VW aims to pick up sales with Amarok

Volkswagen has entered the pick-up market in a big way with its new Amarok, says Andy Russell.

If you've been to America or Australia you'll know they're big on their pick-ups or 'utes' – Aussie slang for utility vehicles – and I'm not just talking about the monstrous size of them. It's more a case of popularity for they are considered everyday transport.

It's a trend that has been gathering momentum in the UK for some years with the likes of the five-seater, twin-cab versions of the Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi L200, Ford Ranger, Isuzu Rodeo and Toyota Hilux.

When you get a manufacturer like Volkswagen moving into the pick-up market you know there is a future in it. Its Amarok is an important model for VW, growing the commercial side of its range and developed to be the most refined and technologically advanced in its class while setting new standards of economy, emissions and safety.

While that Amarok name is a bit of a tongue-twister – I ended up calling it Anorak (remember how some people called VW's big Touareg off-roader Toe-rag) – it's a big beast that stands out in the car park although nothing like the chromed monsters in America. For such a big vehicle it's rather stylish especially when fitted with stainless steel side bars and style bars in the load compartment.

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One of the reasons the Amarok is cleaner and more economical than rivals is it uses a smaller engine with 122PS and 163PS 2.0-litre turbo diesels mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. I drove the more powerful twin-turbo version which is surprisingly brisk when you wind it up – although it's also gruff and growly – but cruises comfortably and quietly at the motorway speed limit. Its real strength is the hefty 400Nm of torque from 1,500 to 2,000rpm making it hugely flexible in everyday driving and providing plenty of low-down pull in off-road driving. Even with some hard driving I saw 31mpg overall.

Selectable 4Motion all-wheel drive offering rear and four-wheel drive and low-range all-wheel drive – selected by simple buttons beside the gear lever – for serious off-road is available in all trim levels but the range-topping Highline version is also offered with permanent intelligent four-wheel drive and comfort-orientated suspension for improved on-road driving.

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Other models get heavy-duty suspension but, as pick-ups go, it doesn't make the Amarok unpleasant to drive on the road. The ride can be bouncy at times and corners will have passengers bracing themselves for some body roll at speed but you soon learn to live with it and the Amarok makes good progress on country roads but its size and large turning circle mean it's not the best vehicle for squeezing into tight spaces.

Climb into the cabin – and I mean climb – and you're rewarded with good all-round visibility, which helps when manoeuvring in tight spaces, and a commanding view of the road ahead. Other than that, from the driver's seat, it's not much different from driving a VW car with all the adjustment for the seat and steering wheel you'll need to get comfortable, big, clear white-on-black dials and logical, well-placed switchgear. The only downside is all the hard plastic, albeit attractively textured, but this is officially a commercial vehicle and built to be durable and easy to wipe clean.

Passengers will appreciate the space, with room for four adults in comfort and five at a push, plenty of head and legroom and no transmission hump in the back for a central passenger to straddle. There's also plenty of cabin storage with doorbins big enough to take bottles and a large glovebox and lidded bin between the front seats.

But the loadbay is the Amarok's claim to fame with a class-leading cargo bed. With 2.52 square metres of space, the load area has been designed to offer the largest dimensions in its class, making the Amarok the only one able to carry a Euro pallet sideways. If you want to cover the load bay for added security or practicality there are waterproof rollable or aluminium or body-colour plactic hinged covers while a body-colour hardtop is expected to prove popular. Another worthwhile option is the protective coating for the load bay at �582 including VAT.

Three trim levels range from 'workhorse' Startline, through Trendline to upmarket Highline. All get front, side and curtain airbags, stability and traction control, off-road anti-lock brakes, electronic differential lock, hill-hold assist, hill-descent control and trailer stability control. Startline comes with four electric windows and heated door mirrors, air-conditioning, radio/CD, rubber flooring, alloy wheels, remote locking and alarm. Trendline adds cruise control, trip computer, two-zone climate control, bigger 17in alloys, upgraded interior trim, carpets and front fog lights. Highline gains 18in alloys, leather seats (heated up front), chrome rear bumper with step and exterior trim, stainless steel sidebars and rear parking sensors.

It's clear Volkswagen sees the pick-up market picking up and not difficult to envisage how the Amarok could also find favour with active lifestyle families looking for alternative go-anywhere transport or those looking to tow and launch boats or jet-skis and still carry passengers and equipment.

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