WATCH | VW ups ante with all-new Amarok, but will SA bakkie lovers find favour? We drive it

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  • Volkswagen has launched its brand-new Amarok with an international media drive in the Western Cape.
  • The local launch will take place during the first quarter of 2023.
  • Pricing and SA specs will only be made available at the local event.

Volkswagen has finally launched its all-new Amarok with the global media launch in South Africa. It's an entirely different vehicle from the one we've all come to love but could the next generation bakkie be too refined?

I've always loved the Amarok, especially that V6 model. And if you asked me what's my favourite or best bakkie of the lot available in SA, my answer would almost always be the V6 Amarok - even if the price was just over R1 million.

It had the speed of a hot hatch but drove as comfortably as a luxurious SUV - and yet did everything else you expected from a workhorse. It's what set the bakkie apart from the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-max, and the rest of the options available locally.

GALLERY | This is the new 2022 Volkswagen Amarok in pictures

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

Monthly sales figures can hardly compare to the three big bakkie-sellers in SA: Toyota, Ford and Isuzu, but that's really because the VW Amarok has become a niche model, mainly also because of its higher price. Still, it's a damn good bakkie, even if it's only been selling about 150 units per month.

Enter the brand-new Amarok, a vehicle we've been waiting for a long time in South Africa.

The local launch will take place early next year, and Volkswagen SA will then share more local specifications and pricing. For now, the most important thing we know is the new Amarok shares its platform, engines and some design characteristics with its locally built Ranger rival.

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

The new model is also being built at the local Ford Silverton plant in Pretoria, even on the same line as the Ranger. So, it's no surprise the vehicle shares many design features and styling traits with its competitor. The joint venture will have many people say these two new models look almost identical, but VW has designed the Amarok differently from the ground up. So same, same, but different.

So, what's new?

A lot. Volkswagen reckons the new Amarok is 100% newly designed, has more power, and looks much more elegant than before, continuing its decade-old success story.

The Amarok was always a good-looking chiselled vehicle. There's a new grille, new headlights and it just feels a lot bigger than before. Its design features are now more accentuated with crisper styling and a VW-specific interior in terms of touch-and-feel equipment.

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

At the same time, it's also more robust than ever before, a lot smarter thanks to innovative technology, and VW claims it's more comfortable too. The vehicle is now 96mm longer than before, the wheelbase is extended by 173mm making it 3.27m longer, with a total length of 5.35m. The approach and departure angles have been improved to 30 and 26 degrees, respectively, and it has an 800mm wading depth.

We know there's been a host of upgrades all around, visually and in terms of technology and driving performance. Even the base model Amarok feels much more premium than before and includes basic features such as LED headlights, a multifunctioning steering wheel, an 8-inch digital instrument cluster, electric foldable exterior mirrors, and a 10.1-inch infotainment system. 

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

There really isn't a part of this new bakkie that hasn't been touched or improved. The roof rails can now carry a static weight of 350kg, there's a new front tow hook and a brand-new wheel and tyre range up to 21 inches, while the All-Terrain (AT) tyres go up to 18-inch profiles.

At the rear, the cargo box has been integrated into the vehicle's locking system for the first time - and many customers will be pretty happy about that. The loading area can now carry the larger Euro pallet quite easily, and it now features more lashing eyes on the loading area with a 400kg tensile load. The Amarok also has a towing capacity of 3.5 tons across more variants.

Rugged and stylish outside, but plush inside 

Inside the vehicle, there are a whole lot of new goodies, too, like an electronic parking brake, inductive cellphone charging, ambient lighting and a leather-wrapped instrument pane; - all nice-to-touch equipment and materials, including the multi-function steering wheel with real buttons (unlike the touchpad ones in more recent VW models). The seats are comfy, and there are a lot of spoils for the driver and front passenger, but not so much for the rear passengers - nor does the quality of the seats and legroom feel as plush as upfront.

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

There's a brand new 10.1-inch infotainment with a touch display as standard and a 12-inch line-related with intuitive VW operability. It's easy to use and navigate through the many driving aides and systems. The same system is also naturally found in the new Ford Ranger, and the gear lever also looks quite similar to the current Raptor. But with the shared components, this is no surprise.

At the international launch, four derivatives have been introduced, although we're not yet sure which ones will be available for South Africa and if they'll even be named the same. These are called: Life, Style, PanAmericana and Aventura. With these four trim levels, it means there's a more extensive model range available than ever before. 

VW said the range - at launch - includes four different diesel engines with power outputs ranging from 110kW and 305Nm to 177kW and 600Nm (EUR 6). There's also a petrol engine - for the international markets with 222kW and 452Nm. We're most likely to get a 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine producing between 110kW and 155kW and the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel punching out 184kW.

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

The wide range of engines are in the form of 4-cylinder units up to 6-cylinder units (V6 engine). The entry-level engines are mated to either a five-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed auto while the 3.0-litre models are mated to a 10-speed automatic gearbox with shift-by-wire functionality.

How does it drive?

This is what everyone wants to know, what's it like behind the steering wheel - well, somewhat different than before.

As I mentioned earlier, the previous-generation Amarok always felt like a competent and comfortable SUV.

Now, the new Amarok feels like a bakkie, and it has somewhat lost that great comfort I had always pegged it so highly for. Of course, this isn't a bad thing, and the new vehicle still feels incredibly comfortable for a big bakkie, but it also feels familiar.

The new Amarok now feels like Ford's top-of-the-range Ranger Raptor - and that's probably the best bakkie rated in South Africa if we could all splash that much cash.

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

Having driven the new Ranger at its local launch this week (you can come back and read our driving impressions), if its performance is anything to go by in the XLT models, we can only imagine the new Raptor coming early next year, will be even better than before.

The most significant change is also the new 10-speed automatic gearbox - also shared from Ford - and that would probably be the most prominent aspect to get used to for former Amarok buyers. However, gear changes are seamless, and the shift-by-wire dial in the centre console is a boon.

My driving partner and I had landed in some soft sand, almost getting stuck. With a quick flick of the dial to 4L (low), while having the car in neutral, we were out of a sticky situation rather quickly and without any fuss 4High and 2H can be changed on the fly and the bakkie does not need to be stationary for this.

Its off-road capabilities seem suffice, and there probably won't be a terrain or challenge the Amarok won't be able to tackle head-on, but the off-road driving course wasn't too challenging to gage just how capable the bakkie is.

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

It doesn't feel like the old V6, which often felt like it could take on any sporty car off the line. The new Amarok now feels more refined and a lot more mature. As if it's no longer an iced tea-drinking teen but an Earl Grey Breakfast blend cup of tea connoisseur. 

There are more than 25 driving assistance systems, of which 20 are brand new. These include Intelligent speed assist, rear traffic alert, Blind spot detection also for the trailer, Park assist plus, and area view 360 camera.

There are also new drive and suspension systems, such as the two 4motion systems, a new electronic differential lock, an electric brake booster and six driving modes. With all this combined, driving this new model makes it easy, even for the most novice driver to get behind the wheel.

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

With bakkies now morphing into lifestyle or luxury family cars instead of hardworking vehicles, maybe the new Amarok is most likely to appeal to more people than we'd expect, it is a darn nice bakkie after all. But I can't help to wonder if our hardcore bakkie lovers will think the new Amarok has become perhaps too "soft".

Since we were tourists in our hometown on this international launch, the drive was not as extensive as we would have hoped, but we know the local launch will show off the best of this new vehicle when it arrives early in the first quarter of 2023. 

2022 VW Amarok
2022 VW Amarok

There is no pricing available as yet since this will be revealed at the local launch next year. However, Ford has released competitive pricing for its Ranger this week, so we're really hoping that Volkswagen will keep things tidy and keep costs in a similar bracket.

Amarok's pricing will likely determine its success. However, the new Amarok feels a lot more premium than before - and with that, we can only expect premium prices.

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