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LONG TERM TEST: Dawn of a new Amarok

7 November 2016

With our long-term VW Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion double cab fast approaching the 30 000km mark, we were due for an upgrade – and so a new Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion automatic landed in our garage. It had only 1 000km on the clock, so custodian Danie Botha took it on a little road trip to Lesotho…

When a map shows a road in Lesotho as ‘a bad road’, it is not a bad road. It’s a horrible one that is non-existent in places. We know this because we, mistakenly, decided to take a ‘short cut’ to the remote town of Semonkong. There were two options: drive a detour of an extra 100km or so on beautiful new tar roads or, take a 68km short cut, as the crow flies, over the mountains. Since the prospect of some 4×4ing seemed like a grand plan, we chose the shorter route. We were in a highly capable Nissan Patrol 3.0TDi wagon, and our virtually new VW Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion AT. The eight-speed Amarok replaced the manual 4Motion we’d driven to nearly 30 000km, and it’s a very different machine to the six-speed manual.

Firstly, the automatic bakkie is fitted with VW’s permanent 4Motion drive system, whereas the manual gets a more traditional part-time 4×4 system. In default mode, the manual 4Motion is rear-wheel driven, and you can select 4H and 4LOW. There’s a rear differential lock and traction control in the game, too. The permanently four-wheel-drive Auto doesn’t have a transfer case at all. Instead, it features a very low first gear for off-road duties – it’s so low that during normal driving in town, it’s not even used and the gearbox usually selects second gear when taking off from a traffic light. The Auto also has traction control so, in theory, it can do some 4×4. And up to that point, it had certainly proved more than capable, easily scaling Sani Pass with absolutely no melodramatics at all, evidently a lot happier at the high altitude than its Japanese counterpart. But there we were, on a track marked as a ‘bad road’, possibly with some rough sections.

If only it was just rough sections… the first 40km or so was hardly plain sailing, but the Amarok never had any issues. But then it turned bad. Really bad. The tracks disappeared in places, and mud, snow, rocks, a river in semi-flood and darkness soon turned this ‘short cut’ into an extremely challenging 4×4 tester. When we arrived at some of the more challenging mountains, featuring huge boulders and dizzy drop-offs, I honestly thought there was no way this standard Amarok would get through it all in one piece.

And when the Patrol started to battle… well, the Amarok seemed doomed. The VW’s traction control was its biggest asset in these conditions. In the highly capable Nissan it’s all about mechanical grip, articulation and driver skill. In the Amarok, you obviously had to choose the right line and in places, build a road of sorts, but that low first gear, the 420Nm of torque and the traction control did an outstanding job. We’d line up the Amarok, select first gear in manual mode, and give it gas… a wheel or wheels would spin, but only for a moment before the computer took over and redistributed the power to the wheel or wheels with traction. All the driver had to do was to keep the throttle input constant, and keep the aim true up the rocks and away from the drop-offs.

We arrived at 1:30am the next morning at Semonkong. With one Patrol and one Amarok. Both vehicles had conquered the ‘road’. In the case of the Patrol, it wasn’t really a surprise. But the Amarok impressed us no end. The fact that it made it to Semonkong had at one stage seemed quite impossible. It had done it, and it lives to tell the tale. Long live our new Amarok.

Distance received/now 1 045km/3 965km
Distance completed 2 930km
Average fuel consumption 9.6 litres/100km
Selling price new R570 200
Hire purchase per month R11 870
Service plan Five-year/90 000km
Why do we have it Do you really need an eight-speed auto gearbox in a bakkie?
Driven by Danie Botha