Volkswagen Amarok review:
2.0 BiTDi Trendline
by David Finlay (29 November 2011)
Volkswagen has, as they say, hit the ground running with its first attempt at creating a large modern pickup. The greatest thing to be said in its favour is that its Euro NCAP pedestrian protection rating of 47% is, while not exactly brilliant, at least a lot better than that achieved by any other pickup currently on the market.
Its four-star overall rating can't be directly compared with the scores given to anything else in the class, since the Amarok is the only one to have been tested since Euro NCAP changed its methods a couple of years ago, but in a world in which there is no such thing as a pickup that can match a half-decent passenger car for safety, the VW can at least be said with some confidence to be at the head of its field.
It is also a spectacularly good off-roader. Full details can be found in our launch review; the concise story is that the Amarok can both climb and descend a perilously steep and alarmingly-surfaced slope with great and confidence-inspiring ease, and it can do it without requiring much experience or even ability on the part of the driver (though it's always worth getting a few lessons if you're not used to this sort of thing).
Four-wheel drive is a necessary, though not sufficient, requirement for this sort of thing, and all Amaroks have that. But there are 4x4 Amaroks and there are 4x4 Amaroks. The Trendline tested here has a part-time system, but you can have a full-time one if you want.
The only thing about that is that the part-time system is linked with a rear suspension set-up that's designed more for work than for leisure, and Amaroks that use it do much better for rear axle load limit (1860kg) and maximum payload (depends on the trim level, but always over 1000kg) than the full-time four-wheel drive versions with their more comfort-oriented suspension.
I wouldn't want to give the impression that the test car felt unduly agricultural, though. In fact, if I were to be asked for advice on its suspension (unlikely), I'd probably suggest increasing the front-end damping, as the nose has a slight tendency to wander up and down over bumps. More impressive is the way the back never, in my experience, feels as if it wants to step out when you apply the power, even when the very substantial 2.5 square metre load compartment has nothing in it. Unladen pickups emerging sideways from T junctions are now - or should be - a thing of the past.
As well as having four-wheel drive and two-litre turbo diesel engines (mostly producing 161bhp, though there's a 120bhp alternative in the very basic Startline), all Amaroks are also double cabs. Rear space is fairly limited, but you should be able to get four adults on board as long as none of them is over six feet tall.
The interior, though neatly designed, may nevertheless come as a shock to anyone who expects all Volkswagens to be as refined as, say, the Golf. The plastics have a very low-quality feel to them, and the engine is surprisingly noisy. From a cold start it gives off a fierce high-pitched rattle, and this never entirely goes away even long after it has reached operating temperature. I won't be surprised if the Amarok's first update includes a lot of extra sound-deadening material.
It's a good engine, though. I think 161bhp is about enough for a pickup, and there is usable power from below 1500rpm. That reduces the need to change gear, which is just as well because the shift action is a bit cumbersome. And, while we're on the subject of driver-focussed ergonomics, or whatever you call this stuff, the handbrake is too far away from the driver in right-hand drive models and requires an unnatural arm movement to operate it.
Still, minor niggles aside, the Amarok is a fine pickup, and as things stand at the moment it would be the one I would buy if I needed such a vehicle. Then again, if I had time on my hands I might wait a bit longer to see if the next-generation Ford Ranger - not on sale yet, but the first pickup ever to be awarded five stars by Euro NCAP - turns out to be half as good as Ford has spent a lot of effort telling people it's going to be.