VW’s Amarok adds horsepower, but does it add appeal? – Words by Stuart Martin.

Horsepower wars killed the Phase IV Ford Falcon and a few other projects at Holden and Chrysler, and now the punch-up is on in the dual-cab ute segment.

In the Euro/Japanese ute debate, it’s an all-German brawl this time as Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz trade V6 salvos, with Volkswagen upping the ante as Mercedes-Benz’s long-awaited X-Class six-cylinder rolled off the boats.

The V6 version of Volkswagen’s Amarok already sat at the top of the dual-cab segment for power and torque, as well as representing 70 per cent of Amarok sales, but has subsequently reaffirmed its status with a further boost.

Peak power is now 190 kW, rising to 200 kW briefly when demanded by the driver; the peak power band is between 3250 and 4500 rpm, a rev realm which is far from uncomfortable for the big six.

The 580 Nm tidal wave of torque makes its considerable presence felt between 1400 and 3000 rpm, directed to all four wheels through the eight-speed ZF automatic as per the rest of the V6 range, although it now feels a little more in sync with the uprated engine. Volkswagen claims 100 km/h takes 7.3 seconds, a far from surprising claim after time in the vehicle − even one that tips the scales at 2244 kg.

The official ADR combined cycle fuel use figure is 8.9 L/100 km, but our time in the Amarok finished with the trip computer showing 11 L/100 km at a 33 km/h average, which reflected the amount of metropolitan and harder unsealed road work completed.

The trip computer also offers up useful information regarding the AdBlue distance to empty, something you can’t ignore as the SCR system will eventually prevent any progress if you fail to fill that tank as well. With no AdBlue, the engine backs off power output and can leave the driver with a limp-home mode of travel.

It’s all designed to combat the new Mercedes-Benz X 350 d, a 2166kg ute (in $73,270 Progressive guise) which is powered by a 190 kW/550 Nm 3.0-litre V6 that lays claim to 8.8 L/100 km and a 0 to 100 km/h sprint time of 7.9 seconds.

The cruising quietness of the Amarok is good, with minimal intrusion from the V6 that never seems to work very hard, given the muscular part-throttle in-gear acceleration available. The standard inclusion of four-wheel discs is never more welcome in order to pull back progress than when a drivetrain gathers speed like this one.

The Amarok V6 Ultimate 580 is priced from $72,790, a big step up from the $61,090 Highline 550; it has fixed-price servicing, as well as a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and one-year membership to Volkswagen Roadside Assist, which offers free 24-hour roadside assistance, emergency accommodation, a rental vehicle and towing, as well as household emergency assistance. Service intervals are at 12 month/15,000 km periods.

So far, the uprated VW V6 is only offered in the Ultimate guise, but there’s enough gear on the features list to take some sting out of the price tag. The standard features list on the Ultimate 580 includes bi-xenon headlights, complemented by LED daytime running lights and front fog lights with cornering function, dual-zone climate control (but with no rear vents), and a touchscreen-controlled satellite navigation and infotainment system with VW’s App-Connect USB set-up for using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which delivers more than decent sound.

The same can’t be said for the digital radio reception, hamstrung by an in-glass aerial that drops reception far too quickly in Australian conditions. There’s also leather trim, power-adjustable heated front seats, and a clear and informative centre display within the two-dial instrument panel which has a digital speed readout in case the change in increments on the speedometer dial throws the driver.

This Amarok also gets alloy pedals, carpet mats, and a first-rate leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle gear shifts that is linked to over-achieving power assistance for the steering.

In-cabin storage for the Amarok is good, with decent door pockets and centre console storage, something its Benz nemesis lacks. On the negative, the Amarok’s conventional hand brake is on the wrong side of the console.

Seat comfort and all-round vision are well above average, augmented by decent exterior mirrors, but marred by touchscreen reflections in the rear window at night; tight rear legroom remains an issue, but rear headroom is ample.

A dashtop storage area with a 12-volt supply (one of three on offer to front occupants, with a fourth for those in the rear) are all useful, as is the presence of a USB port, although the latter is far more difficult to access than it should be.

There’s still an absence of active safety features such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB) but the Ultimate gets rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, front and rear parking sensors, stability and traction control, a rear diff lock (which as well as a very low first gear partially offsets the absence of low range), a reversing camera and tyre pressure monitoring.

The tyre pressure monitoring system came in handy when a large screw through the 20-inch tyre resulted in a loss of pressure, affording an opportunity to test the spare wheel system, which was clunky and difficult to use.

Releasing the lanyard securing the spare tyre was impossible with the minimal tools in the VW kit, necessitating a drive back to the dealership with an eagle-eye on the tyre pressures during the trip. The full-size spare could be retrieved using other tools, but if you were in the Back of Beyond and relying solely on the factory-supplied toolkit beneath the Amarok’s rear bench, it might not end so well.

The coated rear tray is one of the larger on offer and can just sneak a standard 1165 mm pallet between the wheel arches, something the X-Class Benz can also do with its altered rear end.

At 1555 mm long, 1620 mm wide and 1222 mm between the wheel arches, the Amarok’s 508 mm deep tray is 26 mm shorter but 60 mm wider (just 7 mm wider between the wheel arches) and 33 mm deeper than the Benz tray, which claims a 1034 kg payload.

The VW lays claim to a payload of 836 kg, with four tie-tie-down points to secure the load and a load lip 780 mm from the ground. The leaf spring suspension under the rump of the Amarok likes a load on its shoulders to settle down the ride from the tail, although it’s one of the better-behaved unladen rear ends. There’s also less slumping than that which afflicts some of the coil-sprung rear ends in the marketplace.

Volkswagen claims 3500 kg braked towing capacity within a gross combined mass of 6000 kg; the Merc’s 6180 kg GCM also claims a 3500 kg braked towing capacity, so the outright numbers still fall just in favour of the X-Class.

The Amarok has a light for the rear tray and a 12-volt outlet, as well as the longer version of the stainless-steel sports bar, matched by stainless steel side steps with handy LED puddle lights.

The Amarok does a lot right and prompts a smile every time the right foot asks for something.

Granted, it should have more safety gear for the asking price and the steering is over-assisted, but constant all-wheel drive makes it a wieldy weapon in all conditions (once accustomed to the helm) and an immensely capable all-rounder.

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