Volkswagen Amarok pick-up review

Our Rating: 
4.2
4.2/5.0
2016 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

New V6 engine gives the facelifted Volkswagen Amarok more punch than rival pick-ups

For: 
Great to drive, powerful, premium feel
Against: 
No single cab option, expensive

For the first six-and-a-half years of its life the Volkswagen Amarok was offered with a range of efficient and punchy 2.0-litre diesel engines. What they lacked in capacity they made up for in power and low fuel consumption, but apparently that wasn’t enough for the Amarok’s potential customer base. 'Give us a bigger engine', they protested, and Volkswagen has obliged by shoving the Touareg SUV’s meaty 221bhp 3.0-litre TDI engine under the bonnet of the latest 2016 facelifted Amarok. The firm has also ditched the old 2.0-litre option altogether.

It all might sound like a counter-intuitive move in this age of eco-friendly downsizing, but in a game of pick-up truck Top Trumps, the VW now looks like a hard card to beat. Nissan’s Navara offers nothing bigger than a 2.3-litre 187bhp four-cylinder engine, Mitsubishi’s L200 has a 178bhp 2.4-litre, and while the Ford Ranger has a 3.2-litre turbodiesel, that’s only got 197bhp.

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The Volkswagen Amarok still only comes as a 5-seat double-cab, but that doesn’t seem to have hampered its popularity. In fact it was crowned Best Pick-Up at the Auto Express New Car Awards in 2013 and 2014 thanks to its mix of rugged practicality, and that now redundant 2.0-litre engine range.

Selectable or permanent four-wheel drive also guarantees impressive off-road ability, and this is one of the largest pick-ups on the market. It has the widest load beds, and the robust, durable feel pickup 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 have traditionally come well equipped – at a price.

Whichever spec you go for, the car-like cab design combines 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. The 2016 facelift has also introduced a new nose treatment which brings the Amarok closer into line with VW’s SUV range, and it has been further improved with a classy new dash that features VW’s latest touchscreen infotainment system.

MPG and Running Costs

4.3

We’re told that 161bhp and 201bhp versions of the new V6 will join the Amarok line-up here in the UK later in 2017, but the facelift arrives in 2016 with just the top-spec 221bhp engine option. It produces emissions of 199g/km, and has a claimed fuel consumption figure of 37.2mpg, which is actually pretty good given the performance that’s available.

In comparison, the 163bhp 2.5-litre Isuzu D-Max pick-up claims 38.2mpg and 194g/km, while the Ford Ranger is much less efficient, with 30mpg and 248g/km in 2.2-litre four-cylinder auto form or 28.3mpg and 249g/km in the 3.2-litre manual. If you don’t need all the power of the Amarok, the new 187bhp Nissan Navara claims just over 40mpg on the combined cycle with the automatic gearbox – although picking manual gears pushes that up to over 44mpg.

Variable servicing means the on-board computer tells you when the Amarok needs a check-up, according to how it’s been driven, but the pick-up can go as much as two years or 25,000 miles between dealer visits.

While prices and specifications for the revised Amarok have yet to be announced, we’re expecting the new engine to add between £750 and £1,000 to the old model prices – pushing it further into the realms of the ‘premium pick-up’. The new touchscreen infotainment system will bump the prices up too, but for company car drivers considering swapping out of an estate car or SUV, the tax advantages of driving the newly upgraded Amarok will arguably be even more significant than before – mainly because the benefit-in-kind rate for such vehicles is pegged low and doesn’t rise with list prices.

Load Space and Practicality

3.9

The load bed in the Amarok is one of the largest of any double-cab pick-up available in the UK. It has a volume of 2.5 square metres – and although buyers elsewhere in Europe used to be offered a bigger capacity where the Amarok was sold with a single cab, that option has now disappeared altogether.

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, all versions of the facelifted Amarok will carry in excess of 1 tonne, so customers can reclaim VAT if they’re registered.

All versions of the Amarok will be able to tow a 3,000kg trailer, with the top-spec version with permanent 4Motion auto capable of pulling up to 3.5 tonnes.

The load area comes with four lashing rings, although a rear window rack is a £170 option. Other extras include an electric tow bar, for £225, 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. However, 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.

Reliability and Safety

4.1

The Amarok is one of the safest choices on the pickup market. Not only does it get standard ESP, there's also an off-road function that allows a bit of slip when you want it in muddy conditions. 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.

VW’s Post Collision System has been added to the mix too, which is designed to help limit the damage caused by secondary impacts during an accident. Indeed, the 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. Unlike some rivals, the big VW hasn’t been on sale for long, but owners haven’t reported any major reliability problems – and many of the components have already proven durable in other products from the company.

Driving and Performance

4.2

The Amarok’s 3.0-litre diesel is refined and smooth, at least in the top spec 221bhp version we’ve tried so far. It has 550Nm of torque, which feels like enough to pull tree stumps out of the ground, and more than enough acceleration for most situations on the road. 0-62mph comes up in just 7.9 seconds, while top speed is 120mph,

The diesel motor is refined on start up and when driving, although can be a little gruff under hard acceleration. The engine itself is refined at cruising speeds, but there’s a fair amount of wind noise generated by the squared-off panels and huge wing mirrors and it’s not the most refined motorway cruiser. 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 features slightly softer suspension. Previously this came at the expense of carrying capacity – and as the model’s payload didn’t exceed a tonne, owners weren’t able to reclaim VAT on their purchase. However that situation has been resolved in the latest model.

Cab and Interior

4.8

Many manufacturers claim their commercial vehicle feels ‘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 cab is very comfortable. The rear seats provide plenty of legroom for passengers, too.

Equipment is likely to be generous when details are confirmed, with even the base Startline featuring heated electric mirrors, electric windows, semi-automatic air-conditioning and a CD/radio. 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, plus there are carpet floor coverings and storage drawers under the front seats, while on the outside are 17-inch alloys. Range-topping Highline models add 18-inch alloys, leather upholstery, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors, and privacy glass.

The new fascia design is attractive and well put together – especially so for a commercial vehicle – and helps to give the cabin an upmarket ambience. That’s particularly true if you opt for the new touchscreen infotainment system, which as well as offering the latest sat-nav set-up allows you to mirror many of the apps from your smartphone.

Van dimensions

Body style Height Width Length
Double-cab pick-up 1,834mm 1,954mm 5,254mm

(Width measurements are without wing mirrors – 2,228mm incl. mirrors)

Load area dimensions

Body style Height Width Length Volume
Double-cab pick-up 508mm 1,620mm 1,555mm 1.28m3

(Widths are maximum, width between wheel arches is 1,222mm)

Specifications

  • Power: 140bhp – 180bhp
  • Weight (GVW): 2,820kg – 3,200kg
  • Loading height (approx, unladen): 780mm
Last updated: 16 Jun, 2016