2015 VW Amarok at a glance
- Handling: ★★★☆☆
- Comfort: ★★★☆☆
- Performance: ★★★☆☆
- Design: ★★★☆☆
- Interior: ★★★☆☆
- Practicality: ★★★★★
- Costs: ★★☆☆☆
ONCE REGARDED in Britain as the preserve of builders and landscape gardeners, pick-ups are increasingly seen carrying mums, dads and their rosy-cheeked offspring.
One of the most popular is the Volkswagen Amarok. Last year nearly 4,000 were sold in Britain, a rise of more than 25% on 2014, which makes it as popular as stylish cars such as the Jaguar F-type.
What’s the appeal? Well, the Amarok can do just about everything. It’s a practical machine for those who like their weekends to involve mountain bikes, DIY, horses or gardening. With a large carrying capacity and a hose-clean design, they’re built to work; all versions can handle a 1,000kg payload and tow a 3,200kg braked trailer.
Where manufacturers of pick-ups including VW have been clever is in making them more car-like to drive, more comfortable and better equipped. Jumping from a family SUV into a modern pick-up is more likely to induce a pleasant surprise than a nasty shock.
The Amarok was launched in 2010. Prices start at £20,925 — or £25,054 including VAT. In the UK it comes with a choice of two diesel engines; a 2-litre TDI with 138bhp, and a 177bhp 2-litre BiTDI, which has two turbochargers for extra oomph.
The Amarok’s entry-level engine, available with Startline and Trendline trim levels, develops 250 Ib ft from 1750rpm. Performance is slightly tardier than an equivalently powered SUV, due to the car’s heavier weight: 0-62mph takes 13.5 seconds. It’s much the same story with the CO2 emissions of 205g/km, and fuel consumption of 36.2mpg, which aren’t as good as a family car.
The 2-litre TDI BiTDI engine is reserved for the Amarok Trendline and Highline models. It delivers its maximum of 309Ib ft of torque from only 1,750rpm, and returns 35.3mpg. In terms of performance, manual gearbox models can sprint to 62mph in 11.0 seconds and have a top speed of 111mph.
There’s the choice of permanent or selectable electronic four-wheel drive, and as an option buyers can specify a mechanical rear differential lock (which stops individual wheels spinning uselessly when they lose grip), which is probably a good idea if the Amarok is going to spend a lot of time being driven off-road.
Its go-anywhere qualifications have earned the Amarok a place at the Wildcat Haven project in the Scottish Highlands, where rugged terrain and unpredictable weather create a real test for vehicles.
The Amarok we tested — an Atacama special edition — had the reassurance of the more poky 2-litre diesel, mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and VW’s 4Motion permanent four-wheel drive. Vienna leather upholstery, a leather multifunction steering wheel, Bluetooth, sat nav and dual-zone air-conditioning made it a match for any SUV inside.
We had though this was a car we could get mucky without feeling bad about it, but we quickly found ourselves unlacing muddy boots and putting them in plastic bags before climbing aboard.
That’s not to say the Amarok isn’t rugged: VW says it can pull that 3,200kg trailer up a slope of more than 6 degrees and cart that one-ton payload up and down hills of 45 degrees.
The load bed has a protective coating, which we tested with a trip to pick up timber from Wickes. It survived. Yes, you can create a large load area in an estate car with the rear seats folded flat, but the way you load your clobber is so much more satisfying in a pick-up. Just fling it in: clunk, clunk, clunk … sorted.
In fact, the double-cab Amarok’s rear bed is claimed to be class-leading in size: it measures 2.52 square metres (1,550mm long by 1,620mm wide, or 1,222mm between the wheelarches), which VW says is enough to take a standard European pallet sideways. And in this class of vehicle size really does matter. The back seats are a bit upright, and the chair configuration of some SUVs is more versatile, but if you need a pick-up, this is one of the more comfortable.
Is it any good to drive? It doesn’t handle like a Porsche, of course, but it does shift along at a decent pace and you will be surprised by its composure around corners, especially if you’ve spotted its prehistoric leaf spring suspension setup at the rear, which is designed to take those heavy loads. The feel varies dramatically with the weight of load being carried, and when the Amarok is unladen the rear end can kick like a playful rabbit over bumps, but the ride is not overly choppy.
The biggest surprise is the refinement. The diesel motor does make a racket when heard from the outside, but the cabin is well insulated against noise and the driver’s seat is a comfortable place to spend time. The auto gearbox is smooth and always seems to select the right cog at the right time, shifting swiftly. And VW’s infotainment system is a joy to use. The Amarok could easily become your daily drive — as long as you don’t think too hard about the fuel bills and the emissions.
2015 Volkswagen Amarok 2.0 BiTDI permanent 4MOTION 180PS automatic Atacama specifications
- PRICE: £35,416
- ENGINE: 1968cc, 4 cylinders, twin turbo, diesel
- POWER: 177bhp @ 4400rpm
- TORQUE: 310 lb ft @ 1750rpm
- TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic, permanent 4-wheel drive
- ACCELERATION: 0-62mph in 11.3sec
- TOP SPEED: 108mph (electronically limited)
- FUEL: 35.3mpg (combined)
- CO2: 211g/km
- ROAD TAX BAND: K (£640 in first year, £290 thereafter)
- RELEASE DATE: On sale now
VW Amarok rivals
- Toyota Hilux (view cars for sale)
- Mitsubishi L200 (view cars for sale)
- Ford Ranger (view cars for sale)