Published on May 5th, 2017 | by Richard Wiley0
Volkswagen’s brawny Amarok 3.0 V6 TDi moving the goal posts
Bakkie-mad South Africa now has cause to celebrate the arrival of a double cab contender that stands head and shoulders above its peers – the facelifted Volkswagen Amarok powered by a 3.0 V6 VGT turbo diesel motor that redefines the class.
Before I tell you just why this is the king of bakkiedom, I feel compelled to express an informed opinion about the Amarok and its standing in South Africa as there can surely be no vehicle market on earth that is more driven by (largely ill-informed) perception than Mzansi.
I admit to not being a bakkie person as I believe that the compromised driving characteristics of such a vehicle type just don’t justify the limited time during which the positive attributes are fully utilised by the average owner, but that’s another story.
Notwithstanding my ingrained cynicism, I have driven all the class contenders and my conclusion is that the most car-like and therefore the most comfortable drive is delivered by the existing Amarok with 2.0 BiTDI motor and the 8-speed auto transmission. Contrary to all the sniping talk that surrounds this vehicle, the BiTurbo engine in particular provides more than enough go to comfortably match bigger-engined competitors, so much so that in some situations, it actually outruns vehicles with engines boasting 50% greater displacement.
I can’t express an opinion on off-road ability as I haven’t fully exploited all the contenders in such conditions but I have made it my business to read reams of opinion from all over the world and there’s near unanimity about the Amarok’s exceptional competence not just on-road but in off-road conditions too.
No less a luminary than off-road master, Andre de Villiers, admittedly now a VW brand ambassador, is gushing in his praise of the largely-hidden engineering that backs up just why the Amarok will deal with conditions that are beyond the average owner’s skill levels. To be specific, he rates the Amarok as entirely suitable for off-road work rated at 4/5 on the off-road richter scale
And then, for those whose negative perceptions are probably not based on hands-on experience, may I refer them to the May issue of Car magazine (SA) which for the second consecutive time ranks the Amarok 2.0 as the best choice in the bakkie leisure market following comprehensive tests conducted against ALL the contenders available in South Africa. (This test preceded the arrival of the V6)
To add credence to their selection , may I also refer you to an Australian website – www.caradvice.com.au – which recently pitched the Hilux, Ranger, (Holden) Colorado, Amarok (2.0), D-Max and Triton against each other. Despite panning the Amarok for the absence of rear compartment air bags which they said would seriously dent the VW’s challenge, it was again the Amarok that was rated the best choice overall and to the surprise of the testers, it was also the most competent in off-road conditions.
So, having put a few myths to bed, let me tell you that the Amarok V6 is more than just a bakkie with a bigger engine for the simple reason that it sports the first facelift for the Amarok since 2010.
In typical VW style, the changes are not massive but they do freshen the presentation. There’s the usual nose job, new alloy wheels, an LED third brake light down the back plus a revised dashboard design which brings Amarok more in line with other group models.
Incorporated in the dash is VW’s modular infotainment system with touchscreen operation and App Connect, Bluetooth and USB interface compatible with iPhones. In the case of the Highline Plus and Extreme spec vehicles, sat nav is a standard fitment as part of the “Discover Media “ spec while newly-configured Comfortline and Highline models use the “Composition Media“ unit. Both systems include a digital voice enhancement device that improves voice projection from rear seat passengers.
There’s no doubting the Amarok’s interior, especially with the standard leather-clad seats in the Highline Plus spec, is the most car-like of all bakkies but be aware that practicality takes precedence over tactility as soft-touch surfacing is hard to find. VW has done a fine job though of disguising the hard bits by employing grained surfacing and avoiding shiny, plastic inserts. Further, the leather aroma in the cabin is most pleasing as is the truly excellent comfort of the accommodating front seats.
Those in the back, where three adults can just be accommodated on the folding cushions, are adequately catered for space-wise, but as with all double cabs, the seating position is compromised by being more vertical than is ideal. And, VW has persisted with not fitting airbags in the rear (ISOFIX mountings are present) but those in the front are protected by four air bags.
Aside from the different model designations now employed in the new model line-up and, for the record, the axing of the single cab Amarok derivative, the basics of the double cab Amarok remain as they were. For specific details of equipment variations, please have a look at www.vw.co.za but for now, this report will concentrate on the dynamics of the new V6 TDI model which is what we went to the eastern reaches of the Free State to drive.
It’s not by accident that 6-cylinder motors are for the most part sweet performers. Inherent balance is an important contributor but with the combustion process spread across more cylinders than the normal four, the explosive effects of the fuel burning process are dissipated. It’s all just the opposite of the old “big banger” motorcycles and the benefit in terms of smoothness and aural massaging seem greater still in a diesel configuration.
Fire up the Audi-derived V6 and you’re greeted with a rather pleasant, subdued thrum that’s a far cry from the banging and clanking of diesels from yesteryear. Sure, there’s no disguising that a diesel’s on board when the motor is stone cold but once warmth has seeped through the block, you’d never know what fuel was being burned.
Indeed, on full throttle or when pressing on at illegal speeds on the open road, you could be excused for believing a petrol motor had been substituted, so refined is the hum emanating from under the bonnet.
There’s no less than 165kW on permanent offer and 180kW for short bursts which makes for decidedly brisk mid-to-upper-range urge while the thrust at lower revolutions is assured by a meaty torque output of up to 580Nm accessible from a mere 1 400rpm. For the record, it will hit 100 clicks in just 8s and romp on to 193km/h with the promise of good fuel consumption (9.0l/100km) achieved partly through high gearing that keeps revs down.
On undulating A-roads, the Amarok V6 dismisses the uphill bits with utter disdain and tends to head to the north side of 140 km/h on the level with such ease that restraint must be exercised to keep on the right side of the law.
For the first time in my extensive experience, here’s a bakkie that lopes along like a decent SUV while still having so much in reserve. Mark my words, this Amarok can devour long distances while offering very acceptable ride comfort and control.
Sure, at low speeds, the leaf-sprung V6 still shuffles about somewhat on indifferent surfaces when unladen, but once a bit of pace is dialled in, the jitteriness dissipates and even directional stability is pretty good.
Thanks to having the toughest ladder frame in the business, which ensures all suspension pick-up points remain where they should be, and to the use of longer leaves in the springs, the suspension set-up provides the most pliant ride of any class contender. Now add disc brakes all round and a power steering system that takes the effort out of low speed manoeuvres, but which retains acceptable feel and responsiveness at speed, and you’ll understand just why the Amarok V6 is indisputably the best-driving bakkie of all.
Now for those of you who are probably thinking this on-road goodness is achieved at the expense of off-road credibility, you’d be wrong. You see. The Amarok features an 8-speed auto gearbox with a particularly low first gear that drives through a permanent 4MOTION system aided and abetted by a Torsen differential and electronic differential lock.
We sampled its abilities on a relatively easy off-road course but those in the know assure me the Amarok has the wherewithal to tackle really tough going including daunting 45 degree slopes while carrying a full load. Independent reports, as already outlined, confirm this off-road prowess which includes approach and departure angles of 29 and 24 degrees respectively plus half- metre wading ability.
As one who prefers smooth going, I appreciated the wonderfully smooth-acting auto box which is virtually devoid of the annoying slip that plagues many of its opponents. Best of all, this bakkie is equipped with paddle shifters that give the driver full finger-tip control if so desired.
It’s not often that a double-cab generates genuine enthusiasm but this one certainly does. Even down to the beautifully-applied paintwork and excellent door sealing to ward off wind noise, the Amarok adheres to VW’s renowned assembly standards. On paper, the V6 may seem “expensive” whether in Highline (R665 700) or Highline Plus (R716 600) or Extreme(R748 000) trim levels, even allowing for niceties such as Auto Post-Collision Assist, Electronic Trailer Stabilisation, Hill Descent Assist and Off-road ABS.
That’s only part of the story though as the sheer dynamic ability of the Amarok 3.0 TDI V6 by the standards of the class tells another story altogether. Right now, this is a bakkie that could well lure buyers away from SUVs costing 50% more still and it’s certainly worth a close look from those traditional bakkie buyers who may just have been unwilling in the past to believe there truly is an alternative.
(All comment in this report relates to the situation prevailing in the South African market. SA prices are included for reference purposes but please note no decision has yet been taken regarding the availability or otherwise of the Amarok V6 TDI in the Kenya market. Please talk to your VW dealer for an update.)