Hilux beater

Hilux beater

One of the most eagerly-anticipated local launches this year is that of the Amarok. JESSE ADAMS jetted off to South America to put Volkswagen’s brand new bakkie through its paces…

It’s not often we get to do this. We’re talking about a very well known brand and a very well-established segment that until now had absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Yes, Volkswagen has been in the pickup business with its half-tonner Caddy and drop side T5s; but a leisure-type, one-ton Hilux or Navara-style bakkie is entirely new territory for the German marque. And entirely new territory for a German brand altogether.

A recipe for success? Absolutely. You know what I’m getting at, right? Oh yes, the much vaunted German build quality.

Introduced to the media  in Argentina, VW’s new Amarok is the bakkie that’s set to revolutionise the light-commercial industry the world over. Over here in bakkie-mad South Africa (we’re told that SA is the second most important market in the world for the Amarok behind Brazil) it will be interesting to see what our own Toyota, Nissan, Ford, Isuzu and Mitsubishi lovers make of this European-designed and Argentinian-built vehicle.

On the face of it the Amarok has the competition waxed. The doors open and close with the same solid German-ness that you’ll find in other high-quality VW products like Golf or Passat, and the cabin is so sealed off from the outside world that it’s literally incomparable with any of the aforementioned brands and their respective products.

Hilux beaterAnd while VW is a newcomer to the leisure double-cab fray, it is most definitely not a newcomer to four-wheel drive, with around 25 years of experience with its Syncro and 4Motion systems. The offroading gadgets found in the Touareg SUV – hill-descent control, electronic differential locks and clever grip-finding systems – are all fitted to VW’s new bakkie.

The Amarok with selectable four-wheel drive (a two-wheel drive version will also be available here) can be shifted on-the-fly at any speed at the press of a button. There’s also a low range button, making this a true 4×4.

Another set of buttons controls the ESP, differential lock and (perhaps most importantly) an off-road button that activates a different ABS braking program for rough surfaces, and hill-descent assist that also works in reverse. Trailer stabilisation and a handy hill-hold assist prevent roll-back on inclines.

Appearance-wise, the Amarok looks of similar ilk to most other double cabs of recent times, if not (in my opinion) slightly more attractive with chunky wheel arches and a frontal area in line with recently launched Golf and Polo ranges. It’s comparable in size too, but if we use Toyota’s Hilux as a reference the Amarok is bigger in pretty much every dimension but height. The load area is significantly larger and VW is proud to point out that an average-sized loading palette will fit between the rear-wheel humps.

But the Amarok does come with some fine print. The first words in the lengthy press release read, “launch of the world’s most fuel-efficient pick-up”. The bunny-cuddlers will be happy, but not necessarily the people who need to tow caravans and boats.

Hilux beaterThe Amarok that will be launched in SA in August is fitted with but one engine choice: a 2-litre turbodiesel with two turbochargers. Although its outputs of 120 kW and 400 Nm look decent on paper, I’m suspicious of its capabilities in the hands of our country’s tow-aholics. Even without a load of any sort at the media test dive around picturesque Patagonia, the Amarok failed to impress out on the open road; and simple overtaking manoeuvres that are a walk in the park for some of SA’s beloved 4-litre V6s were a real challenge for the Volkswagen. To be fair, however, its low-down torque is more suitable for rock crawling conditions and Africa’s hardest-core off-roaders could idle over almost anything with the Amarok.

Average fuel consumption claims are 7.8 litres per 100km in four-wheel drive models, but our particular test unit’s dashboard read around 9.5. Still not too shabby.

Pricing is not yet available for our market, but expect the Amarok to be around R5 000 more than comparable Hilux derivatives. A less powerful 90 kW/340 Nm version will make its way here soon after the “flagship” biturbo, and a single-cab body will become available during 2011. At launch, the Amarok will be available in top-of-the-line Highline specification only. A baseline version with manual door locks and windows, as well as a middle-range Trendline, are still under consideration for the local market.

VW’s wolf in wolf’s clothing
Volkswagen’s long-standing reputation for quality and reliability first made its debut in the 4×4 market with the introduction of the Toureg, an SUV that has long since proved its mettle – most notably through its successes in such grueling events as the annual Dakar Rally.

The manufacturer’s ability to match mechanical, physical and logistical challenges in modern motorsport provided the ideal opportunity to test its latest offering to this highly contested segment: the new Amarok pick-up.

The Dakar Rally is the most arduous event in the history of motorsport. Using the Amarok as the official support vehicles for Volkswagen’s team in this year’s event was not only an integral part of Volkswagen’s Dakar success in claiming all three podium positions, but the ideal opportunity to test what the Amarok is made of.

Responsible for carrying all of the essential equipment and maintenance gear needed to conquer the Dakar, the Amarok proved its strength, durability, exceptional 4×4 capabilities and, in a country where refueling stations are few and far between, the long-range capacity of Volkswagen’s innovative TDi engines.

All in all, the Amarok was given a chance to stretch its legs and prove how well-suited it is to the South African 4×4 market; which expects incredibly high standards from its 4x4s. The Amorak certainly did not disappoint. 9 000 punishing kilometres later, VW’s new kid on the block proved it’s as tough as its namesake, the rangy wolf.

– Jesse Adams is a motoring scribe with Star Motoring, which is where this article first appeared.

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