What is it?
It has been a busy 18 months for the commercial arm of Volkswagen, with its Caddy and Transporter both getting a mid-life refresh and a new Crafter due next year. The fourth vehicle to get a light going over is its Amarok pick-up.
The Volkswagen Amarok has been on our roads since 2011, having originally been designed for the South American market and built in Argentina. However, the German manufacturer saw some mileage in having a pick-up in its European line-up and duly brought it over. Since then, 14,800 Amaroks have been sold in the UK, with Volkswagen hoping this facelifted model will bolster its position in a congested segment.
Not only does the latest Amarok have to keep at bay the new and improved Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux, but also newer rivals – including the Fiat Fullback and the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz X-Class.
The new Amarok looks largely the same as the original, with its underpinnings remaining unaltered. Exterior changes have been limited to a redesigned front bumper, front grille and alloy wheels, while inside there is a new dashboard and an improved infotainment system complete with Bluetooth and DAB radio as standard.
The highlight, however, is the new 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, which replaces the outgoing 2.0-litre oil-burner. Two outputs are currently available at launch – 201bhp and 220bhp, both driven through an eight-speed automatic gearbox – while a 160bhp version will join the range in 2017, as will a six-speed manual for the lower-powered models.
Despite the larger capacity, there is no penalty to pay on the fuel economy and CO2 fronts, as Volkswagen has gone to great lengths to ensure it matches the outgoing 2.0-litre unit’s output.
As for trims, they remain very much the same, with three core levels – Startline, Trendline and Highline - while various special-edition models will be released throughout its lifecycle. Here we are testing the limited-edition Aventura Amarok with the most powerful diesel engine.
What's it like?
VW's 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine is a peach and makes those memories of a clattery diesel dominating the cabin a thing of the past. Don’t be mistaken into thinking it is as refined as it would be in a passenger car, as a distinctive undertone is always audible but never onerous.
As for its performance, its low-down grunt and peak power make this one swift pick-up, with the muscular V6 delivering its power in a linear, smooth fashion. An overboost function allows a further 19bhp to be made available, making swift manoeuvres such as overtaking effortless.
The eight-speed automatic does a good job of flicking between ratios in order to keep engine noise to a minimum, while remaining responsive when you dab the throttle. It's not perfect, jerking through the first couple of ratios on large throttle openings from a standstill, but ultimately it does get the best out of this V6.
The steering is light and direct, which makes negotiating tight corners and streets simple enough, while mild bodyroll is kept well in check. The ride is reasonably good considering the rear is mounted on leaf springs, but not comparable to the multi-link suspension used on the Navara NP300.
Over uneven asphalt, unladen, the Amarok's rear axle struggles to settle, but never to the extent that it becomes alarming. Viewed next to its rivals, it does well to soak up most of the smaller ruts that plague UK roads, but larger potholes can cause sudden, sharp vibrations to shudder through the cabin.
As for its workhorse capability, the Amarok is still able to fit a Euro pallet between its rear wheel arches and carry a payload of up to 1114kg, which is similar to the Hilux but more than the Navara. That said, it lags behind the Ranger's mammoth 1240kg carrying ability. The VW's braked towing weight comes in at 3100kg, which, although substantial, leaves it behind the 3200kg of the Hilux and the 3500kg of the Navara, Isuzu D-Max and Ranger.
The interior will certainly be familiar to anyone having driven a Mk7 Golf. That means it's very well built and logically laid out but short on design flair.
There is plenty of space up front, but the rear is a different matter. There is a shortage of leg and shoulder room for three adults to sit abreast, although head room is far more generous. The middle rear seat is compromised by the addition of cupholders bolted to the floor, limiting leg room. It is less spacious compared to space afforded to rear occupants in the Ranger and the Navara.
Should I buy one?
If you are in the market for a pick-up that is as comfortable with manual labour as it is being a family car, then you are relatively spoilt for choice with the Nissan Navara NP300 Tekna, Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Toyota Hilux Invincible all coming with plenty of luxuries.
For our money the Amarok is the one to go for, partly for the car-like interior, but mainly because this new 3.0-litre V6 is such a charming engine, with its muscular yet quiet nature making it a very different proposition from downsized rivals in the pick-up market.
Yes, it has its flaws - its ride isn't quite as resolved as the Navara’s and it isn't able to tow quite as much as the Ranger, Hilux or Isuzu D-Max. Its combination of good on-road manners and stout workhorse capability, though, can't be ignored by those looking to work hard and play harder.
Volkswagen Amarok 3.0-litre V6 224PS Aventura
Location Oxfordshire; On sale Now; Price £39,381; Engine V6, 2970cc, diesel; Power 220bhp at 3000-4500rpm; Torque 405lb ft at 1400-2700; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 3290kg; Top speed 119mph; 0-62mph 8.0sec; Fuel economy 36.2mpg (combined); CO2 204g/km; Rivals Nissan Navara NP300, Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux