OUR main gripes with the Volkswagen Amarok at its launch in 2010 were its notchy gearshift action and abrupt clutch, especially assessed in the context of its otherwise class-leading refinement and upmarket air.
Volkswagen claims to have adjusted the clutch to allow for smoother pull-aways, which the CAR team tested with great zeal. Most testers reported an improvement in linearity and there were far fewer stalls than before, but some still bemoaned the otherwise-untouched gearshift action, especially the notchy transition between the first and second ratios. Thankfully, the throws are short, which does go some way to minimising driver effort. But make no mistake, the Amarok is still an intimidating vehicle to drive in the confines of a busy city owing to its flawed transmission and sheer size.
At the same time, Volkswagen has seen fit to extract an additional 12 kW from the twin-turbocharged 2,0-litre diesel engine for a total output of 132 kW, available at a fairly lofty (for a diesel bakkie) 4 000 r/min. The peak torque figure remains unchanged at 400 N.m and is on tap from 1 500 r/min.
The extra oomph at higher engine speeds not only made its presence felt in our 0-100 km/h sprint – the Amarok posted a brisk time of 11,1 seconds – but also in the overtaking-acceleration test.
This vehicle weighed only 56 kg less than the 4Motion models we previously tested (November 2010 and October 2011), so the improvement in acceleration compared with the all-wheel-drive model, which took 1,4 seconds longer to reach 100 km/h, can surely be attributed to the hike in power and reduction in drive-train drag.
Despite the humble cubic capacity and high power peak, the 2,0 BiTDI unit displays good tractability at low engine speeds even in its higher ratios, which is something that can’t be said of its Toyota and Isuzu competitors.
During performance testing, the Volkswagen Amarok accelerated from 100 to 140 km/h in 12,87 seconds, which almost matched the 12,81 seconds that the range-topping Ranger – powered by a 3,2-litre five cylinder turbodiesel – posted in our first road test of Ford’s new double cab.
Most surprisingly, and in vindi- cation of Volkswagen’s decision to install a small-displacement turbodiesel in the nose of such a large bakkie, the performance doesn’t hamper fuel efficiency; our calculated fuel-index figure of
9,48 litres/100 km for this model was bested by our real-world fuel run of just 9,20 litres/100 km.
As we’ve mentioned before, the Amarok’s comfort levels are among the segment’s best. The BiTDI engine note intrudes under harsh acceleration and at low speeds, but at cruising speeds it’s but a whisper in the background. Wind, tyre and suspension noise are excellently suppressed.
The Amarok rides comfortably on most surfaces, even with the optional Durban 18-inch alloys fitted to our test unit (17 inchers are standard). While the lack of VW’s all-wheel-drive system means that strenuous off-road courses are ruled out, the Highline does have a rear differential lock, engaged via a switch next to the gearlever, for mild bundu-bashing.
The 132 kW engine is available only with the range-topping Highline specification, which includes dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker sound system with MP3 capability, cruise control, auto-dim mirror and electrically adjustable and heater exterior mirrors. Four airbags, Isofix child-seat mounts and a comprehensive electronic package that includes traction control with ESP and hill-start/hill-descent assist head up the safety specification. The options sheet includes a number of items you would find in VW passenger vehicles, including park-distance control, a USB port, as well as leather upholstery.
If all-wheel-drive capability isn’t on your list of requirements from a double-cab, this version of the Amarok is a strong proposition in terms of value for money (it undercuts most of its rivals, yet in many cases is as well equipped and powerful); it’s currently our favourite version of VW’s double-cab bakkie.
The Amarok’s transmission shift quality still requires familiarisation and some might find the engine too clattery at low revs. But if you’re willing to accept these compromises, you’re likely to find the Amarok one of the most comfortable and refined bakkies in its segment.