What is it?
The Volkswagen Amarok is VW's first pick-up and a direct competitor for the ubuquitous Toyota Hilux. Built on a platform at the Pacheco factory in Buenos Aires, it's destined for sale across South America, Austalia and New Zealand, as well as Europe.
The Amarok gets a classy, aggressive interpretation of the VW grille, a six-speed gearbox, low-range transfer box, permanent four-wheel drive, locking centre and rear differentials, the latest direct-injection, twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel unit, tuned for 161bhp and 295lb ft, and traction/stability control.
What's it like?
The interior moves the class to the next level. Despite the low spec levels compared to VW's road cars, the build quality is exceptionally good, with tough but well-textured surfaces and an excellent driving position. Car drivers would notice the unusual height of the seats and driving position, but otherwise everything falls under the fingers in exactly the way that it would in, say, a Golf.
The test car, which was fitted to the top spec level, called Highline for the South American market, didn't have sat-nav, but it will be available on UK vehicles.
On the move, the Amarok combines excellent off-road abilities with solid, predictable car-like handling. The combination of a solid, leaf-spring rear axle, mechanical locks on the centre and rear diffs and traction control means that most extreme off-road situations require little more than pressing the accelerator and adjusting the wheel so that it goes in the correct direction.
Where VW's achievement is much more impressive is the on-road refinement. The Amarok does not ride over broken surfaces with the sophistication of the Freelander, but the ride is exceptionally good for a vehicle with a payload of 1150kg. The steering is well weighted, though devoid of much feel, but provides enough feedback on what's going on beneath the tyres to allow fluent, quick progress on the paved Patagonian highways and dirt tracks that made up the 170 mile test route.
Enthusiastic drivers will find that the stability control intervenes earlier than you'd expect in high-speed corners, but the Amarok is naturally stable with it switched off, exhibiting nothing more than a mild, controllable yaw in all but the most provocative manoeuvres.
The diesel engine, which at 2.0 litres is the smallest in its class, has plenty of torque across the rev range, with 295lb ft available from 1500rpm. Overtaking is not brisk and requires planning, but probably matches the performance of a 1.6-litre diesel family hatch.
The only noticeable problem of the downsized unit, compared with the larger unit in the 3.0-litre unit in a Hilux, is the slight lack of low-end torque as the turbo spins up. The lag is minimal – one turbo is tuned for low-end response and another for top-end power – but it can occasionally catch you out in low-grip situations.
The most positive consequence of the downsizing is, of course, the fuel consumption. VW quotes 36.2mpg, which equates to 206g/km of Co2.
Should I buy one?
If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then the proof of a pick-up is in driving it for 100,000 miles over bumpy roads. That's obviously not possible within the confines of a one-day test, but given VW's reputation for build quality and reliability it's safe to say that Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi should be concerned.