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18 April 2017

With an aftermarket Seikel suspension, chunky Cooper off-road tyres and plenty of Seikel underbody protection, we finally got our VW Amarok’s tyres dirty at the Waterfall Safari Lodge’s 4×4 trail, in Mpumalanga. This is what happened.

The Waterfall Safari Lodge’s 4×4 trail is described as a grade 5 track. From previous experience though, we know its more of a grade 3 to 4, so we reckoned it would be the ideal venue to put our beefed-up VW Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion AT through its off-road paces. The VW AT’s 4Motion system is different to the part-time system used in the six-speed manual Amarok 4Motion. In the eight-speed automatic application, the system is a permanent 4WD, but it doesn’t have a transfer case (as the manual does). Instead the gearbox’s first gear’s ratio is lower than usual to cater for off-road driving.

As unlikely as it sounds, this arrangement actually works very well, especially in combination with the very effective traction control. Select first gear manually, pick a line and let the Amarok sort out the rest. There is also a rear differential lock, but we never needed to call it into the game. The extra clearance afforded by the Seikel suspension (about 25mm) and the slightly higher Cooper tyres also meant the risk of damage to the bakkie was less than it used to be. Another arrow in the Amarok’s quiver is the twin-turbo two-litre engine. There is 420Nm of torque available at 1 750r/min, so there is plenty of juice in the tank to clamber up inclines, even at lower revs. Wheel articulation has improved with the Seikel suspension, so wheels stay in contact with terra firma longer and forward momentum is easier to maintain.

But there were some negative aspects, too. For one, the Amarok is big. And wide. At over 2m wide if you include the mirrors, it can be a tight squeeze on a two-spoor track like the one at Waterfall lodge. Another chink in the no-low-range-gearbox option is the fact that the reverse gear ratio is a standard one, and not a lower one like that first gear.  So if you get yourself in a tricky off-road situation that requires the driver to reverse over a boulder, the picture is less rosy. Apparently engine torque is also electronically limited in reverse gear, so it’s certainly not ideal for rough and tough 4×4 assignments. And lastly, the hill descent control system, which, 99% of the time works a charm, does have a tendency to, on a couple of ocasions, go slightly mad. On a steep downhill, the system would regulate the speed most effectively, only for the Amarok to, out of the blue, suddenly shoot forward. Maybe the system would have corrected itself again, but it was a disconcerting experience, and we always kept our foot hovering near the brake pedal after that.

In the end the Amarok completed the 4×4 track, and conquered some pretty hairy 4×4 challenges along the way. It was all pretty impressive, especially considering the fact that there is no transfer case. On that transfer case point: if we had to drive rough and tough 4×4 trails on a weekly basis, we’d rather opt for the manual BiTDI 4Motion with the transfer case. It is just more suited to low-speed off-road driving, and it will ultimately be easier on the manual drivetrain. However, if tight and technical 4×4 obstacles are not your thing, and overlanding, and sand or mud driving are on the menu, the eight-speed Auto certainly is a great option. Add the obvious safety benfits of a permanent 4WD drivetrain and the outstanding dynamics of the auto box in traffic, and the Amarok auto makes a lot of sense.

Distance received/now 1 045km/13 798km
Distance completed 12 753km
Average fuel consumption 9.7 litres/100km
Selling price new R580 200
Hire purchase per month R11 387
Service plan Five-year/90 000km
Driven by Danie Botha

Eight-speed auto gearbox is in a class of its own
Handling! Dicing a hot hatch through some twisties is quite a bit of fun in a big double cab
Not so good
With the bigger tyres and uprated suspension fitted, fuel consumption is up. And cruising at 120km/h in top gear (8th), the gearbox now gears down more readily to maintain the same momentum up hills. But hey, every sport has its injuries.