to the drivers seat and steering wheel, too, which ensures that most people will be able to find a comfortable driving position.

There are plenty of cubbyholes for odds and ends, and theres enough room for a couple of adults in the back. Volkswagen says the loadbay is the largest in the class more than 1.5 metres long and the only one in this class that can take a Euro pallet sideways. Equally important is the Amarok has an impressive 2.8-tonne towing limit.

Costs and trims
With the Amarok so far away from launch in the UK, theres no word on prices and specifications. However, VW says it will be competitive, suggesting a starting price of around 17,000.

Naturally, some business buyers will also be tempted by the tax advantages of running a pick-up, while the stronger engines 36.4mpg and 206g/km CO2 emissions are also attractive.

What is certain is that there will be three trims, with the entry-level version a real workhorse, while the flagship model will be a pure lifestyle choice with lavish equipment to match. Across the range, pretty much everything you would expect on a conventional 4x4 will be available on the Amarok, from dual-zone climate control, to sat-nav and Bluetooth.

Safety will be a big selling point, too, and Volkswagen is confident that the Amarok will be the best pick-up ever tested by crash-test organisation Euro NCAP. Among the standard kit on every model will be stability control, Hill Hold Assist and Hill Descent Assist with a special programme built in that will shorten stopping distances off-road.

What Car? says
The Amarok wont be enough to tempt people away from a conventional 4x4 or crossover, but it does compare well to rival pick-ups