The Volkswagen Amarok is the company's first purpose-built pick-up and is a direct competitor for the Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi L200. Built in Volkswagen's Pacheco factory in Buenos Aires, it will be sold across European, South American and Australasian markets.
The double cab pick-up is available with a choice of two direct-injection, twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel units, tuned for 124bhp and 251lb ft or 161bhp and 295lb ft.
The Amarok has the smallest engine in its class, and the high-power model we tested has plenty of torque across the rev range, with 295lb ft available from 1500rpm. Overtaking requires planning, but probably matches the performance of a 1.6-litre diesel family hatch. The effect of downsizing is marked, with this engine returning a claimed 36.2mpg with Co2 rated as 206g/km, but the engine lacks the low-end torque of larger engines in this class.
On the road, the Amarok is demonstrates excellent driving manners, with solid, predictable car-like handling. 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.
The combination of a solid, leaf-spring rear axle, a low-range gearbox, 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.
Volkswagen's designers have managed to apply the marque's trademark front end to the big pick-up, which is impressive given how different the Amarok in size, shape and purpose from its passenger car cousins.
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.
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. Given VW's reputation for build quality and reliability it's safe to say that Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi should be concerned.