VW Amarok - wolf's out of its den!

ANCIENT AND MODERN: VW's  new Amarok superbakkie, dusty from the trail, and an old farmer's cottage in the Baviaanskloof.
ANCIENT AND MODERN: VW's new Amarok superbakkie, dusty from the trail, and an old farmer's cottage in the Baviaanskloof.

VW doesn’t do big bakkies? Well, it does now, and its first entry into serious pick-up territory is the five-metre-plus Amarok – the name means ‘wolf’ in Eskimo-speak and it looks mean enough to put the bite on Toyota’s Hilux.

Four double-cabs in the wolf pack for now, with a choice of two spec levels, two two-litre turbodiesel engines and rear or all-wheel drive, the latter using VW’s electronically controlled 4MOTION system and including low range, all operated by push-buttons arranged around the gear-shifter.

Single-cabs will come in the second quarter of 2011 (they too will be more than five metres long!) and a two-litre turbo petrol engine will join the line-up in February, 2011.

I’m assured that no three-litre engines will join the range.

They’re all assembled at a plant in Buenos Aires, Argentina that turns out about 100 units a day and South Africa is the guinea-pig market outside South America – Europe will follow, and then Australasia.

So confident is VW about its new canine collection that it’s betting on SA sales of 1200 from October to December and a whopping 4600 through 2011 to claim 15 percent of the one-ton double-cab market currently dominated by the Hilux with 47 percent market share so far in 2010.

Isuzu, Nissan and Mazda will also be listening to hear how loud the wolf pack howls...

The trucks were launched to the SA motoring media this week in Port Elizabeth, not far from the wolf’s lair in Uitenhage, with an on and off-road drive to the Baviaanskloof world heritage site after a product presentation at the newish Radisson Blu hotel on the Windy City’s beachfront.

Jaco Steenekamp, VW’s general manager for sales and marketing of retail commercial vehicles, conceded there that VW “has a huge challenge to face”, especially as the Amarok design has followed the now worldwide trend towards smaller, but more powerful, turbocharged engines.

“We intend to push how the two-litre twin- turbo has more power and a little more torque than the Toyota three-litre – there is a shift to smaller engines with more power,” he added.

“The mindset of ‘more cubes equals more power’ is a mindset that VW is just going to have to overcome.”

Steenekamp reckoned that eight-million kilometres of testing and the fact that the 35 Amarok units used as back-up vehicles in the 2010 Dakar rally in South America all made it to the finish will be a pretty good punt for the “small is better” mantra.

VW has opted for two-litre diesels to go against Toyota’s proven three-litre units. The twin-turbo generates 120kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm from 1500rpm  – both figures greater than the three-litre Toyota.

The single-turbo TDi makes 90kW/340Nm and the still-to-come two-litre TSi petrol turbo 118kW/300Nm – all three, VW believes, helping to make a nonsense of “cubes is king”. And then there’s the twin-turbo’s fuel consumption...

VW quotes a Euro-tested 7.9 litres/100km – but that’s not real life. Nope, real life is a 100km cruise at around 120km/h and then a 30km haul on a gravel road followed by a modestly testing spell on rougher stuff in the Baviaanskloof.

The result from the unit I drove, according to its trip data computer: 8.6 litres/100km, average. The tank holds 80 litres, so that’s more than 900km if the wolf is running at a steady lope.

More good news is that the lupine diesels are not fussy about the fuel they drink – and quality of diesel is good because the trucks are set for Euro3 exhaust standards and lack particulate filters.

The Amarok also comes with features not seen on its competitors, but first let’s hit the double-cabs’ prices (which include a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a five-year or 90 000km service plan):

Amarok Trendline
2.0 TDI Trendline 4x2 90kW - R316 840
2.0 TDI Trendline 4Motion 90kW - R364 440

Amarok Highline
2.0 BiTDI Highline 4x2 120kW - R342 440
2.0 BiTDI Highline 4Motion 120kW - R390 040

The Amarok will be sold through all 105 VW dealers across SA as well as through 12 specialist commercial product outlets. SA-produced bull and rollover bars, side steps, belly plates, rubber mats and towing gear can be ordered with no fears about a damaged warranty.

A six-speed manual gearbox is common to each and no, an autobox is not available and won’t be, VW says, for two to three years. The action is easy, the clutch not too heavy, but the lack of a self-shifter is not going to be popular with the power moms who like to use such trucks as armoured shopping trolleys.

“A thingy gearbox, dahling, with these nails? You just HAVE to be joking...”

Perhaps the disappointment might be eased if the sales exec explains that the Amarok comes with off-road anti-lock brakes that can lop 30 metres off the stopping distance from 80km/h (the system allows the front wheels to lock at intervals to build up a ‘dam’ of gravel), a rear differential lock on all models (handy if the wheels are spinning on junior’s soccer field) and electronic stability control for the truck AND a trailer (a claimed first).

The truck also, VW asserts, has the biggest and widest load bed of all double-cabs with unusually high walls and the capacity to take a Euro pallet sideways. There’s a load-bed light and, at the tail end of the left wall, a 12V power socket – think fridge on a camping trip.

There’s even a choice of suspensions under the Amarok’s rugged ladder chassis: comfort, which allows a 948kg payload, and heavy-duty which will carry 1147kg. No extra charge. Hill-descent control which will maintain the speed at which the driver enters the gradient and hill-start assistance are also available.

Steep, angled driveways (and even mountainsides) can be handled with a 50-degree roll angle, the truck has 249mm of ground clearance and will burble through a half-metre of water without drowning.

Steenekamp also pointed out that the Amarok’s designers had opted for “carlike” in their cabin design with height and reach-adjustable front and folding rear seats along with a fully adjustable steering wheel.

Here’s how the two models are equipped, starting with the Trendline. Standard here are height adjustable front seats, variable folding rear bench seat, locking glove box and load bed lighting. Window lifts, door locks and side-mirror adjusters are electrically powered and the trucks come with a radio/CD player, semi-auto aircon, a multi-function display, cruise control, front fog-lights and 16” alloy wheels.

The Highline adds part-chromed housings for the external mirrors, various chromed accents outside and inside the vehicle and fender that create space for 17” alloy wheels (18” and 19” are options). There’s also a colour-contrasting instrument panel, fully auto aircon, a more serious sound system and fabric seat covers (leather is an option).

The Amarok’s crash protection package includes driver and front passenger crash bags and head/thorax bags – rare in a double-cab – height-adjustable head restraints and three-point belts for all five seats.

Feel like going bush and howling at the moon?

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