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Volkswagen Amarok 2.0 TDI 4MOTION review (2011 onwards)
Model: Volkswagen Amarok 2.0 TDI 163 Highline 4MOTION
Bodystyle: four-door double-cab pick-up
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: six-speed manual
What is it?
Volkswagen intends to become the biggest manufacturer in the world by 2018. Such global domination means it needs vehicles in all sectors, including ones it has never been in before. Enter, then, the Amarok: the first-ever double-cab pick-up by Volkswagen.
OK, it's not the vehicle that holds the keys to worldwide sales supremacy, but it's still important. Once up to full speed, the factory in Argentina will be building 90,000 Amarok every year: what's more, it will broaden the Volkswagen brand and bring in many completely new customers.
The idea is to prove the Volkswagen brand in a working capacity, which will hopefully help make the road cars more attractive to these new customers too. Basically, the strategy is to offer a rugged, high-visibility double cab with all the qualities of Volkswagen's passengers cars, theoretically enhancing both in the process.
It will only be sold through Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle (CV) van dealers in the UK, and prices start from less than the price of a four-wheel-drive diesel Tiguan. The test 2.0 TDI 163 Highline came with a raft of SUV features that, even at £28k, made it look a bargain.
Where does it fit?
In the UK, the Amarok goes up against the Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara and Toyota Hilux. All are very well-established models but Volkswagen says the Amarok is more sophisticated and refined than any of them, while also offering better fuel economy too.
By selling it through CV dealers, Volkswagen is clearly aiming it at business users: owner-operators will probably buy most, as it gives an ideal blend of useful working tool that also looks smart on the driveway. This, indeed, could be key to the success of the Amarok.
Is it for you?
No SUV-style vehicle we have driven in recent years has turned as many heads as the Volkswagen Amarok. The reaction to it on the road was remarkable: even Range Rover Sport drivers were slowing down to ogle it as they passed.
So, if you want to create a stir, it seems you should get an Amarok. Here's the thing, though: the reaction was one of honest admiration rather than SUV-hating envy and scorn. The Volkswagen brand seems to inspire this and thus makes it a rare standout SUV that nobody decries.
On paper, the big draw of the Volkswagen is mainly functional. It has the biggest load area in its sector, at 2.5m sq, while the load bay is 1,555mm long and a massive 1,620mm wide (making it wider than a Toyota Aygo is overall). It has the capacity to utilise it, too: maximum payload stands at 1.2 tonnes: enough for that Aygo and more besides.
As well as being practical and highly flexible, the Amarok also comes with four-wheel drive. Most models have electronically switchable four-wheel drive, but there's also a range-topper with 4MOTION permanent 4x4 (although this is a comfort-orientated version with lower-payload rear suspension).
What does it do well?
It instantly tops the double-cab class in terms of class and appeal. This is a working pick-up that has many of the design subtleties and neat touches of a Golf or a Passat: controls, dials, steering wheel, buttons, the stereo, even the gearknob - all bear the semi-premium hallmarks of the Volkswagen Group that attract so many people to its cars.
This is complemented by styling that's classy and rich like Volkswagen road cars too. The front end bears a premium look, while the paint finish and assembly standards further enhance this. What's more, although it's genuinely massive, Volkswagen has enlarged details such as the badges and lights so it's all in proportion.
On the road, it performs well, so long as you remember it won't be as smooth as, say, a Volkswagen Touareg. The off-road optimised separate chassis bounces and rolls more than a regular passenger car. So do all double-cab vehicles, mind: by class standards then, this is comfy and fairly smooth, particularly on a cruise.
The engine is strong. It's not class-leading for pace, but the response is swift and it will also pull well from lower revs. Reasonably accurate steering and superb visibility that's enhanced by the sheer height off the ground provide further everyday appeal.
What doesn't it do well?
It isn't as composed as a passenger car, which is something those considering a double cab for the first time must be aware of. There is more float and squidge from the chassis, while the steering is lower geared and needs more arm-twirling.
The strength of the 2.0-litre TDI is offset by its noise, particularly when cold. It is extremely clattery until it's warmed through, and also rather vocal under acceleration. The gearchange is too long in throw too - and notchy until you get used to it - while the clutch is meaty.
The sheer size of the Amarok should not be underestimated. It is wide, which can make city roads a challenge, but the biggest issue is with its length. Not only is it enormous - almost 5.2 metres long - but the design of the rear deck means it's impossible to see its very tip. Combine the two for cold sweats in supermarket car parks, not to mention on-road parking...
Inside, while the cabin has all the Volkswagen detailing, the luxury finish of the road cars isn't quite there. This is a working machine, after all, so the plastics do have to be a bit more rugged and harder-wearing. Again, this is fine, so long as buyers don't expect it to offer the luxury of, say a Touareg-based pick-up...
What's it like to live with?
Living with the size of it is a real issue, and will make it unacceptable for some. You need a big drive and don't need to be going too deep into town too often for the Amarok to fit into your life.
This does mean, of course, that it's capacious inside. The cabin is very roomy, which oddly isn't always the case for double-cab pick-ups: sometimes those in the back have to suffer, but not here. There is plenty of space and good comfort on the soft rear bench too.
While having a big rear deck may sound practical, in reality you need an optional hard-top box to make best use of it. Even then, things will slide around inside unless you tie them down, while getting access to them is tricky due to the sheer size. The rear deck lid is extremely heavy and has no lock: you can only secure items if you do get the optional deck top.
A big advantage of running a double cab used to be tax breaks. These aren't what they were but are still there, meaning self-employed business people can get a useful work tool without breaking the bank. Economy is good, service intervals are long and the Volkswagen should prove reliable too - the firm has invested a huge amount of development into ensuring exactly this.
How green is it?
The 122hp version of the 2.0 TDI Amarok is the only double-cab pick-up to emit less than 200g/km CO2. This means it is the greenest double cab you can buy, and also the most fuel-efficient: it averages 37.2mpg.
The 163hp test car is less efficient, but not by much: it is still capable of 35.8mpg, which, for a 5.2-metre long machine with this amount of capability, is very impressive indeed. It emits 209g/km, again impressively low for the breed. Both versions have a standard diesel particulate filter.
Would we buy it?
Right now, this is the most appealing double cab on the market. It is large, accommodating and very able in all conditions, and furthermore, it has attractive design, head-turning style and a plush, comfortable cabin.
It's priced towards the higher end of the double-cab sector but it's still very affordable by passenger car standards, while the ample equipment levels plus appeal of the Volkswagen badge will make the outlay easier to justify. This is a very impressive new entrant by Volkswagen that we're sure is going to shake things up in the UK's double cab market - and beyond.
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