Volkswagen Amarok review
Stylish Volkswagen Amarok pick-up is only available as a double-cab in the UK, but it’s still in the top trio of trucks on the market
As you might expect from a Volkswagen, Amarok prices are higher than many of its rivals, but this and the fact it’s only available as a double-cab in the UK don’t seem to have affected the big Volkswagen’s popularity.
It claimed our Best Pick-up award two years in a row in 2013 and 2014 thanks to its blend of practicality, punchy but efficient engines and VW’s traditional build quality.
However, compared to some other pick-ups the range is a little limited, with only two different engine options and just that one body style to choose from. All models use 2.0-litre diesels, but while these trail some competitors on capacity, they punch above their weight in terms of power and fuel consumption. Selectable or permanent four-wheel drive also guarantees impressive off-road ability, which will help those looking to use the Amarok as a working vehicle.
VW offers the Amarok with its BlueMotion Technology tweaks, which helps to further improve energy efficiency. Yet this is one of the largest pick-ups on the market, with one of the widest load beds, and has the robust, durable feel buyers expect. That’s especially the case inside, where the Amarok sets the standard for quality. There’s a choice of Startline, Trendline and Highline specs, all of which come well equipped – at a price.
The range starts from just over £25,000, which is more than many of its rivals. However, whichever spec you go for, the car-like cab design combines robust build quality with effortless cruising ability – and this helps the pick-up appeal to owner drivers looking to mix business use in the week with the pleasure of running a flexible, fun to drive family vehicle at the weekend.
There are plenty of customisation options available on the Amarok to make it even more practical and rugged for when its pressed into service, but these also add an extra dimension to the VW’s design which will look especially good if you’re thinking of an Amarok as a lifestyle vehicle.
Our choice: Amarok 2.0 TDI 4MOTION Highline
Volkswagen has hit the nail on the head with the Amarok’s styling, as this commercial pick-up combines rugged and smart SUV styling with the practicality of a flat load bed. It looks tough, with chunky, flared wheel arches and a tall ride height – but it combines the quality and brand image you’d expect from a Volkswagen, with neat details such as the headlights and front grille treatment.
The basic shape of a pick-up means that the looks of these working vehicles can often be quite generic, like many of the Amarok’s Japanese rivals. But here VW has managed to retain a huge chunk of identity – add on options like the big light bar that sits behind the cabin and the VW is even more noticeable.
The same is true inside. Many manufacturers claim their commercial vehicles feel ‘car-like’ from behind the wheel, but the Amarok is one of the few to deliver. While there’s no getting away from its massive dimensions – the pick-up feels particularly wide on country lanes – the interior is very comfortable. The rear seats provide plenty of legroom for passengers, too. Equipment is generous, with even the base Startline featuring heated electric mirrors, electric windows, semi-automatic air-conditioning and an MP3-compatible CD player.
Upgrade to the Amarok Trendline and you get cruise control, a multifunction trip computer, a six-speaker stereo and two-zone automatic air-conditioning. The steering wheel and gearlever are trimmed in leather while on the outside the car gets 17-inch alloys.
Range-topping Highline models add even bigger 18-inch alloys, leather upholstery, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors, and privacy glass. You get more toys in the Nissan Navara Outlaw, but you’ll also pay a much higher price. The Ford Ranger Wildtrak offers a similar level of kit for the same kind of money.
Popular options on the Amarok include touchscreen satellite navigation at £696, Bluetooth connectivity for £252 and rear parking sensors for £330. You can also add a reversing camera with those rear parking sensors for another £444 – it’s also worth remembering that all these prices include VAT, but as a commercial vehicle, and just like the overall cost, if it’s a business asset you’ll be able to claim this tax back.
Even the entry-level 138bhp Amarok has enough pulling power to keep up with other traffic on the road. Drivers demanding stronger performance should go for the Bi-TDI, though – as well as a 178bhp output, it delivers 400Nm of torque in the manual Amarok and 420Nm in the auto. This is more than enough for most situations, and means rapid acceleration and relaxed motorway cruising.
The diesel motor is a little gruff on start up and continues to make its presence known when accelerating. Add to that the fair amount of wind noise generated by the squared-off panels and huge wing mirrors and it’s not the most refined motorway cruiser. Big tyres roar on the motorway, too.
However, given its large dimensions and considerable weight, the truck rides quite well, and there’s not much of the bounce from the rear end that you get in some unladen pick-ups.
It’s on a par with the latest Ford Ranger in this respect, soaking up bumps much better than some lighter trucks. If ride comfort is a priority, the permanent 4Motion model (which is only available as in Highline trim with the automatic gearbox) features softer suspension. Unlike before, this now carries over a tonne (1,077kg) so owners can reclaim VAT on their purchase.
As you’d hope from a big off-road workhorse like the Amarok, reliability is strong and owners haven’t reported any major problems. Many of the components have already proven durable in other products from the company.
The Amarok is also one of the safest choices on the pickup market. Not only does it get standard ESP, the ABS brakes also incorporate an off-road function that allows a bit of slip when you want it in muddy conditions to aid progress. It’s clever tech.
Plus, there’s an electronic differential lock, while hill start assist and hill descent assist ensure you can pull away cleanly on steep inclines and then descend slippery off-road drops safely. The car takes care of braking when going down strong declines for you.
This raft of electronic driver aids will ensure the Amarok always behaves as you’d expect, whether you’re on or off the tarmac. All versions come with driver, front passenger and front side/head airbags, while other standard kit includes air-conditioning and heated door mirrors.
The load bed in the Amarok is one of the largest of any double-cab pick-up available in the UK. It has a load area of more than 2.5 square metres – but buyers elsewhere in Europe can get a bigger capacity, as the Amarok is sold with a single cab in some markets.
Still, the double-cab UK model has one of the widest bodies around, and these dimensions pay off with a massive 1.22 metres between the rear wheelarches – enough to take a Europallet sideways in the back. Plus, most versions of the Amarok can carry in excess of one tonne of weight, so again, customers can reclaim VAT if they’re registered.
Even the 178bhp manual model with permanent 4Motion four-wheel drive has been upgraded so it can now carry 1,091kg, up from 722kg. The basic 178bhp Startline model has a 1,1062kg payload, which is competitive for the class.
All versions of the Amarok can tow a 3,000kg trailer, with the 178bhp permanent 4Motion auto capable of pulling up to 3.2 tonnes. It’s a strong towing capacity, although higher-spec models from some of its rivals just eclipse the VW.
The load area comes with lashing rings, although a rear window rack is an option. Other extras include an electric tow bar, while VW can supply a variety of soft or hardtop tonneau covers to secure the load bed. Underbody protection can also be specified by owners planning to use their Amarok off-road, and with high ground clearance and four-wheel drive, there’ll be plenty of them who will.
All versions come with ESP (electronic stability programme) as standard, and the package includes a trailer stabilisation system that uses the vehicle’s anti-skid and ABS brake systems to maintain control if whatever you’re towing starts to wander.
There’s a choice of two 2.0-litre diesel engines in the Amarok: a 138bhp turbo and a 178bhp twin-turbo. VW claims fuel consumption of up to 36.2mpg and 35.3mpg respectively, while CO2 emissions stand at 205g/km and 211g/km.
These figures are for manual versions; the 178bhp Bi-TDI is also available with an eight-speed automatic transmission, although this doesn’t affect the fuel consumption and emissions figures of the higher-powered Amarok according to VW. You can also add a BlueMotion Technology package that features cruise control, low-rolling-resistance tyres and stop-start to the 178bhp Highline model.
It also brings regenerative braking, which feeds more charge back into the battery by working the alternator harder when the Amarok is decelerating or braking than when it’s accelerating. The effect of all this is to reduce strain on the engine and boost efficiency. However, the BlueMotion Technology model’s official figures promise the same level of efficiency and is only available on the top-spec auto.
Variable servicing means the on-board computer tells you when the Amarok needs a check-up at the dealer according to how it’s been driven, but the pick-up can go as much as two years or 25,000 miles between visits to the workshop.