2021 edition of Spirit of Amarok: a swansong for Volkswagen's current bakkie

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The Volkswagen Amarok during the 2021 Spirit of Amarok
The Volkswagen Amarok during the 2021 Spirit of Amarok
Mpumelelo Macu

• The latest edition of the Spirit of Amarok Media Challenge took place in June 2021.

• The event was also the 'swansong' for the current Volkswagen Amarok.

• The new Amarok will make its debut in 2022.

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The Volkswagen Spirit of Amarok has been an institution on local 4x4 circles, with the event drawing the interest and adoration of many an off-road fanatic in South Africa. Mention the event and thoughts of rigorous and arduous challenges come to mind, all formed in the mind of South African motorsport legend, Sarel van der Merwe.

'Super Van', as he is affectionately known, has been at the helm of the Spirit since its inception. And though the event has been canceled in 2020 due to the global pandemic, it came back bigger and stronger in 2021. Earlier this year, members of the public had their shot at victory for this year's edition, with the Media Challenge taking place earlier in June 2021.

Needless to say, the Spirit of Amarok delivered and really put man and bakkie to the test.

First half: Technical

The Spirit of Amarok is not an event for the faint of heart, and one has to keep your wits about you when undertaking it. The bakkies, all Amarok Highline models powered by the vicious 190kW/580Nm 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, did well in the tough challenges and came out without breaking a sweat.

The first half of the day consisted of technical driving, with contestants having to drive the bakkie through a series of challenges. Navigating through the tracks is far more challenging than it sounds, as knocking a flag, a pole, or reversing - among others - all count towards a point penalty. However, get it right, and teams can bag the full 100 points allocated to each challenge.

READ: Tackling Paternoster's sandy dunes in the new Amarok V6 - SA's most powerful bakkie!

Going at it, contestants used the bakkie's various features, including 'Off-Road' mode, which is, essentially, downhill assist, and the diff-lock. Not once did the bakkie feel as if it's put under too much pressure and dealt with the challenges like a champ. One of the more challenging parts came when we had to scale a rock-ridden hill en route to the next challenge, but with diff-lock engaged, the bakkie never set a wheel wrong.

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The Volkswagen Amarok during the 2021 Spirit of Amarok

Second half: the speed challenge

While the technical part of the event took its toll, contestants were ready to pick up the pace in the high-speed challenges. Though we were never going to reach the national speed limit on the WRC-like speed stages, it would provide an opportunity to wring the turbocharged engine's neck - proverbially speaking.

With teams having to complete a stage within an allocated time, it showed who could match - or come close - to the set time, all while not going off track or hitting a pole. This was also where the bakkie's permanent all-wheel drive system shone, and it attacked the course with vigour and plenty of enthusiasm.

REVIEW: Why the Volkswagen Amarok Canyon is more than just a special edition bakkie

While the engine had ample low-down grunt for the technical sections, it suffered from some turbo lag on the speed stages. The engine would need a moment to unleash its thrust off the line, but is unrelentless once on the go. The braking also suffered from some fade at some stages, but not once did the bakkie feel unsettled. Road holding and passenger comfort have always been some of the Amarok's strong points, and not even the gruelling Spirit could make it uncomfortable.

volkswagen amarok,spirit of amarok
Wheels24's Charlen Raymond driving the Volkswagen Amarok during one of the speed stages at the 2021 Spirit of Amarok.

It's about the Spirit

Having heard stories about the Spirit of Amarok challenge from industry colleagues, it's always been at the top of my list to one day participate in it. So when the opportunity to finally do it fell in my lap, there was no hesitation to accept. The event delivered in droves, and it put into perspective just how tough a 4x4 challenge can be. Van der Merwe and his team outdid themselves, with the venue providing the perfect blend of challenges that could test the mettle of both man - and woman - and machine.

Media partaking in the event agreed that the Spirit of Amarok had become one of the most significant institutions on the local motoring calendar, and its presence does add value to South Africa's automotive offering.

Come 2022, the all-new Volkswagen Amarok will make its local debut. Built locally alongside the next-generation Ford Ranger, we should not discount the new bakkie making its much-anticipated debut at next year's edition of this fantastic competition. But for now, this has been the current Amarok's swansong, and there is no better way to close the book than at an event created in its honour.

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