What Car? says...
The Volkswagen Amarok is something of a legend in the world of pick-up trucks even though it’s been around for only a decade or so.
This latest Amarok is the result of a commercial vehicle partnership between Volkswagen and Ford, and is very closely related to the Ford Ranger (they're even built at the same factory). Some diehard fans of one or other of the brands might be outraged by that, but economies of scale mean it makes financial sense for both companies.
And don’t worry: there’s far more than just a badge to distinguish the two models. Indeed, on the outside, the only visible shared parts are the roof, the door handles and the mirror casings.
Unlike the Ranger, the Isuzu D-Max and the Toyota Hilux the Amarok is only available in a larger double-cab bodystyle (with four doors and rear seats). That means its starting price is higher than rivals', and there's less choice.
All Amaroks have four-wheel drive, and the cheapest models come with a 168bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine and a manual gearbox. An automatic gearbox is standard on the mid-range 202bhp 2.0 diesel and the range-topping 3.0 V6 diesel.
There are no fewer than four trim levels to choose from: Life, Style, PanAmericana and Aventura, along with a huge range of optional accessories. You can even buy a tent to pitch on the roof.
So, is the Volkswagen Amarok fundamentally a good pick-up truck with strong performance and economy? What is its maximum payload? How much can it tow? And what’s it like to drive and sit in when you're not using it purely as a workhorse?
Well, we've driven it, and we'll answer those questions and more over the next few pages of this review. We'll also let you know how it compares with the rivals you might be considering.
That's not a particular long list – besides the Ranger, the D-Max and the Hilux, there's only really the Ssangyong Musso competing for your money in the UK.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The engine options for the Volkswagen Amarok are the same as for the Ford Ranger. The range starts with a 168bhp 2.0-litre diesel with a six-speed manual gearbox. That's followed by a more powerful 202bhp version with a 10-speed automatic gearbox and, at the top of the range, a 237bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel, also with the auto box.
So far, we've tried the 3.0-litre V6, and it’s strong, smooth and pulls very well at low and high speeds. The gearbox is fairly responsive, but with 10 gears to sift through it can take a moment or two to calculate which is best used.
On paper, it doesn’t offer a significant performance or towing advantage over the mid-range 202bhp engine (all Amaroks can tow 3500kg). On that basis, we suspect the 2.0-litre diesel will be more than enough for most needs.
You wouldn’t describe the ride comfort as ‘sophisticated’. An ever-present shimmy is the main reminder that you’re driving a pick-up truck – although it's less wearing than the Ssangyong Musso and the Toyota Hilux. While the Ranger Raptor remains the most comfortable-riding pick-up truck, it sacrifices load-carrying capacity by doing so.
In the corners, it’s a much better state of affairs, because like the closely related Ranger, the Amarok handles surprisingly well for a pick-up. If you're comparing it with large SUVs you'll find it pretty poor, and it feels out of its depth on a twisty road, but it does resist body lean in a way that makes it more comfortable than most rivals.
If you approach a tight corner with any exuberance, there's not a great deal of grip. However, the steering is fairly accurate and not too heavy, making it easy to drive at low speeds around town or on faster A-roads and motorways.
Engine noise is well isolated against, and while some minor vibration is felt through the floor and controls, there’s much less of it than there is in other rivals. Wind and road noise is acceptable, meaning it’s relatively hushed on the motorway.
This second-generation model has shorter overhangs, an improved wading depth (of 800mm) and an optional rear locking differential (standard with the PanAmericana trim), so it’s a safe bet that it's better in the rough stuff than its predecessor. If you want something with a greater off-road focus, the Isuzu D-Max AT35 and the Ford Ranger Raptor come with extra knobbly tyres and greater ground clearance.
Strengths Punchy engines; tidy handling; relatively hushed, even at speed
Weaknesses Slightly hesitant auto gearbox
The interior layout, fit and finish
Inside, many of the Volkswagen Amarok's fundamentals are the same as you’ll find in the Ford Ranger including the excellent driving position with lots of adjustment and a comfortable seat. The view out is helped by tall side windows, and all trims come with a rear-view camera as standard to help when reversing.
The general design is very similar, with the same gear lever and other basic switchgear, although the Amarok gets bespoke seats, a Volkswagen steering wheel and a row of switches below the touchscreen.
The Amarok integrates the climate control settings into the central infotainment touchscreen. That means you have to hunt and play around with small icons and slider bars to change the temperature, which is far more distracting and frustrating to use than the Ranger’s physical buttons and controls. On the plus side, there's a proper volume knob, unlike in many VW cars.
Like the Ranger, the touchscreen (10.1in on the cheapest version and 12.0in on Style trim and above) is portrait-oriented and controls infotainment functions. It’s the same hardware and operating system as in the Ranger, but the menus are different. It’s reasonably easy to get to grips with, and all Amaroks come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring.
The digital driver’s display has a unique design that’s different to the Ranger's. Entry-level cars come with an 8.0in display, while Style trim upwards get a configurable 12.3in display.
You’d hardly describe the interior as ‘classy’, and there are plenty of hard and scratchy plastic throughout. Still, it's more upmarket inside than the Ssangyong Musso or the Toyota Hilux – especially with the PanAmericana and Aventura trim levels, which have a leather-look finish on the top of the dashboard and the insides of the doors.
Build quality is good, but overall the Amarok feels more like a Ford than a VW, with Ford stalks, window switches and gear lever. The switches lined up below the touchscreen are well-damped.
Strengths Good driving position; rear parking sensors and rear-view camera are standard; feels more upmarket than most rivals
Weaknesses Fiddly climate control system; doesn’t feel that different to a Ranger
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The latest Volkswagen Amarok is longer than the previous-generation version by 96mm, giving passengers in the back seats even more leg room. Head room is excellent too, and four six-footers will be perfectly comfortable, even on fairly long jaunts.
You get some neatly integrated storage pockets on the seat base, but unlike in the Toyota Hilux the rear seat base doesn’t fold up to free up internal space.
More importantly, for many pick-up truck buyers at least, the model has a maximum payload of 1.19 tonnes (up 40kg on the previous version) and the cargo bed can take two Euro pallets slotted in sideways. The absence of a Single Cab bodystyle means you can’t trade the rear seats to maximise the payload weight (a Single Cab Ranger has a payload of 1207kg, for example).
There are lashing rings to tie down loads of up to 400kg in the bed, which is 526mm tall and can be secured with an optional manual or electric roll cover. You can also spec a hardtop, which essentially turns your pick-up into a van or SUV (depending on your viewpoint).
When parked up, it can take up to 350kg on its roof – enough for the optional roof tent. When you’re driving, the roof can manage up to 85kg. As well as the tent, the hardtop and various roll covers for the cargo bed, accessories include a bike carrier and a diverse range of styling bars.
Strengths Loads of passenger space; competitive payload rating
Weaknesses Rear seats aren’t quite as versatile as the Hilux’s; no single cab option
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
While the Volkswagen Amarok offers some benefits over the Ford Ranger – most notably in the form of a slightly more premium finish interior – it is more expensive to buy. The uplift isn’t enormous, but it does make you question whether it's worth paying extra for.
Those simply looking for a workhorse will find a more basic rival with less kit more cost-effective, especially if they can manage with a single cab truck.
Of course – like all pick-up trucks – it can be a surprisingly cost-effective option if you’re liable for benefit-in-kind (BIK) company car tax. You can pay a fixed fee every year for a commercial vehicle, rather than one based on CO2 output and list price.
The 2.0 diesel will be a better bet when it comes to maximising fuel economy with both versions achieving official figures of more than 30mpg. The larger V6 diesel will struggle to match its official 28mpg figure.
The entry-level Life trim is well equipped, and includes 17in alloy wheels, air conditioning, automatic LED headlights, LED front fog lights, adaptive cruise control, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers and heated door mirrors.
We’d recommend going for at least Style trim though, because it gets you bigger 18in alloys, ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, matrix LED headlights, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, a larger infotainment screen, a configurable driver’s display, front parking sensors and a 360-degree reversing camera.
PanAmericana is next up the trim ladder and has more of an off-road focus. It comes with the locking rear differential (which is optional on Style trim), but also has leather seats, rubber floor mats, additional front underbody protection, an eight-speaker Harman Kardon sound system and LED bed lighting.
At the top of the range sits the Aventura, which adds 21in alloys, a heated steering wheel, park assist and some chrome exterior styling cues.
Like the Ranger, the Amarok achieved a full five-star safety rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP and scored particularly well in the child occupant protection category. All models come with lots of standard safety kit, too, including traffic-sign recognition and lane-keep assist. Blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist are included on Style trim and above.
When it comes to reliability, the Amarok is built in a Ford factory using Ford-sourced parts, so the US brand’s score in our latest What Car? Reliability Survey is probably more helpful than the Volkswagen one as a guide. Ford finished in a disappointing 27th position out of 32 manufacturers (VW came 22nd, in case you're wondering).
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Strengths Plenty of standard equipment; lots of trim choices
Weaknesses You’ll pay a premium over most rivals
While the two pick-ups are closely related and are even built in the same factory in South Africa, there's plenty to differentiate them. They have different exterior designs, for example, and the Amarok's interior has some unique features.
Yes. The entire Amarok engine range – including the V6 diesel – is sourced from Ford.
Amarok means 'enormous wolf' in the language of the Inuit people. Legend has it that this wolf hunts alone, rather than in packs, and preys on any person foolish enough to hunt at night.