Will a V6 diesel be enough to take Amarok to the next level? Stuart Martin reports
A substantial injection of horsepower, a makeover for the front end and upgraded interior headline the changes to Volkswagen’s Amarok.
The German brand’s load-lugger has long been a yardstick for ride quality, refinement and tray capacity since its launch here in 2011, but the installation of a V6 (donated to its cause by Audi) has shot it to the top of the list for power and torque in the segment.
The new powerplant will be available at a starting price under $60,000 – $59,990 for the Highline, or $67,990 for the Ultimate, pricing which keeps it attainable for buyers.
“The most important thing about the price point is that it stays within range, I never thought it would to be the cheapest, but as long as it’s within range of the competitor, the Ranger or the HiLux,” said VW Commercial Vehicles director, Carlos Santos.
The 90-degree, 3.0-litre, turbodiesel V6 has 24 valves, a variable geometry turbo, high-pressure direct-injection (using multiple injections per stroke) and produces 165 kW between 2500 and 4500 rpm. Peak torque of 550 Nm is on offer between 1500 and 2500 rpm and it lays claims to an ADR fuel economy figure of 7.8 litres per 100 km.
The additional 15 kW of urge from its overboost function is available when more than 70 percent throttle has been demanded by the driver and is for up to 10 seconds.
Volkswagen claims the overboost function is of particular use between 50-120 km/h and offers up an ‘overtaking time’ of 5.5 seconds between 80 and 120 km/h; 100 km/h is reached in a claimed 7.9 seconds.
The engine has been upgraded for light commercial use, with the addition of a larger-capacity sump with a honeycomb insert, different pistons and cylinder linings (for off-road work) and the vibration damper – previously a light-alloy version – is now made of steel.
With production yet to ramp up in the brand’s South American factory, the first examples of the V6-powered Amaroks will come from Hanover in Germany. On the subject of supply in the short term, production numbers may be limited to between 300 and 400 vehicles from the launch to the end of the year and will probably leave a waiting list well into 2017, according to Carlos Santos.
“We’re landing 400 here this year, we have more orders than that already,” Mr. Santos said.
The brand has well over 7300 expressions of interest in the new V6-powered Amarok, with almost three-quarters registering for a test-drive – interest not previously seen for any Volkswagen model.
“With 70 percent of the leads being for test drives, we think based on normal conversions from a test drive being one in four, given we have supply, the challenge is delivery times, and we’re looking at three or four months wait – we get more consistent supply later in the year,” he said.
The brand has more than 41,000 Amaroks on the road here – Australia being the largest export market for Amarok – and, despite being the oldest ute in the current marketplace, has continued to grow and will set a record sales year.
The Euro-6-compliant V6 is the model’s only powerplant in Europe, offered in three power levels – 120 kW/450 Nm, 150 kW/500 Nm and the 165 kW/550 Nm being brought here – but the twin-turbo four-cylinder range will continue to be sold to Australian buyers in the lower-spec models.
The V6 powerplant will feature in the Highline, Ultimate and Amarok’s new flagship Aventura model, which will appear during the second quarter of next year.
The new engine is an auto-only proposition at this point, teamed to the carryover eight-speed ZF auto (with paddleshifters in Ultimate guise). Customers looking for a manual gearbox and dual-range transfer case bolted to the V6 will have to wait until near the end of next year for a six-speed manual.
The updated drivetrain puts the Amarok well ahead of its predecessor’s 132 kW/420 Nm twin-turbo four-cylinder, as well as the revamped Holden Colorado’s 147 kW and 500 Nm, Nissan’s 140 kW/450 Nm Navara, the 130 kW/420 Nm offered by HiLux and the 147 kW/470 Nm five-cylinder in the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50.
The VW offering will have the prestige ute high ground until Mercedes-Benz brings its X-Class to market, but not here until 2018 – it will reportedly run a 195 kW/620 Nm turbodiesel V6.
The new VW drivetrain has been accompanied by a cabin and features upgrade, adding the touchscreen-controlled satellite navigation system, digital radio reception, full smartphone integration, power-adjustable front seats, leather trim, dual-zone climate control and heated front seats.
The styling of the face-lifted model remains familiar – squared off and conservative – with a new-look grille featuring twin chrome bars and inheriting some of the styling cues from its passenger cousins.
The top-spec interior has also borrowed much from the passenger car range, with a new upper dash panel and trims, offering Nappa leather for the first time in the segment.
Safety features now include tyre pressure monitoring and the multi-collision braking system, added to the six airbags, reversing camera, parking sensors front and rear and six airbags from the previous high-end models, but no curtain airbags, or no adaptive or active impact prevention systems.
The Amarok is brought to a halt by four-wheel disc brakes – 332 mm up front and 300 mm at the rear – a feature VW says is appearing for the first time amongst its competitive set.
Four-wheel discs are a rarity in the class and thus far only seen on the revamped Great Wall Steed, but the Chinese light commercial is certainly not viewed by VW as a direct competitor.
The update has brought about a change in the gross combined mass – rising to 6.0 tonnes – with the braked towing capacity remaining at 3.0 tonnes, which VW said puts it close to those with a 3.5-tonne capacity in real-world terms.
“If you load it to the maximum of 3.0 tonne, and it has a GCM of 6.0 tonnes, with a tare mass of around 2.2, the residual payload is around 800 kg, some of our competitors have a larger towing capacity but the payload is much lower,” said VW’s product marketing manager, Nick Reid.
“What we also have to remember is the tare mass is one driver and 10 litres of fuel, not passengers or other equipment, it’s a useable payload for practical applications,” Mr. Reid added.
The rear tray capacity remains largely unchanged, retaining the 1222 mm width between wheel arches for loading a pallet, something it remains uniquely able to do in the class.
The first drive of the upgraded Amarok with the V6 was completed in examples of Ultimate, although side steps were removed and the wheel/tyre package reverted from 19-inch to a 17-inch wheel tyre package for the off-road section.
As a result, the ride quality might be a little more pliable than the standard Ultimate wheel/tyre package, but we’ll have to wait for a standard car for a definitive verdict; the test vehicles rode firmly but with good bump absorption and compliance.
The rear end could skip a little on serious bumps when unladen, but a 260 kg load in the rear was found to settle the rump nicely.
Cabin refinement – already a hallmark of the current Amarok – remains remarkably good for a light commercial, thanks no doubt to the quiet nature of the new powerplant in an already quiet vehicle, which even when imparting its full force was far from intrusive.
The incessant surge of torque was a highlight, particularly the subtle but strong part-throttle in-gear acceleration that could almost (but not quite) make the overboost function redundant; at full throttle the big ute also delivers considerable but civil thrust.
The four-wheel-drive section showed the absence of a transfer case doesn’t preclude it from getting solid amounts of dirt and dust in its wheelarches, with the off-road mode helping the suite of electronic safety systems deploy off-road mapping to maintain forward momentum while retaining the vehicle’s subtle nature.
Despite the sporadically-strenuous driving off-road, tempered by some high-speed twisting roads and open road cruising, the vehicles were all in the realm of 11 or 12 litres per 100 km at the conclusion of the launch drive, testament to the long-legged eight-speed ZF auto and its ability to hold 8th gear in the face of steep ascents.
The only complaint is a carry-over concern from the preceding model – the steering is direct but feels over-assisted, which puts it behind the Ford and Mazda for top tiller status. Some of the plastics used in dash and door panels look reasonable and robust, but on the hard side, which detracts only a little from the overall feel of the spacious cabin.
The addition of the V6 has put Amarok firmly back at the top of the LCV ute list – priced within close range of the Ranger – as it now has the powerplant, if not the active safety features, to take the Australian-developed Thai-built Ford head-on.