Delivery heads to the Kimberley for a first look at the latest from VW
Named after a gigantic, Inuit-mythological wolf, the Amarok was, like Shakespeare’s Richard III ‘sent … into this breathing world scarce half made up’, being available only as a manual-transmission diesel dual cab.
Unlike its namesake, the 2010 Amarok was ill-equipped to hunt in a competitive world, but the 2012 Amaroks are entirely different beasts.
Although VW Australia adopted a slogan suggesting the Amarok was ‘the complete package’, it was far from that. However, the Amarok lineup is now comprehensive: single-cab petrol and diesel, six-speed manual-transmission 2WD and 4WD utes and cab/chassis; and dual-cab 2WD and 4WD diesel utes and cab/chassis with manual or automatic transmissions.
The only missing link in the Amarok lineup is an extended-cab model, but the single-cab has ample space behind the seats that can’t accommodate humans, but will swallow valuables that don’t belong in the cargo area.
Like its dual-cab stable mates, the single-cab Amarok has class-leading load space; able to handle two pallets in the ute cargo tub. Both variants have a low tub floor height of only 508 mm, thanks to outboard-mounted, not underframe, rear spring hangers.
Four trim levels are available: Amarok, Amarok Trendline, Amarok Highline and Amarok Ultimate. Additionally, all variants attract NCAP five-star safety, thanks to standard front, side and thorax airbags for both driver and passenger on all models. Height-adjustable head restraints and three-point safety belts are in all seating positions.
Automatic transmission models boast an additional 12 kW/20 Nm 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 base engines are single-turbocharged TSI 300 petrol and TDI 340 diesel two-litre fours, with outputs of 119 kW/300 Nm and 90 kW/340 Nm respectively. These engines power Amarok-grade, single-cab and dual-cab, manual-transmission, rear-wheel-drive only models.
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 120 kW/400 Nm state of tune, and a gruntier 132 kW/420 Nm 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 on all 4MOTION models and optional on 2WDs. 4MOTION models have 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 on 2WD and 4MOTION Selectable, part-time-4WD models, is a heavy-duty three-leaf-plus-two helper leaf pack that sets gross vehicle mass at 3040 kg. An optional two-leaf-plus-one helper leaf Comfort option drops GVM to 2820 kg. Towing capacity is 3000 kg, with a maximum 300 kg towball load.
Equipment levels are competitive across the $30k to $49k Amarok and Trendline trim levels, but fall shy of the competition in the upper-level Highline and Ultimate versions. The Ultimate auto model has a heady RRP of $61,490, yet doesn’t have auto-on headlights and wipers, USB or iPad connectors, satellite navigation or a reversing camera. Although not offering modern electronic sockets, the Amarok Highline and Ultimate models do have three 12V power outlets – one conveniently positioned on top of the dashboard, for a GPS nav unit.
Warranty is three years, with unlimited kilometres and roadside assistance, and rust perforation of six years.
On road and on site
VW put on an excellent drive program for the introduction of the 2012 Amarok models, with a combination of highway and secondary-road bitumen, gravel roads and stony off-road tracks. A low 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 new 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 1500-2100 rpm band. At 100 km/h, the engine was running at a casual 1750 rpm. The double-overdrive box (0.839:1 seventh cog and 0.667:1 eighth) has measured only 3-4 percent higher fuel consumption, at 8.3 l/100 km, 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 testing 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.
Although the overall mechanical reduction of the auto’s gearset can’t match that of the manual gearbox; 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.
Amaroks we’ve evaluated in the past have impressed us, but the new eight-speed auto takes the marque up a peg.
It’s now the easiest to drive dual-cab ute in the market, while preserving good steering, ride and handling qualities. The Comfort Suspension is a good choice for buyers who don’t need maximum payload. The generous cabin space behind the seats, in the new single-cab model, makes an extra-cab variant almost unnecessary.