Good, better, best, which is the most awesome bakkie of them all? Janine Van der Post recently drove the limited edition VW Amarok Canyon V6 and rates it against the rest.
Ford launched its highly-anticipated Ranger Raptor in SA earlier this year, while Toyota launched both the GR Sport Hilux and the Legend 50 - both to celebrate 50 years of the iconic bakkie locally. Isuzu unleashed its Arctic AT 35, Nissan has its Navara Stealth, and I was impressed by Mitsubishi's Triton Athlete which was launched last year.
The Raptor and the GR Sport tops my list as the best bakkies I have driven so far this year. But all this time, I had not yet driven VW's latest V6 Amarok. Until now. And, my opinion has most certainly been altered.
Volkswagen had unveiled its two limited editions Amarok models at the Festival of Motoring earlier this year: the Canyon and Dark Label.
These models have recently been launched for the local market and we got to put them through the paces in the Eastern Cape.
The automaker says the Dark Label is based on the 2.0-litre BiTDI 132kW 4Motion Comfortline model. Standard features include tinted rear windows, blacked-out B-Pillars, smoked taillights, black side sills, and unique 18" Rawson alloys.
Other goods include a fancy black styling bar with embossed 'Amarok' lettering, along with black door handles, mirrors, and a restyled rear bumper.
Inside there are Vienna leather seat covers, black 'Greenhouse' lining, and embroidered 'Dark Label' floor mats.
But we were really there for the Amarok Canyon, which houses the 3.0-litre TDI V6 engine and mated to an 8-speed good for 165kW and 550Nm.
Exterior goods include front and rear PDC with a rear view camera, matt black side sills, a newly designed styling bar, unique Canyon decals, widened wheel arches with 17" Aragua alloys, and a specific 'Honey Orange' body paint colour.
Inside the bakkie there are Canyon Edition trim covers, coloured seams on the seat belts, Greenhouse black roof lining, "Discover Media' navigation with App Connect, Canyon embroidered foot matt, leather seat covers, stainless steel pedal cap, and auto-dimming interior lights.
Volkswagen took us to a very special place, the Longmore Forest, home of SA's VW Rally just outside Port Elizabeth. And goodness, the way that Amarok Canyon drives, it could most certainly have won a few stages hands down in its days.
VWSA had us do a 'speed stage' in a designated area in the Forest, and we could literally put foot as we took the bakkies through its paces. It felt as if it was in its natural habitat. Imagine a supercar doing a 1km-sprint run, well that's what the Canyon feels like even on gravel. It's so grippy and feels properly solid on any surface. But, immediately you realise it has a very special suspension setup, nothing normal compared to the standard V6 model.
We then headed out to Crockerts Hope, about 35km outside Port Elizabeth, a 4x4 club with their own playground. It's a bunch of bakkie enthusiasts who gather once a month to braai, and well, off-road.
They have some very technical exercises on their off-road course, ones that are not for the faint-hearted. The Canyon cruised through the course as if it was birthed there from its mother's loins. An easy feat at every obstacle, and there too you just know the suspension has everything to do with it.
Of course that 3.0-litre V6 plays a significant role too and that 550Nm makes for phenomenal pulling power, making it feel more powerful than even the Raptor or Legend 50. I think I also now understand a few viral videos I have seen of an Amarok out-pulling the Hilux uphill or even out-towing it.
To help make sense of the Amarok Canyon's performance off road, we asked Volkswagen SA's Bohdan de Wet to explain the major difference between the Amarok and its competitors. This is what he said:
1. The Amarok chassis has seven cross-braces on the chassis – thus more rigid than its competitors.
2. The rear leaf springs are connected to the chassis on the side of it, and not below as on competitors. This allows for less axle float to take place.
3. The Amarok has a fully independent suspension in front with MacPherson Struts."
And what's the difference between Normal V6 and Canyon?
De Wet says: "The leaf springs on the Canyon at the back has five blades and on normal V6 there are only three, thus the Canyon has a stiffer suspension at the back, making for less body roll and makes for a higher ride high when loaded.