It can easily forge any river or mountain that gets in its way, but the question is: will it ever get a chance to prove it to the person that buys it?
The modern, luxury bakkie
The modern bakkie has been transformed into a status symbol that can also take the kids to school. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it has made a big impact on what we as consumers expect from LCVs.
Ruggedness and off-road ability have taken a back seat to luxury and low noise and vibration levels. Most of the manufacturers (Toyota, Ford, Mazda, Isuzu and Nissan) have done an admirable job of off-road ability while including all the necessary niceties that make commuting so much better.
There is one manufacturer that does it that a little bit better than the rest.
Volkswagen’s Amarok is the default choice for anyone with luxury and interior quality at the top of their wish list.
I’ve driven the Amarok a few times since its launch in 2010 and it’s easily the closest to being an SUV with a loading bay. It’s also very good at the rough stuff, as Volkswagen has consistently proven at the annual Spirit of Africa event.
On the inside you get legendary Volkswagen build quality. The materials used have a satisfying upmarket appeal and you’re definitely not left wanting in terms of standard specification. My only criticism in this regard is the standard sound system. It doesn’t have a USB slot or Bluetooth connectivity, which really should be standard at this level.
Small diesel, big power
The Amarok is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and is well-known for being the source of a few hilarious bumper stickers (“milk, juice and Amaroks come in 2L”) normally stuck to the rear of a Hilux or Ranger.
These bumper-sticker jokes are totally unjustified though, as anyone who’s ever driven an Amarok will tell you. It may only have a tiny engine at its disposal, but it’s what it does with it that really counts.
Power output is rated at 132kW and 420Nm, which is easily on par, if not better than its rivals. If I was an Amarok owner, I’d print a sticker stating that the 3.0-litre diesel bakkies were overcompensating.
New automatic transmission
This engine can now be mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which makes the Amarok even more car-like than it already was. The autobox swaps cogs effortlessly by itself, but you can slap it into sport or manual modes if the mood strikes. As a matter of interest, the Amarok auto runs to 100km/h in 10.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 179km/h.
The Amarok’s 2.0-litre diesel has another ace up its sleeve in terms of fuel consumption. Volkswagen claims a combined fuel consumption of 8.3 litres/100km, which is better than any competitor out there. In town it has a habit of guzzling like a 3.0 litre, but on the open road the consumption drops to well below 10 litres/100km.
If I had to choose a bakkie out of the impressive line-up we currently have on sale in South Africa, I’d take a long hard look at the Amarok.
I’m not going to call it the segment leader, but even after three years in South Africa, it’s still up there with the excellent Ford Ranger and new-fangled Isuzu KB.