First Drive

2016 Volkswagen Amarok first drive review

There may be nothing shocking about a mid-life facelift, but what is surprising is that VW has gone against current practice by replacing the old 2.0-litre engine with a larger V6

Auto Trader verdict:
Without knowing its price and specification, we can’t be sure just how well the Amarok stacks up against its rivals. However, we’ve seen enough to know that it’s up with the very best pick-ups, and – although it’s not without its shortcomings – it could even tempt some SUV buyers to switch allegiance.
Need to know:
  • Facelifted version of Volkswagen’s pick-up
  • 3.0-litre V6 TDI engine replaces old 2.0-litre unit
  • Order books open in September, with prices yet to be announced
2016 Volkswagen Amarok
2016 Volkswagen Amarok
What is it?
This is the revised version of Volkswagen’s pick-up, and something of an anomaly. In a world where ‘downsizing’ is the buzzword, and manufacturers are falling over themselves to introduce smaller, more efficient engines, the Amarok bucks that trend by replacing the previous-generation model’s 2.0-litre diesel engine with a 3.0-litre V6.

Why? Well, for the company, the answer is simple: customers want more power and more refinement, and the only way to do that is with a V6 engine. This will eventually be available in three states of tune, once the 161- and 201bhp versions reach the UK in 2017 to complement the range-topping 221bhp car, which should arrive before the end of this year.

Other than that, though, the new car’s transmission and suspension are virtually unchanged from the previous model’s – as, for that matter, are its size and carrying capacity. So, every Amarok will have four-wheel drive: a permanent system on models with an automatic gearbox, in contrast to manual-gearbox models, which will allow the driver to switch between two- and four-wheel drive.

For all that, the most obvious changes are to the looks of the car. Thanks to a new bumper and grille, the front end now is more in keeping with the rest of the VW range, while the cabin is also brought up to date with the latest touch-screen infotainment system, and the standard fitment of Bluetooth.

Full prices and specifications are yet to be announced, but our first experience of the new model comes in what will be the range-topping version in the UK, with Highline trim married to the most powerful engine, a combination expected to cost about £34,500.
What's it like?
The answer to that question depends very much on where you‘re coming from. Anyone used to other pick-ups and commercial vehicles will think the Amarok is surprisingly civilised, but anyone with more experience of modern SUVs will see the car’s shortcomings only too obviously.

Mind you, wherever you come from, you can’t ignore the impression the Amarok makes, simply because it’s so big. It's longer and wider than a Range Rover, for example, and that sheer size is emphasised by the massive grille, the bulky body and the way everyone has to clamber up just to get inside.

Mind you, once you are inside, the impression is of something much more mainstream, with the dash dominated by clear dials and the new touch-screen infotainment system. Admittedly, it’s not the very latest system that you’d find in, say, a Passat, but it’s far posher than you might in expect in a commercial vehicle.

There’s plenty of space, too, with enough head- and legroom for a pair of six-footers, and luxuries like electrically adjustable seats available. The wide cabin makes for masses of shoulder-room, too, and it’s same in the back, where three will fit across the seat in comfort. Admittedly, legroom is tight for six-footers in the back if there’s a couple of other six-footers sat in the front; but overall, the Amarok is one of the more practical pick-ups. It has a load bay that is wide enough to take a Euro pallet sideways, a maximum payload of more than a tonne and a towing limit of 3.5 tonnes,

Nevertheless, for all that, people will concentrate on the arrival of a V6 engine under the bonnet, so perhaps the oddest thing about the Amarok is that the engine never really sounds or feels like a V6. It just doesn’t quite have the smoothness or refinement you would expect.

Worse still, when you first pull away in the new Amarok, it doesn’t seem to have the performance of a V6, either. Then again, there aren’t many engines that would get more than two tonnes of Volkswagen moving that quickly from the word go.
2016 Volkswagen Amarok
2016 Volkswagen Amarok
However, once the Amarok is up and running, things are rather more impressive. The initially sluggish gearbox slurs its way through the higher of its eight ratios smoothly and quickly, and the car’s performance is more than adequate: able to take advantage of overtaking opportunities when they come along, as well as to keep up with the ebb and flow of motorway traffic.

The car’s refinement is very good, too, with surprisingly low levels of noise at motorway speeds. Even on the derestricted sections of German autobahn on our test route, at speeds that would land you in jail in the UK, two front-seat passengers could hold a conversation without shouting. What's more, the car felt perfectly stable.

Come to think of it, ‘stable’ is a good word to describe how the car feels on the road in general. Of course, you can never forget how big it is – whether because of the way you can feel all its weight shifting around when you change direction, because you’re forever conscious of its width on anything but the broadest streets, or because how hard you have to lean on the (fortunately very effective) brakes to slow it down – but it never feels anything less than sure-footed.

Ok, so it’s occasionally slow-witted and cumbersome, and you’ll spend a lot of time twirling the wheel as you turn into corners and then straighten up again afterwards, but the car always feels assured. You can keep up a good lick across country as long as the bends are sweeping and don’t follow one another too quickly.

As you would only expect, it’s not a car that appreciates being hurried through the bends and the ride isn’t the smoothest – particularly on the larger wheels – but it’s better than on many rival pick-ups, although many SUVs handle more sharply and ride more comfortably.

Last, but not least, the Amarok is also very impressive when you head off the beaten track. Granted, it’s not so good that it’ll give Land Rover engineers sleepless nights, but the Amarok can still show a muddy pair of heels to many a rival.
2016 Volkswagen Amarok
2016 Volkswagen Amarok
Should I get one?
The missing ingredient in all this is perhaps the most crucial one: how much the Amarok will cost. And, with the car several months away from being launched in the UK, that’s still very much up in the air. All VW will sayis that the new car is likely to cost between £500 and £1000 more than the current car.

That makes it look quite expensive, but then again, the Amarok does have plenty of things that are unique in its class, or class-leading – things like its V6 engine, infotainment system and safety features – so you could argue it’s a price worth paying.

As it stands, the Amarok is certainly a tempting package that will appeal to existing pick-up owners, and is good enough attract some buyers who might otherwise have gone for a more conventional SUV. True, the Amarok isn’t as engaging to drive as many of them, but it’s certainly something a bit different, and that could be enough to sway buyers who don’t want to be seen in just another SUV. Especially company car drivers, who can take advantage of the flat tax rate on pick-ups, which can make them cheaper to run than a more conventional vehicle.
Key facts:
  • Model: Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI Highline
  • Price: £34,500 (est.)
  • Engine: 3.0 litre V6 turbodiesel, eight-speed automatic
  • Power/Torque: 221bhp/405lb ft
  • 0-62mph: 7.9secs
  • Top speed: 120mph
  • Economy: 37.2mpg
  • CO2/BIK liability: 199g/km/£3170
  • Load area: 2.52 square metres
Also consider:
Mitsubishi L200
Now into its fifth generation, the top-selling L200 has a host of class-leading qualities

Nissan Navara
Brings previously unimagined comfort and sophistication to the pick-up class

Ford Ranger
The recent facelift brings significant improvements over the previous-generation model