Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
Believe it or not there was a Volkswagen-made pick-up before the Amarok appeared on our shores in 2011 and, as much as we would like to go on about it, we don’t mean the Skoda Felicia Fun, which came into existence just before the VAG takeover. Yes, believe it or not Volkswagen have been making pick-ups since the 1980s, or at least since 1989. You’ll be hard-pushed to have ever seen many Volkswagen Taros on the road, but go on the road they did. Underneath the Taro was a rebadged Toyota Hilux and this workhorse-with-a-German-nose lasted for nine years until Toyota and VW called it quits due to unimpressive sales. It wasn’t until 2005 that Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles began to make noises about returning to the pick-up world and not until 2007 that road mules begun to appear in disguise.
The Amarok finally made its debut in 2008 under the guise of the delightfully-named Robust Pick-Up Concept, before the first production ready Amarok was revealed in Argentina in 2010. Since then it has had a mid-life facelift in which the outside received a dusting of modern LED magic and the interior was brought up to modern VW standards. More importantly the Amarok’s original 2.0-litre diesel disappeared from UK sale, replaced with the bigger and much more impressive 3.0-litre V6 we see today.
‘Our’ Amarok comes in Highline trim and is fitted with that colossal 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine. That means 258PS (254bhp) at 3,250rpm, but more importantly a staggering 550Nm (405lb ft) of torque from just 1,400rpm. Therefore, despite weighing in at just under 2.2 tonnes unladen, the Amarok will fire itself to 62mph in just 7.4 seconds.
Incredible powerplant aside, the Highline trim level means 18-inch Manaus alloys, a 6.33-inch touchscreen infotainment system including Android Auto and DAB radio, a leather multi-function wheel, a protective coating for the floor of the load bay, heated wing mirrors and heated front seats, all for a total of £42,887 on the road before extras. Our car also came with the additional navigation pack, ErgoComfort 13-way adjustable front seats, a reversing camera and parking sensors, automatic lights and rain-sensing windscreen wipers. Inside that makes the Amarok an incredibly well-equipped pick-up, and very much allows it to become more of an alternative to an SUV than most.
Underneath, the front suspension is MacPherson-type while the rear sits on reinforced leaf-springs, and the whole car is reinforced with a ladder chassis.
There are two elements here. Firstly, the handling is as you might expect from a large high-riding pick-up truck. The Amarok is around 1.8m tall and just by sight you can see the significant size of the suspension travel due to the impressive distance between wheel and arch. That means it’s never going to win any handling awards, and the leaf-springs can make the rear quite bouncy over bumps, but due to its permanent all-wheel-drive and some well set-up steering it never feels overly wobbly.
Stick your foot down and you’ll experience the Amarok’s most impressive party trick. With a little pause for the torque converter to catch up, the giant pick-up will launch itself to the horizon with what can only be described as abandon. Sure, in the heartland of pick-ups this 3.0-litre V6 might be seen as a bit weedy, but in the world of more compact Euro pick-ups it’s absolutely plenty. The big Volkswagen lurches back on its leaf-springs as the almost-instantly available 550Nm of torque sets about having a go at shredding all the tyres at once. It’s a lot of fun unladen and no doubt absolutely invaluable should you be carrying round a real load or towing something.
The second element is load-lugging. The Amarok is a double-cab so the load-bay isn’t the longest in the world (at 1,555mm) but the width between the tyres is the largest available in the UK at 1,222mm and the overall width is an impressive 1,620mm. That leaves a total load area of 2.52m2 – more than enough to lug pretty much anything you like. The tailgate is 1,364mm wide leaving an excellent opening for loading and at 780mm off the ground isn’t too high as to make the job more taxing than it needs to be. Inside you’ll find anchoring points to strap cargo down and that aforementioned reinforced floor. Our Highline model also came with the roof bars, extra handy for carrying longer items and a very easily retractable cover for the load bay, allowing the whole rear deck to be used as more of a boot than a bay if you need.
The Volkswagen Amarok is a strange concept, but we live in a world where even Mercedes are rebadging Nissans to join in the new Euro pick-up craze. VW decided to go it alone rather than follow the likes of Fiat (and Merc eventually) in rebadging more established pick-ups and it’s created a unique proposition. Some pick-ups are almost in your face in their utilitarianism, and rugged to the point of being only ever for the person lugging round ladders, lawnmowers or sundry other equipment. The Amarok is rugged and capable of carrying not insignificant loads (it has a maximum carrying weight of over a tonne and can tow trailers up to three tonnes) while feeling more like a car to drive than something originally designed for commercial use. It makes the Amarok a consideration not just for those with business needs, but an interesting alternative to an SUV. With a huge load bay and significant room inside, anyone looking for a five-seat SUV might want to have a think about an Amarok instead. This could well be the real birth of the pick-up in the UK.
Price of our car: £47,482 (including £4,596 of options)