Reader review: Driving the pretender to the throne

Reader Jacobs is a loyal Toyota fan, but decided to take VW’s Amarok for a test drive.

I decided to go and drive the pretender to the throne. I initially had to search for a salesperson before I found a very enthusiastic one to show me the 4X2 2.0TDi model.

My first impression was that it looks much nicer than it does in hard copy, at least from the front and sides. However, the exposed massive rear tail lights just look horrible and are begging for a stray paddle to break it.

Looking underneath, I wonder where the manufacturer measured the claimed ground clearance from. Parked side by side with my Hilux bakkie, mine had better clearance but the spec sheet says I’m wrong.

Having bashed the bottom of my bakkie a few times on dumper tracks, the exhaust of the Amarok also looks to be vulnerable. The load bay is huge and the nice thing about the suspension is that it allows smaller wheel-arch intrusions. The power point in there is also welcome, although how long it will last is debatable.

Climbing inside (really, you have to climb in quite high because there are no standard steps as in true German tradition. In fact, you have to pay extra for them), the first thing you see is a well-laid-out, spacious cabin in the front.

Highlights in front are the power point on top of the dash for GPS, in addition to the other two lower down, the wide cabin, height-adjustable seat, hill descent control and dual-zone climate control.

The low points are that the handbrake goes into the armrest cubby hole making it rather small considering the size of the lid, a wasted opportunity I think.

The handbrake is also on the wrong side, just enough to annoy the driver. The cubbyhole is also small with an odd shape and there is lack of general oddment space. Although cloth seats are standard, all of them are being ordered with leather seats, which I personally dislike.

The door pockets are lined, which doesn’t make sense for a place where milkshakes are put. There is also a flimsy set of dual cup holders in the centre at exactly the spot where your feet have to rest.

The rear seats are very upright, the squab is short and the front part angled upwards so that your knees are higher than your bottom.

The specs again say that the Amarok has more space in the back, but a back-to-back sit behind self-test gave me about 10cm more knee space in the Hilux and I’m only 1.7m tall.

It’s quite easy to get yourself into a comfortable driving position with the myriad seat and steering wheel positions, and it took me only a few seconds before I was ready to start.

It has the typical diesel clatter at start-up, but it smoothes out to a nice thrum when warm. This engine is phenomenal. The power feels very linear and it is quite revvy for a diesel.

Yield signs in second gear, at just above idle, are handled better than my Hilux, pulling smoothly until the turbo kicks in. The gearing feels very short and I felt like I was changing gears too often. It pulled uphill without labouring in fourth gear or having to drop down a gear.

I love this engine – it has character as well as a snarly diesel thrum. My only negatives were that you can feel the engine through the pedals, like a gravelly vibration through them, and it is also quite easy to stall with too few revs.

The ride comfort and handling are on par with the other double cabs in the market, with one niggle that bothered me. While going around a 30-degree left-hand bend with quite a few bumps mid-corner at about 80km/h, the back end got a bit squirrelly, with a bit more sideways shimmy.

I went into the dealership with a heavy Japanese bias. I’m not a VW fan in any way, but the Amarok’s engine blew my socks off. Hopefully, the turbos last because this engine deserves to succeed.

Would I buy one? No, but that’s because I have a partner and daughter who both have tons of carry-on luggage at all times and the Amarok is definitely smaller in the back. And there is too little compartment space for my needs – but those are my specific needs.

Is it a decent first effort? Most definitely. This is sure to steal quite a bit of Nissan Navara sales, with only a few Hilux converts in my opinion.

» Jacobs drives a Toyota Hilux 3.0

» Send your reader reviews to Janine-Lee Gordon.

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