Unlike Ford and Toyota, Volkswagen doesn’t have much of a history in the full-sized pick-up market. But that didn’t stop the Amarok from taking class honours on its road test debut last year.
The smart VW brought new standards of interior quality to the class when it hit showrooms last summer, and its badge provides a hint of upmarket appeal, too. The beefy off-road looks are all part of the Amarok’s charm: the distinctive headlamps and squared-off wheelarches give it a purposeful appearance.
Mid-range Trendline spec does without the Ford’s multifunction steering wheel, heated leather seats and parking sensors. Yet at £24,943, the VW undercuts the Ranger by £1,452 and still has dual-zone automatic air-conditioning and cruise control as standard. The top Highline model matches the Ford for spec – for a hefty £28,039 list price.
Cabin quality is in a different league to that of its rivals. The high-class plastics on the dashboard, switchgear borrowed from VW’s family models and carpet-lined door pockets are all at odds with the Amarok’s rugged image. But it’s not all form over function. The back seat squabs lift upwards to provide more space for tall objects and there’s plenty of storage room overall.
If you’re looking for a pick-up that can deputise as a family car at the weekend, the VW is an obvious choice, and driving it only confirms this impression. Like the Ford and Toyota engines, its 2.0-litre BiTDI diesel sounds agricultural on start-up, so them Amarok is no match for a modern SUV in the refinement stakes. However, it’s quieter than its rivals and has the most natural driving position of our trio.
The 161bhp engine produces 400Nm of torque, making it the punchiest on paper, yet its performance is on a par with the Ranger when measured against the clock.
The big difference between the VW and Ford is the way they cope with bumps: the Amarok is less firmly sprung, which makes it a more comfortable choice when unladen. It’s not perfect, however: the gearshift is notchy and the steering, which is light and positive around town, isn’t as precise as the Ranger’s at higher speeds. Despite this, the Volkswagen is still good to drive and relatively refined.
Heading off-road isn’t a problem, either, as a pair of switches beside the gear selector allow you to shift between two-wheel drive, four-wheel drive and low range easily. This makes the Toyota’s extra gearlever set-up seem very old-fashioned in comparison.
As on the Ford, hill descent control comes as standard, along with hill hold assist for stress-free hill starts, plus trailer stability control, which improves towing safety. Yet the Volkswagen sits between its rivals for towing capacity: while the Toyota can pull 2,500kg and the Ford an impressive 3,350kg, the Amarok can cope with 2,800kg. However, it was 2.6mpg more efficient than the Ford, returning 27.8mpg on test.
Chart position: 1WHY: The Amarok arrived last year and set a new class benchmark. It brings passenger car quality to the commercial pick-up market.