BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS MEDIUM
The much anticipated Volkswagen Amarok ute was released in 2011; short-cab version and automatic box in mid-2012 and futher variants were added in early 2015. A V6 option was released in October 2016, long-wheelbase options in 2020 and off-road special variants in early 2022. The new model was released in April 2023.
The first Amarok was designed by VW, using a unique design, but the 2023 replacement shared the 2022 Ford Ranger powertrain, chassis and running gear.
The bodywork metal and plastic looked different, despite the use of the Ranger’s cab structure.
Made in South Africa, the 2023 Amarok had a greatly expanded array of driver assist features and a larger range of powertrains than its predecessor.
Enhanced safety was provided by more than 30 driver assist systems; more than 20 of which were completely new to the Amarok.
The Ranger-based Volkswagen Amarok arrived in Australia in April 2023, in Style, PanAmericana and Aventura equipment levels, with turbo-petrol and diesel power. Amarok Core and Life specifications arrived two months later.
The Amarok Style was available with a choice of Ford’s 154kW/500Nm 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel or Ford/Land Rover 184kW/600Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 and was positioned just above the previous Amarok Highline.
Style featured Matrix LED headlamps, 300mm (12-inch) infotainment display, with navigation, 300mm (12-inch) Digital Cockpit pro and 10-way driver/8-way passenger power adjustable front seats, with heating as standard.
PanAmericana came with all-terrain 18-inch tyres, darkened sports exterior accents, a leather-covered dashboard and Harman/Kardon premium audio. Aventura had 21-inch wheels, ‘Savona’ leather trim, electric tonneau and chrome-accent exterior.
The PanAmericana came only with diesel V6 power and the Aventura was powered by For’s EcoBoost 222kW/452Nm 2.3-litre turbo-petrol engine, or the diesel V6.
At 5350mm overall, the new model was around 100mm longer than its predecessor. A wheelbase of 3270mm was an increase of 175mm that gave more space in the double cab and, hopefully, better weight distribution in the cargo area. Bodywork overhangs were shorter, reducing the approach angle.
Payload rating increased to up to 1.2 tonnes and towing capacity up to 3.5 tonnes.
The 4WD system was permanent all-wheel drive in up-market models.
Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles’ Ford-based ute had a wide tailgate and standard LED rear lights. As with the previous model, there was sufficient space between the wheel arches for a Euro pallet to be loaded in sideways.
Drivers and front-seat passengers sat on comfortable, wide seats, which can optionally be configured with electric, 10-way adjustment. The back of the DoubleCab Amarok provided room for three adult passengers.
We didn’t test the post=2023 Amok, because of its Ford-idnetical platform and powertrain. Check out our extensive Ford Ranger testing for our findings.
What’s not known is if the previous Amarok’s long wheelbase, long cargo bed option will be offered on the Amarok, as it is in the USA on the Ford Ranger, spotted below while testing. We asked Ford and VW for comment, but received none.
Here’s the Amarok history Down Under.
Although it had the smallest engine capacity in the crew-cab ute class the post-2011 Amarok had ample grunt and was physically larger inside and in the cargo tray than HiLux and Navara crew-cab utes.
On paper, the VW Amarok’s little two-litre diesel looked like a child on an adult mission, but the peak power of 120kW at 4000rpm was OK and the torque band of 400Nm between a low 1500rpm and 2500rpm was respectable.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery the Amarok’s small diesel idea has since been copied by several other makers.
VW extracted performance from small engines by utilising its TDI technology that combined two turbochargers and common-rail, high-pressure fuel injection. The four-cylinder engine had a relatively small bore of 81mm and quite a long piston stroke of 95.5mm, which were dimensions designed to increase torque, especially when force-fed by a pair of turbos in series.
This engine was mated to a wide-ratio eight-speed automatic (from 2012) or six-speed manual transmission and low-range transfer case, to provide off-road gearing.
At launch, VW’s Amarok wasn’t a cheapie, ranging in RRP from $43,990 up to $52,990 for selectable-4WD versions and $58,990 for the full-time-4WD model. With the 4WD package came aluminium wheels; push-button 4WD engagement; an electronic rear differential locking function; off-road compatible ABS and anti-skid; and traction and stability control.
Other standard equipment across the range included: hill-holding function, driver and passenger front airbags, side and thorax airbags, remote central locking, three-point belts (height-adjustable front), cargo area light, four cargo tie-down rings, tinted glass, front and rear mudflaps, radio/CD with MP3 double-DIN, climate control air conditioning/heating, folding rear bench seat, height-adjustable driver and front passenger seats and power mirrors and windows.
The Trendline model scored fog lamps, step rear bumper, 16-inch aluminium wheels, four speakers, rear interior light and front map lights, body-coloured bumpers, carpet, trip computer with multifunction display, two additional 12V sockets and cruise control.
The Highline spec’ added: chrome bumper and mirror trim, 18-inch wheels, extended wheel arches, dual-zone aircon, leather wheel rim and gear knob, rear privacy glass, an alarm and six speakers.
The Ultimate equipment list consisted of: stainless-steel side steps and sports bar (optional on other models), 19-inch wheels, rear parking assistance, leather upholstery and trim. Full-time-4WD was also fitted.
In April 2014 the $57-60,000 Amarok Canyon was released, based on the TDI400 and TDI420 Highline models. The Canyon scoreed black gloss sports and side bars, 17-inch Roca Alloy wheels with Pirelli Scorpion AT-R tyres, impact and UV-resistant load area coating in the tray, tinted tail lamps and special ‘Canyon’ rear and side decals.
Inside, the Canyon’s interior had satellite navigation and reversing camera and two-tone Nappa leather interior with orange stitching.
In early 2015 the TDI420 Single Cab 4Motion Automatic model was released, with permanent four-wheel-drive. Standard features in the TDI420 Single Cab 4Motion were cruise control and Bluetooth connectivity, a multifunction steering wheel and a body coloured front bumper. The Amarok TDI420 Single Cab 4MOTION was available in both cab chassis and ute body configurations.
Also in early 2015 VW renamed its entry-level model ‘Core Edition’. This model continued to be available with a TDI400 or TDI420 engine and 4Motion manual or automatic transmissions, and scored body-coloured bumpers, 16-inch ‘Korama’ alloy wheels and Pirelli Scorpion ATR tyres as standard.
All 2015 Trendline vehicles included standard front and rear park distance control and 17-inch alloy wheels. New options for Trendline Amaroks were satellite navigation, rear view camera and lumbar support in the driver and front passenger seats.
The 2015 Highline specification included standard rear view camera, rain sensing wipers and automatic headlamps, and lumbar support in the driver and passenger seats. Bi-Xenon headlights are optional. The Ultimate model received Bi-Xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights.
Early VW Amarok diesels suffered from all the common-rail diesel reliability issues and had another speciality of their own: timing belt failure. There were dozens of reports from all over the world about timing belt failures at mileages below the stipulated 75,000km change-over – a $2000 workshop job. When the timing belt lets go, so does the engine!
In Hannover, in May 2016, VW announced the introduction of a Premium pickup powered by a high-performance V6 turbodiesel, with outputs up to 165kW and 550 Nm of torque.
VW didn’t say if the engine complied with Euro VI emissions standards and, even if the company had said this, who would believe it?
The Amarok Aventura launch model came with a sports bar, 20-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights. You had to pay plenty and there was no smaller-wheel option, to allow fitment of bush-suitable tyres.
For Australia the V6 came originally only in Highline and Ultimate spec’ levels, on 19- or 20-inch wheels and with the eight-speed auto box and no low-range gearing. Pricing was $60,000 and $68,000.
However, there was a V6 Core model released in late-2018, with more practical wheel and tyre sizes.
Insanely, VW launched the V6 model in Australia with an over-boost function. As if VW diesels weren’t already plagued with excessive carbon buildup in their air inlet plumbing, the over-boost increased standard power from 165kW to 180kW, while torque lifted from 550Nm to 580Nm.
Kicking in at 70 per cent accelerator extension, optimal over-boost was delivered in third or fourth gear from 50km/h and hung on for 10 seconds. After a five-second off time, over-boost could again be accessed.
We tested the V6 in Ultimate spec’ level, but we couldn’t check it out off road, because it came with low-slung, expensive-looking side steps and street tyres.
Performance was brilliant and economy worked out at 9.0L/100km as a solo vehicle. Had it been fitted with a towbar we’d have done a tow test with it as well.
In February 2017 all four-cylinder Amarok models received Volkswagen’s Multi-Collision Braking system, a Composition Media unit with App-Connect, featuring
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, plus rear-view camera and rear parking sensors (not available on cab/chassis models).
All four-cylinder Amaroks also received a subtly revised front bumper and underbody guard.
The Core Plus model received the most updates, largely replacing the previous Highline specification that was V6-only specification.
The Core Plus model gained carpet, an upgraded cloth seat trim, front parking sensors, additional 12-volt sockets, body-coloured mirrors and door handles, rear grab handles and a post-collision braking system.
The upgraded four-cylinder Amarok range was priced between $41,990 and $50,490.
2020 special edition model
Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Australia and tuning house Walkinshaw produced a GT-style W580 version of the Amarok ute in late 2020.
The W580 was given styling and performance upgrades by Walkinshaw, including a redesigned front grille and bumper; twin exhaust with side pipes at the rear wheels and a set of 9×20 wheels that were exclusive to the W580.
Walkinshaw retuned the Amarok’s suspension and fitted 275/50 R20 Pirelli Scorpion tyres.
he Amarok’s 200kW/580Nm V6 turbo diesel and eight-speed automatic transmission remained untouched.
The W580 was available to order from Volkswagen dealers around the country and online from 1st December, with customer deliveries to begin from April 2021.
For many years we’ve been complaining about the restricted wheelbase and GVM offerings from medium-ute importers. In 2020, VW did something about it.
You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to look at a typical dual-cab ute and realise the load area is in the wrong place; or, rather, the load area is in the right place, but the back axle isn’t.
All standard dual-cab utes, with the obvious exception of US-manufactured ones, have wheelbases that are too short. When that’s combined with gross vehicle mass ratings that are around the three-tonnes mark it’s a recipe for overloaded back axles and underloaded front ones.
The cure is simple, as US ute makers know only too well: have longer-wheelbase and higher-GVM options for people who want to carry real-world payloads.
European commercial vehicle buyers have shied away from utes for many reasons, including the aforementioned axle-load issue, so when VW entered the ute market, European customers were well aware of its shortcomings. Enter the Amarok model endorsed by VW AG that is now part of VW Australia’s Body Builder Program.
Adaptive Automotive’s ‘stretched’ Amaroks
The Amarok XL and XXL models were originally developed for VW AG by Dutch company Veth Automotive. A critical part of the engineering exercise was re-calibration of the ESC system, to allow for the increased wheelbase dimensions.
In Australia, South Australian company, Adaptive Automotive, has been licensed by Veth Automotive to carry out XL and XXL conversions on dual-cab Amarok four- and six-cylinder utes and cab/chassis. Both models can be ordered through VW dealers and both are covered by VW’s five-year warranty.
The XL model has its wheelbase extended by 310mm, from 3095mm to 3405mm; and the XXL has a 610mm extension, to 3745mm. Ute models are fitted with tub extenders as part of the conversion.
The tare weight penalties are modest: 25kg and 50kg for cab/chassis XL and XXL respectively; and 45kg and 85kg for XL and XXL utes.
Pricing is also reasonable, we reckon: $10,595 and $13,595 for the XL and XL cab/chassis, respectively; and $18,995 and $21,995 for the XL and XXL utes, where the cost includes considerable bodywork changes.
Not covered in this pricing is an optional Pedders GVM upgrade from 3080kg to 3305kg. There are also supplementary air spring and full-air rear suspension options.
Off-road special 2022 models
Seikel developed the Alpine and Alpine Plus kits that have manufacturer-backed Volkswagen five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
Priced from $6090 RRP, the Alpine off-road package featured: a Koni RAID Offroad kit with ground clearance lifted by 25mm and featuring twin-tube shock absorbers, with 70mm bore; Eibach springs; cast steel lower retainer for the front shock absorbers;
rear 25mm spacer; snorkel and wheel arch covers.
Priced from $12,090 RRP, the Alpine Plus off-road package featured: the Alpine off-road package, plus rock sliders, protective cladding doors and wheel arches; a breather kit for rear and front differential, transmission and transfer case; and engine, transmission and rear diff protection plates
An off-road tyre package was also available for Amarok V6 Sportline and Highline only, priced at $1590 RRP, consisting of five General Grabber AT3 255/60 R18 112 H XL tyres.
These limited edition specials were expected to be the last iterations of the original Amarok, before introduction of the Range-based 2023 models.
On and off road in several Amaroks
Our first evaluation Amarok was a 2011 Trendline model, fitted with optional 18-inch wheels, VW’s tow bar and tongue and a seven-pin trailer socket. (The factory tow bar kit was an expensive rip-off, we reckon.)
The Amarok bar was rated for a towed load of 2800kg, with a maximum ball weight of 280kg. Payload varied with the number of occupants and the amount of gear, but was a nominal 970kg. The Ultimate was restricted to 710kg.
The Amarok was noticeably larger than most of its then competitors and VW boasted of its ability to accept a pallet in the cargo box.
Inside, there was a big-ute feel and the centre console was quite voluminous. Two back seat occupants had lounging room and three average-sized adults weren’t squeezed.
Height adjustable front seats, infinitely-variable seat back angles and a tilting-telescoping steering column make getting comfortable easy.
Controls were European-style (left-side direction indicators), but once used to the layout we had no problems with them.
Headlight beam height adjustment was standard, as it should be on every vehicle that tows or carries varying loads. Vision was excellent, through the big glass areas and large, convex mirrors.
The six-speed’s stubby stick and heavily-sprung gate took some getting used to and we found the detent springing away from the first-second plane sometimes meant accidentally picking up third gear to lift off – followed by the inevitable stall.
This degree of detent may work in left-hand-drive versions, where the driver is pulling the lever towards the gate, but it’s a tad awkward when the action is push-away, as it is with RHD. Other than that quirk, we had no issues with the shifting action.
Hill-holding worked on a hill-start by retaining hydraulic pressure in the wheel brake circuit for around three seconds after the pedal is released, allowing ample time for the driver’s foot to transfer from brake pedal to accelerator.
This feature means there’s no need to fiddle around synchronising handbrake release with clutch take-up – handy around town and very handy in steep off-road conditions.
The engine belied its compression-ignition design, with very little noise at idle and through the rev range. Most drivers will inadvertently use too many revs when driving the Amarok, because it’s difficult to believe that a little two-litre can have much poke down low, but trust us, this engine does.
With 600kg in the tray and 1500kg of trailer bobbing behind we found that the Amarok could be driven all the time with no more than 2500rpm showing on the rev counter; including when shifting gears.
Cruising at 100km/h in sixth gear saw the engine lolling at 1800rpm and it pulled happily from revs as low as 800rpm, with never a hint of engine stress, clutch shudder or transmission ‘growl’.
Solo vehicle fuel consumption worked out around 8.4L/100km in conditions that included stop-start, hill climbing and freeway driving.
Loaded and pulling a trailer, at legal maximum speeds where possible, the Amarok averaged 13.5L/100km.
With the trailer uncoupled we headed to our favourite bush tracks for some off-road testing. Before venturing onto fire trails we selected 4WD and then low range, with simple button presses that had instant results – other 4WD makers please take note! It was the same when we selected rear diff lock operation, to handle a very steep, rocky section of track: instant lock engagement. Excellent.
The VW engine loved off-road conditions, where its low-speed torque worked without provoking wheelspin much of the time; just as well, because the Amarok doesn’t have class-leading wheelspin control. While we’re making some criticisms the standard shock absorbers are woeful, seeming to lack any bump damping at all.
The parabolic leaf springs VW uses at the back end of the Amarok have no interleaf friction, in the interests of a supple ride, so they need powerful shock absorbers to control a heavy live rear axle.
On corrugated and potholed surfaces the Amarok danced around irritatingly.
Another problem we encountered was restricted ground clearance of only 192mm, thanks to a heavy protective bash plate under the engine, transmission and front diff.
Although VW Australia adopted a slogan suggesting the Amarok was ‘the complete package’ it was far from that.
The main missing links in the Amarok lineup at launch were an extended-cab model and a single-cab. There’s still no extended-cab Amarok, but the single cab has some space behind the seats that will swallow valuables that don’t belong in the cargo area.
Like its dual-cab stable mates the single-cab Amarok has excellent load space; able to handle two pallets in the ute cargo tub. Both variants have a low tub floor height of only 508mm, thanks to outboard-mounted, not underframe, rear spring hangers.
Automatic transmission models boast an additional 12kW/20Nm of power/torque and a class-leading, ZF8HP eight-speed box that does away with the need for a conventional two-speed transfer case.
A single-speed transfer at the back of the box incorporates a Torsen, torque-proportioning centre differential, giving full-time 4WD. A price penalty of $3000 is very reasonable for the new auto box and full-time-4WD package.
Manual-transmission, 4MOTION Amaroks retain a low-range transfer case and part-time 4WD.
The engine that powers 4MOTION Selectable 4WD and Permanent 4WD models is a twin-turbo, series-charged, two-litre four. The manual-transmission couples to the engine in a 120kW/400Nm state of tune and a gruntier 132kW/420Nm version couples to the automatic transmission.
The more powerful engine is only available with automatic transmission and Permanent 4WD. All Amarok diesels are Euro 5 emissions-rated and employ diesel particulate filters. Fuel tank capacity is 80 litres on all variants and each has a 95AH starting battery.
Base models have steel 16-inch wheels; Trendlines and Highlines have 16- or 17-inch aluminium wheels and Ultimates have 19s.
As with most of today’s utes, brakes are ventilated discs up front and drums at the rear. A hill-hold function on manuals allows easy hill starts, without the need to pull on the handbrake.
All Amaroks have ABS/ASR with brake assist, electronic stability control and electronically-locked differential action. A mechanical rear-axle differential lock is standard. There’s an ESC-cancel switch for deep sand or mud driving and an Off-Road switch that modifies the response of ABS/ASR, as well as initiating hill descent control on downgrades.
Standard rear suspension is a heavy duty three-leaf-plus-two helper leaf pack that sets gross vehicle mass at 3040kg. An optional two-leaf-plus-one helper leaf Comfort option drops GVM to 2820kg. Towing capacity is 3000kg, with a maximum 300kg towball load.
Warranty is three years, with unlimited kilometres and roadside assistance, and rust perforation of six years.
Auto box on- and off-road
VW put on an excellent drive program for the introduction of the 2012 Amarok crew-cab models, with a combination of highway and secondary-road bitumen, gravel roads and stony off-road tracks. However, a l ow-pressure weather system cloudburst ensured plenty of muddy patches.
Before testing the new variants we spent a half-day behind the wheel of a Trendline TDI 400 Selectable-4WD 4MOTION, manual-transmission, dual-cab ute with heavy duty rear suspension – a virtual carry-over model.
This vehicle brought back to us the good and not-so-good characteristics of the Amarok.
The good parts were the excellent driving position, thanks to tilt-telescope steering column and multi-adjustable seat; great vision through the screen and large mirrors; steering wheel audio and cruise control buttons; low mechanical and road-noise intrusion; and precise steering.
In the not-so-good department were: the manual transmission’s shift action, with its propensity to have the driver choose third instead of first on occasions; the lack of low-engine-speed torque; dim headlights and the impossibility of following the Bluetooth phone pairing instructions.
Our first 2012 test mount was an automatic-transmission, Highline 4MOTION Permanent, full-time-4WD dual-cab with Comfort Suspension.
When we first drove the Amarok we suggested that its driveability would be transformed by fitment of a torque-converter automatic box.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is just the ticket. Where the manual struggled for momentum at low engine revs the auto version’s fluid coupling let the engine spin up freely to the point where the twin turbos were stuffing air into the little engine at a fine old rate.
Few transmission makers know as much about multi-speed automatics as does ZF, which leads the world in heavy truck transmission technology.
If you can dial up a smooth-shifting 16-speed B-Double truck box, a light-truck eight-speed must be a doddle.
On the open road the ZF transmission shifted almost imperceptibly and, when cruising, kept engine revs in the very economical 1500-2100rpm band. At 100km/h the engine was running at a casual 1750rpm. The double-overdrive box (0.839:1 seventh cog and 0.667:1 eighth) has measured only 3-4 percent higher fuel consumption at 8.3L/100km than the six-speed manual in VW’s testing and we’d gladly pay the fuel cost penalty for much improved driveability.
The big question we had was the box’s on-site and off-road credentials, given that it comes without a low-range auxiliary. Our initial testing of lightly-loaded vehicles, on muddy tracks, made almost impassable by concentrated, heavy rain and on steep rocky slopes indicated that the eight-speed should have no serious performance issues in comparison with the manual and its low-range gearing – in these conditions.
Although the overall mechanical reduction of the auto’s gearset can’t match the manual’s, when the torque converter stall ratio is taken in to account there’s not much in it and the auto has the advantage of a fluid coupling, not an engine-stalling friction-clutch.
However, on soft, deep beach sand, during summer testing of a customer’s vehicle in 2015 the transmission showed its Achilles’ Heel: it didn’t like the combination of a full load of camping gear, high ambient temperature, radiated heat from the sand and the lack of true low-range gearing. On several occasions it just refused to go anywhere – even with the tyres down to 16psi – until the box cooled down.
Our advice is: don’t buy an auto if you plan lots of beach work or need to tow a heavy camper or caravan.
The Comfort Suspension is a good choice for buyers who don’t need maximum payload and generous cabin space behind the seats in the new single-cab model makes an extra-cab variant almost unnecessary.
Volkswagen made a front wheel drive Caddy ute, based on Golf mechanicals and also marketed the HiLux with a VW badge in Europe in the 1980s, but as far as we know none of these vehicles came to Australia.
The Amarok needs more ground clearance and better quality shock absorbers, so an after-market suspension kit is necessary for serious bush travel.
The standard traction control isn’t very effective, so front and rear diff locks would be handy.
After-market canopies, snorkels and bar work are available.
The following video was filmed before our disappointing experience with the auto Amarok on beach sand.