Volkswagen’s long-awaited Amarok V6 landed in South Africa a few months ago. Since then, it seems to have lived up to the high expectations, and has been reported in all forms of media. Instead of repeating how fast, refined and, well, expensive (for a bakkie) it is, we thought we’d do something different: like compare it to a VW Amarok rally bakkie. And, while we were at it, we’d have a drag race, too.
If you’ve been following the release of the new Volkswagen Amarok 3.0TDI V6 4Motion bakkie, you’ve probably read about and/or heard of these numbers: 165kW and 550Nm; and the 180kW and 580Nm that is available for 10 seconds during ‘overboost’ situations. Those are the big numbers that are being bandied about for the new bakkie which recently went on sale here. It’s been constantly hitting the headlines since its introduction, and it has given the Amarok range a bit of a sales boost despite the hefty price tag. It’s been called a lot of things. From ‘the best bakkie that a lot of money can buy’ to ‘the new leisure-bakkie king’. And ‘the Amarok feels like a car to drive…’ to ‘this type of power in a bakkie comes at a price…’
So instead of simply regurgitating all of the above, which we happen to agree with, we thought we’d do something different. Something quite out of left field. Or rather, in a field. We phoned a man who also drives an Amarok. This Amarok is mostly just an Amarok by badge, and looks. This is no ordinary Amarok. Instead, it’s a no-expenses- spared Class T Cross Country rally bakkie, powered by a 294kW/480Nm Audi five-cylinder turbocharged 2.5-litre engine, with the cylinders firing in the nonsensical 1-2-4-5-3 sequence to recreate that unique and legendary Audi quattro rally car roar. Businessman Gary Bertholdt is the owner of this special Amarok racing bakkie. It’s a work of love, too, and Gary really went all-in with this build, which was completed ahead of last year’s Cross Country Racing series. Built and maintained by Kyalami-based Thompson Racing, the Amarok body panels that dress up the space-frame rally car underneath are all carbon fibre items.
The 2.5-litre five cylinder petrol engine is not linked to an Audi transmission, but instead to a Sadev six-speed sequential gearbox. Just like the Volkswagen Amarok V6 4Motion, the Atlas Copco-sponsored Amarok features a permanent four-wheel-drive system, but no transfer gearbox. The production V6 has a raft of electronic driving aids and a rear differential lock, too; the rally bakkie makes do without such redundant gadgetry. After all, the aim of the Amarok rally bakkie is not to offer comfort, nor refinement. It’s only real purpose is to go as fast as possible on gravel track. Like in, really, really fast. And to do it all day long. You may think the secret to such speed presides mostly in the 294kW engine, which obviously provides for rather brisk performance, but it does not. Instead, the single biggest contributing factor to its speed over inhospitable terrain lies in its suspension. You can have all the power in the world, but if your rally vehicle handles likes a Prasa train on a slippery skidpan, you’re not going to be winning any silverware.
So the Atlas Copco Volkswagen Amarok’s space-frame rides on no less than eight shock absorbers: two for each wheel. These are Reiger coilovers, some of the best in the rally business. The shock absorbers are fully adjustable too, and allow the rally Amarok to cover bad terrain, very quickly. And when we say ‘very quickly’, we really mean very quickly.
Oh. My. Word.
The Gerotek Vehicle Testing Facility, west of Pretoria, has a dedicated rally test track. However, this track will kill any normal production vehicle if you attempt to drive it at high speed. It is rough, rocky and rutted. Something from a mechanical nature is bound to disintegrate in spectacular fashion. We first went for a blast around that rally track with Gary in his rally bakkie. The Amarok was due to head to Botswana for the gruelling Toyota 1000 Desert Race a day after our test, so he was – surprisingly – not so keen for some overeager, Nasser Al-Attiyah-wannabe to drive his R4 million race vehicle on this rough track. The first thing that hits you is the noise emitted by the five-cylinder engine. Damn, it sounds fine. Having grown up in the times when Sarel van der Merwe and Geoff Mortimer in the Audi quattros took on the likes of Nic de Waal (VW Passat Turbo) and Hannes Grobler (Nissan Skyline Turbo), that unique five-cylinder burble, well, it is just grand.
Next, Gary hooks first gear, depresses the clutch, and off we go. Oh. My. Word. The sound of this Amarok! Baaarp-baaarp-baaarp-baaarp-baaarp-baaaaaaaaaaaarp. The unique turbo whistle – as excess pressure was released – when changing gears from the original Quattro is missing, but the rest of the sound track is all there. There’s so much torque and power, and the gear ratios are so short… the racing bakkie just blasts through the gears. In no time we are in sixth gear, and hurtling towards a rather large jump. Air. Air. More air. Land, smoothly. And off we go in sixth gear again, as fast as this (fast) Amarok can run. A corner comes up. There’s a corner… oh my lord, he’s not seen the corner! He’s not seen the… Gar… ahhhhhhhh! I’m going to die! I’m… dying! Wait, that beautiful sound is still there. The five-cylinder engine. Baaarp-baaarp. We’re still alive! And we’re still driving way too fast!
Another corner looms. We somehow get through it. Another jump appears on the horizon. We hit it in sixth gear and fly, and fly, and land. Smoothly. The rest of the lap is a haze of ruts and corners, rocks, jumps, and the beautiful baaarp-baarp-baarp from the Audi engine. We finally stop in front of the Atlas Copco service truck. I get out, doing my best to remain steady on my feet, a nonchalant smile planted on my face. “How was that?” someone asks. “Ag, you know, it was… okay,” I manage. Damn, I’m just not cut out to be a passenger. Especially not a passenger in a 300kW VW Amarok rally bakkie.
Oh! This is so nice!
Time for Gary to go a little bit more civilised, and drive the Amarok V6 4Motion. On the road. But first, a strange bit of trivia. Gary’s daily drive is a new BMW X5. But he doesn’t actually drive it; he has a full-time driver who carts him between his home and the office, and to meetings. And yet he drives like a man possessed in his rally car? Golly! Anyway, back to the business at hand: the Amarok V6. Gary slides in behind the steering wheel, and gets comfy in the leather seat. He checks out the cabin first. “This reminds me of the VW Touareg,” he says of the interior layout. “When I was shopping for a new SUV I nearly bought a Touareg, but eventually went for the X5. I tell you what, if you consider this cabin is like an SUV, and the practicality of the ‘bak’ added to the deal, this bakkie would definitely have been near the top of my shopping list. He starts the engine, shifts the eight-speed automatic gearbox to Drive, and off we go. “Nooo,” he starts. “Nooo!
I can’t believe this is a bakkie! It’s so smooth.” On a straight section of deserted Gerotek road, he buries the accelerator pedal, and we blast forward. “What? No!” he says with a surprised chuckle, clearly impressed as the Amarok’s V6 engine drags the bakkie from 0–100km/h in around eight seconds. At around 120km/h, he nails the brake pedal, shortly after we had elaborated about the fact that this is the first bakkie to feature an all-disc brake setup. We come to a quick, undramatic stop. “Geeez! This Amarok is more like an SUV, not a bakkie,” says Gary as we putter back to the service truck and his racing Amarok.
“I knew it would be fast, but what really surprised me is the overall package,” he adds, parking the V6. “The cabin, the performance, the refinement, the brakes, the feel of it, I’m really impressed. It’s just the price. Three-quarters of a million rand is a lot of money for a bakkie.” Sure it is. But you know what they say about the good things in life. On that note: how about a dice? A quarter mile dice between the rally bakkie and the new V6?
Before getting a ride in the Class T Amarok rally bakkie, we were quite confident the new V6 Amarok, with its claimed 0–100km/h acceleration time of around eight seconds, would be more than a match for Gary’s Amarok. Traditionally, rally bakkies are not so very fast in a straight line, on a flat road. Instead, it’s on the rough, winding gravel tracks that they really come into their own. But that 294kW turbocharged engine, the short gear ratios… we were not so sure anymore. We line up the two Amaroks on a narrow but straight and long section of Gerotek track. “Ready?” asks a voice over the two-way radio. Gearbox in Sport made. Check. Traction control off. Check. Left foot on the brake pedal and the right foot on the throttle, with 2 000r/min dialled in. Check. “Ready!” “Three. Two. One… GO!” I release the brake, and plant the accelerator. Wheels spin. And we surge forward. Next to me the rally bakkie and that five-cylinder engine make such a racket I can hardly hear the three-litre V6 turbodiesel engine going about its business. I can see the rev counter needle swing around the dial, then jumping back, then swinging hard again. Again and again and again.
The rally Amarok is ahead, but only just. The V6 is managing to stick with it as we blast past the 400m mark. That was closer than expected! We have to go again, for the sake of the photos and video. So we line up in the same spot again. “Three. Two. One… GO!” This time the five-cylinder makes even more noise. And as the Amarok’s V6 engine powers through the eight gears, the Atlas Copco rally Amarok pulls out a healthy lead. At the 400m mark, the lead is about three car lengths. Dammit! That was a whipping! We have one last go. And the result is the same as the second run. The rally Amarok takes the win by about three car lengths. Back at the service truck, Gary jumps out of his Amarok with a smile. “After the V6 got so close to me on the first run, I thought I’d better give it 100% for the other runs, and forget a bit about being kind to the clutch,” he chuckles. “I really had to give it everything I got to win. I’m still a bit gobsmacked at how fast the stock V6 really is.”
What fun we had. Our day included a few near-death experiences, aural motoring delights, a cool dice, and even a boerie roll. Yes, the Atlas Copco VW Amarok 2.5T is faster than the Amarok V6 4Motion over 400 metres and on a rough and tough rally track. For sure. That’s because the rally bakkie is designed to do just that, and it cost R4 million to get it to this level. And the V6 is obviously the better option for public roads. This test again highlighted how fast and powerful this new Amarok V6 actually is. Straight out the box. Combine that power with grace, elegance and comfort, and you can understand why the V6 has already had a marked effect on Amarok sales. Just as the VW Golf GTI makes up the vast majority of all VW Golf sales in South Africa, we reckon the V6 4Motion will probably do the same in the Amarok range, despite the hefty retail price. It certainly has the pedigree and the talents to do so.
VW Amarok 3.0TDI V6 4Motion Highline
Engine 3,0-litre turbo V6 diesel
Power 165kW @ 3 000r/min
Torque 550Nm @ 1 400r/min
Transmission Eight-speed automatic
4WD system 4Motion
Fuel tank 80 litres
Fuel consumption 11.2 litres per 100km
Price (standard) R665 700
VW Amarok 2.5T
Engine 2,5-litre turbo five-cylinder
Power 294 kW @ 5 300r/min
Torque 480Nm @ 1 600r/min
Transmission Six-speed sequential
4WD system Permanent 4WD, Haldex centre differential
Fuel tank 300 litres
Fuel consumption A lot more than the V6!
Price R4 million
As mentioned in the main article, the class T Atlas Copco VW Amarok was due to head to Botswana to compete in the most important cross country racing event of the year, the Toyota 1000 Desert Race. A day after our test, the Amarok headed to Botswana. Gary Bertholdt and co-driver Phillip Herselman completed the 61km prologue sprint in sixth position overall, and fourth in Class T. The next day the team lined up for the first of two gruelling race days, to complete a total distance of over 900km. Although the day started out well and the Atlas Copco Amarok was keeping up with the leaders, it went pear-shaped about 20km before the end of the day, when the Sadev sequential gearbox cried enough. Gary and his team set about trying to get the VW back on the road for the last day’s action and they managed to secure some welded gears to repair the ‘box.
So the race’s last day dawned. About 30km into the day’s second loop, and with the patched gearbox holding up, co-driver Herselman noticed flames leaking out from under the VW’s bonnet, and he immediately told Gary to stop. The lads got out just in time. A fuel leak had caused a fire, and within seconds an inferno engulfed the Amarok. There was nothing Gary and Phillip could do but watch as the pristine rally bakkie was reduced to ashes.
The V6 TDI engine
The three-litre turbodiesel engine that does service in the Amarok V6 is based on the same engine that does duty in a variety of high-end VW, Audi and even Porsche models. For the Amarok job, the engine received a few unique changes, with a more robust application in mind. This includes a newly developed, water-cooled variable geometry turbocharger (VGT), modified pistons and more cooling circuits. The 24-valve V6 engine may not be quite as refined as the versions of it in a Porsche Cayenne or VW Touareg, but it certainly sets a new refinement benchmark in the bakkie segment.
Text: Danie Botha Photographs: GG van Rooyen