Volkswagen has pumped up the Amarok for its second outing: it's larger, more capable and plusher. But is it better?

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While other players have long quit Europe's premium pickup truck arena, Volkswagen is back for a second swing at the lifestyle flatbed niche with a second generation of the smart-looking Volkswagen Amarok. Larger than the car it replaces, built on entirely different mechanicals, and with a broader range of engines, the Amarok entered UK showrooms in spring 2023, bidding to make greater headway into the sales share of leading powers the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux than the last version managed.

A little history: when the first-generation Volkswagen Amarok launched in 2010, it did so with an in-house body-on-frame construction and a range of VW's proprietary powertrains, of which the beefcake 3.0-litre V6 TDI was unsurprisingly the most popular. It had easier drivability and a more hospitable cabin than its rivals, and it sold well, especially considering its maker had no prior experience of building mass-market pick-ups/bakkies/utes around the world. However, volumes weren’t quite high enough to ensure that a successor would follow. The figures illustrate this. In a good year VW would shift around 90,000 Amaroks. Ford, on the other hand, has averaged 350,000 or so units of the Ford Ranger, which sells particularly well in the UK.

The stretched wheelbase now makes for adult-appropriate passenger space in both rows; handy if you're replacing a family SUV, as many pickup drivers surely must be.

In this age of colossal and unexpected automotive industrial partnerships, if you’ve already worked out where this is going, well done. If not, you quickly would, were you given some time to poke around the squared-off, brutish new Mk2 Amarok, which is now in UK showrooms. Climb aboard and you’d notice that the massive portrait-oriented infotainment screen isn’t something VW has ever deployed anywhere else, and the style of gear selector and door handles are equally unfamiliar. And then, with a bit more digging – opening up the bonnet, nerdishly inspecting the windscreen scrawl, turning over some fittings – there it is in writing: FoMoCo.

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Volkswagen amarok rear three quarter 0
Lurking beneath the Amarok’s exterior is the recently updated Ford Ranger, with its revised T6 platform. We’ll come onto the practical consequences of this arrangement in a moment, but it’s worth stopping to appreciate its significance in the broader sense. With Volkswagen having invested so heavily in EV strategy, its ability to develop ICE-based legacy products has been hamstrung, particularly in respect to lower-volume commercial vehicles. At the same time, Ford has a good platform for its larger electric vehicles and you’ll find this underpinning the Mach-E SUV, but for smaller EVs it is already off the pace – unlike VW, which has its own MEB platform. It means the two companies are ripe for technology and hardware sharing, filling in certain gaps in one another's capabilities, and the new Amarok joins the VW Caddy as fruit of this partnership. None of this is breaking news, of course, and it will remain a competitive relationship, but it’ll also strengthen the hand of two global car-making giants considerably. 

For Amarok, Ford has clearly led the project, which began in 2018 and has mostly taken place in Australia. Is it a canny bit of badge-engineering from VW? Not quite. Of the body, only the roof, wing-mirror caps and door handles are actually shared. Though architecturally identical, the interior is also appreciably different, and throughout the development phases engineers from the German company were seconded to Ford, having particular input into the refinement qualities of the car’s suspension and EPAS.

Even so, the Amarok is still leaf-sprung and live-axled at the rear and has legitimate agricultural intentions. It means anybody hoping the thing will move with the grace of an air-suspended Touareg (or, for that matter, the silken new Ford Ranger Raptor, with its independent back axle and clever dampers) is going to be a little disappointed.  

The Ford bits amount to everything else, including engines. Powertrain options range from a 168bhp four-cylinder turbodiesel to the top-billing 237bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel tested here, with a 202bhp four-pot, sequentially turbocharged diesel splitting the difference. Interestingly, V6-carrying capability was engineered into Ford’s T6 platform at VW’s behest, and is why the Ranger Raptor now carries an engine its chassis deserves, rather than the previous model’s ordinary four-cylinder diesel. Note also that while some markets will get a utility-spec Amarok with a manual gearbox and single cab, European countries are double-cab only for now, with the option of Ford’s 10-speed torque-converter automatic (with clutch-based variable-torque distribution) sending drive predominantly to the rear wheels but engaging the fronts as needed. However, the car's are fitted with a lockable rear differential and the ability to select permanent 4WD, plus a new low-range transfer case. Plenty to be getting on with, then.

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Volkswagen amarok interior  
We've now tested the range-topping Amarok Aventura V6 TDI both on its international press launch in South Africa, and back in the UK. It dispatched five miles through light-to-moderately gruelling South African bush with ease and impressive wheel articulation (judging by the lead Amarok ahead of us), though the brakes did occasionally grab without warning in hill-descent mode. In terms of geometry, Ford underpinning clearly does the new Amarok no harm: shorter overhangs improve the significant off-road metrics and wading depth is up from 500mm to 800mm, and greater still with the optional exhaust snorkel. Fit the optional underbody protection and you’d need a knobbly-shod Jeep Wrangler to go much further afield.

And on the road? Some slightly mixed impressions to report. Our Aventura-grade test car represents the Amarok in its most high-end, sporty, lifestyle-market flavour, complete with 21in wheels and lowish-profile hybrid offroad tyres. Volkswagen’s pick-up has always strived to be the most hospitable and refined pick-up money can buy - but in this form, dynamically at least, it struggles just a little bit to follow suit.

Climb aboard and it starts painting a premium-worthy picture pretty well. The cabin, whose fundamental layout was decided by Ford but whose details and materials are mostly VW’s handiwork, is spacious, comfortable and tactile with good all-round visibility and crisp digital displays (don’t worry, there are chunky buttons for the main menu options) that lift the atmosphere to a more rarefied level than you might be expecting.

Equally, the simplicity of the place and particularly of the transmission tunnel – on which sit the gear selector, electronic handbrake control and driveline presets – neatly underscores the message that the Amarok is a tool, albeit one with leather-effect dashboard upholstery and metal-dipped air-vent surrounds. I don’t mind this juxtaposition. Some will consider it a bastardisation of the pick-up truck philosophy, but if so you’re not the target audience. I do miss the subtle solidity of the old Amarok’s switchgear and cabin in general, though. Ford’s bits are fine, but can’t match the old-timer in this sense. The touchscreen aren't exactly glove-friendly, either.  

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Volkswagen amarok switches 0
On the road, there’s no doubt the new Amarok is quieter and more cosseting than its forebear - but it doesn't always ride as well in range-topping trim as other derivatives. On smooth motorways it does a passable impression of something from VW’s passenger car stable, rather than its commercial vehicle wing. So long as the road asks nothing complicated of the suspension, at speed you’re treated to a fairly taut but broadly comfortable ride, and an imperious ambience peaceful enough for quiet conversation. Suddenly the presence of this car’s fancy Harman Kardon sound system makes sense.

Yet, on more twisting or choppier routes, the underlying pick-up reveals itself. For an out-and-out pick-up the Amarok Aventura drives well enough, and it's more settled and better-mannered than plenty of rivals - but those 21in wheels do thud and fuss over lumps and bumps that wouldn't trouble a lower-trim car on 18in wheels, and the surprisingly well-damped and -isolated feel of more modestly-equipped Amaroks is notable by its absence. 

I also slightly resent that the steering – accurate and sensibly sped – is less keyed into the road than that of the old Amarok, which had a fully hydraulic setup. This was such a small element but it made a big, heavy pick-up usefully less demanding to drive in environments that weren’t a farm or a building site. On the new car roll and pitch movements, though well-controlled, also unfold in such a way that there’s no doubt you’ve got a body-on-frame affair beneath you. The first-gen Amarok had similar hardware, of course, but was more unified in the way it slowed, cornered and drove down the road. More car-like.

Meanwhile, the new 10-speed gearbox is mostly effective and unobtrusive but can be a bit fussy compared with the ZF of the old model. It’d be worth trying the manual if we ever get offered it in the UK, not least because the auto is a little slow and gentle on the uptake, and can sometimes lurch off the mark, as though a little torque-bomb from the turbodiesel V6 has accidentally gone off. The V6 diesel is a good engine in the main – strong enough for overtakes, more refined than the 4cyl, and effortlessly muscular when you're crawling about off-piste. But don't expect much better than 24mpg out of it, even on a good day. 

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All in, this Ford-hearted Amarok is an objectively superior device to its predecessor. And yet, the whiff of genuine car-derived handling that made the old one so likeable and uncomplicated to drive by class standards has gone missing. How much that bothers you in the context of a machine that’s more capable, more striking and certainly more materially lavish than before depends on your own particular requirements. It sounds like a reasonable upgrade, though it’s a shame to see the Amarok lose its USP, and makes you wonder why you wouldn't just plump for the (probably) cheaper Ford Ranger.

UK-roads reporting by Matt Saunders

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Volkswagen Amarok First drives