Words and pictures: Bernie Williams
When Amarok first launched in South Africa back in 2010, it was a game-changer. German engineering and quality build – now in a long-awaited bakkie from the automaker – could not be faulted. At the time the fact that it had a 2.0-litre engine had a lot of people sceptical with plenty of jokes such as “only coke, milk and orange juice come in 2lt” being the order of the day.
With time, Volkswagen had developed the single turbo engine to deliver 103kw and 340nm and the bi-turbo version 132kw and 420nm. Undoubtedly, impressive numbers from a 2.0-litre engine! Around 2015, the traditional 4×4 system with low range discontinued which had a lot of sceptics doubting if this could work in real off-road conditions. VW utilised the 8-speed automatic box, traction control, constant 4wd via a Torsen centre diff as well as a rear differential lock. If you know how to use these electronic systems, the Amarok becomes a serious off-road contender.
2016 saw Amarok introduce the 3.0-litre V6 engines. This meant we have 165kw and 550nm at our disposal, and within a few seconds of using power boost, the beast jumps to a staggering 180kw and 580nm!! Coupled to the ultra-smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox, this is an incredible drive.
Having been around for a decade now, a new model Amarok is long overdue, despite the numerous special edition models we have seen from VW. The latest is the Dark Label available in 2.0-litre and the model we were fortunate enough to test, the 3.0-litre Canyon model. The Canyon will set you back R815 000 which gives the customer some distinct styling in the form of Canyon decals, good looking 18″ Aragua rims. Additional stylistic changes include coloured stitching on the steering wheel, seats and seat belts; while Canyon decals are repeated on the floormats.
How does it drive?
We set off to the Eastern Cape to drive six of the Ben 10 Passes around the Rhodes area. Our first bit of gravel driving was from Tele Bridge on the Lesotho border to cross the Lundeans Nek Pass cresting at 2 170m. We deflated tyres to around 1.5 bar for better gravel road traction. The accent was not the smoothest, but the Amarok took it in her stride and the V6 impressed with a smooth ride and ease of handling.
The real challenge on this trip was tackling the challenging Ben Mcdhui Pass, which sits at 3 001m! First gear engaged, rear differential locked and then start the climb… To say I was impressed seems to be an understatement. The Amarok took everything in her stride and made her way upwards and onwards, all the way to the summit. On the down drive, the “off-road” feature starts to come to its right acting as a hill descent control, allowing you to have a controlled descent.
Make no mistake: the V6 Amarok is an absolute pleasure to drive. On the road, the ride comfort and handling are what one has come to expect of VW products. The quality of materials used, and overall build quality is what is to one would expect of a vehicle in this price bracket. On gravel with the road-based tyres and the comfortable suspension, we were in for a somewhat unnerving drive, especially on corrugated surfaces and the concern of “bottoming” the suspension.
Off-road the lack of adequate ground clearance is a real concern and something that could be rectified by upgrading the suspension and fitting proper off-road tyres. We had two punctures on our trip because of the wrong tyres for the application. When it comes to the serious technical off-road driving, the systems are superb. Still, the lack of proper ground clearance is always a concern, with the fashionable side steps fitted to the Canyon making it even more of a challenge! If you plan to use this vehicle for regular off-roading, we recommend replacing them with more functional rock sliders for better clearance and protection.
The Apple CarPlay works well and ensures you stay safely connected, but the look and feel of the interior feel dated and could do with an update. At this price, one would expect electric adjustable front seats, lane assist and adaptive cruise control as standard features.
During 2020 the V6 engine will be replaced by the more powerful 190kw and 600nm engine which is available in the VW Touareg, which will make it the most powerful bakkie available in the market. It will also make it one of the most expensive. The Amarok is undoubtedly up against solid competition in the form of more traditional contenders such as Hilux and Ford and the new Isuzu which is on its way.
These special editions – such as the Canyon – undoubtedly help in the short term with sales. Still, we do feel the automaker could have gone the extra mile to add some value features that contribute to the overall safety of the vehicle. With the joint development of the new Amarok in collaboration with Ford, exciting times are on the cards for the South African bakkie lovers. Only time will tell how the market will respond, but as it stands currently, the Amarok has established itself as a serious player in the competitive bakkie market.