The new Volkswagen Amarok is an upmarket offering for pick-up truck buyers wanting a plush machine that isn’t afraid of hard work. It’s still not quite the SUV alternative that some buyers might expect, but it gets closer to that brief than it ever has done before, while still offering the rugged appeal that made the original Amarok so popular. However, the new model’s main issue will be whether it can be competitive on price with the parts-sharing Ford Ranger, which will offer a similar mix of practicality and comfort.
After a brief hiatus, the Volkswagen Amarok is back as an all-new model, and it has some pretty big shoes to fill. VW sold more than 830,000 first-generation models worldwide, and the firm is hoping that the new truck can emulate that success.
To help its cause, VW has joined forces with Ford to co-develop the Amarok alongside the new Ranger. But while the engineering under the skin is shared between the two models, VW has given the Amarok its own look. It’s an evolution of the Amarok Mk1, with greater definition to the squared-off wheelarches, a nose that features matrix LED headlights and has hints of Touareg SUV about it, and an Amarok-stamped tailgate flanked by C-shaped LED tail-lights.
Inside, there’s a bit more of a mish-mash between VW and Ford elements in terms of the cabin appearance, but apart from the blocky keyfob, there’s nothing that instantly screams that you’re driving anything other than a VW. The multifunction steering wheel is familiar from other VW products, but the vast 12.3-inch portrait touchscreen is the same as you’ll find in a Ranger. The bank of knurled plastic toggle switches below is a unique Amarok touch. Space overall is good, courtesy of a double cab that’s longer than its predecessor’s and boosts space for passengers in the back.
It’s handy that Ford and VW use the same basic light control arrangement in their cars. Both manufacturers fit their models with a panel to the right of the steering wheel for selecting illumination, so Amarok drivers will have a familiar set-up to use, albeit with Ford-style switches instead of VW’s latest touch-sensitive panel. That touchscreen and the large Virtual Cockpit digital dials are also shared with top-spec versions of the Ranger, but VW does at least use its own software and graphics to put distance between the two trucks.
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Overall quality is good, and the top-spec Aventura and new PanAmericana trims are very well equipped. There’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay included, while over-the-air updates will keep the in-house software fresh, too. Unlike some VW models, the Amarok doesn’t have wireless smartphone connectivity, but it does have USB-A and USB-C sockets – another carry-over from the Ford collaboration, because if it was an all-VW product, you can guarantee it would only have a pair of USB-Cs instead. Wireless charging is offered, while leather, two-zone climate control and a full suite of safety kit and driver assistance tech also features, giving the Amarok the feel of an upmarket SUV.
Top-spec versions of the Amarok are powered by a 237bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel, which is connected to the truck’s permanent four-wheel drive system via a 10-speed automatic gearbox. It’s a big, lazy unit that packs 500Nm of torque, and with a 3.5-tonne towing limit, there isn’t much that the Amarok won’t be able to haul.
There’s plenty of power off the line, especially when the truck is unladen, but the multiple ratios of the Ford-sourced gearbox mean that if you need a quick punch of acceleration when overtaking, you need to wait briefly while the gearbox reacts and kicks down two or three cogs. It’s by no means jerky in its operation, and it picks the right gear for the right amount of acceleration, you just need to do a bit of forward planning. There is a manual mode, but it’s operated via two buttons on the side of the drive selector – another carry-over from the Ranger, and there are no steering wheel paddles – which makes it fiddly to use. On the whole it’s best to leave the electronics to look after changing gear.
One area where pick-up trucks have made great strides is with ride comfort, and the new Amarok offers a decent compromise, considering the suspension also has to deal with heavy one-tonne payloads. There isn’t too much fidget, although the Aventura rides on large 21-inch alloy wheels that do send small shakes through the steering wheel. Most bumps are dealt with well, although larger potholes can send big thumps through the body.
The steering is designed to point the Amarok in the right direction rather than offer feedback, but it’s light, and means this truck is easy to manoeuvre. A kerbweight of up to 2.5 tonnes is actually reasonable when compared with some heavyweight SUVs these days, while top-spec models feature 360-degree cameras and parking sensors front and rear to help prevent knocks and dings.
On the road, the standard rear-wheel drive setting is fine, but there’s an automatic 4WD mode that uses electronics to send power to the wheels with the most grip, or there are standard 4WD high and low-range options. These are all chosen via a rotary dial behind the drive selector. A locking rear diff is also fitted, and the Amarok feels pretty capable off the beaten track with these modes engaged. There are improved approach and departure angles when compared with the last Amarok, and there’s an 800mm wading depth, too. Auto hold and hill descent control provide assistance in the rough.
The main issue with the VW Amarok isn’t anything to do with the truck itself, because it’s comfortable, capable and looks sharp. It’s just that the Ford Ranger is going to be a mightily competitive rival. We haven’t had pricing confirmed for the Amarok range, but with the top-spec Ranger Platinum weighing in at £44k (excluding VAT), VW will need to be pretty canny when positioning the Amarok in comparison, because badge appeal won’t necessarily guarantee sales.
|Model:||Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 TDI Aventura|
|Engine:||3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo|
|Transmission:||10-speed automatic, switchable four-wheel drive|
|0-62mph:||8.0 seconds (est)|
|Top speed:||112mph (est)|
|On sale:||January 2023|