In September, we bid farewell to our long-term VW Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion AT. Together we created 25 000km of memories; from the highest mountains in Lesotho to the wild Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. This is a short summary of those adventures and our time with the ‘Rok.
Poor FH 87 DT GP. Less than a week after taking delivery of the brand new Volkswagen Amarok, we headed off to Lesotho. In the Mountain Kingdom we saw a route on a map labelled “bad road” between Thaba-Tseka and Semonkong. It sounded like an interesting alternative to the main tar road, which would have, theoretically, added many hours to our travel time. So we took this ‘road’. In the beginning, it was okay. Later, it became more challenging. Eventually it turned out there was no more road. Or track.
Instead, after many time delays, we found ourselves on a boulder-strewn track on a mountain. A track that would easily be classified as a grade five 4×4 trail: the toughest you can get. When our back-up vehicle, a highly capable Nissan Patrol battled, we thought it was tickets for the new and very much stock VW.
Amazingly though, the Amarok, which doesn’t have a transfer case, dragged itself up and over those rocks, the traction control, 420Nm of torque and low first gear doing the job. Truth be told, the older-school Nissan, sans any form of traction control in low-range, proved a bigger driving challenge to get up the mountain. Somehow, we made it without killing ourselves or the 4×4s, and we arrived at Semonkong at 2am the next morning.
After that… er, incident, the Amarok headed back to Lesotho as back-up vehicle for our attempt to drive a standard VW Beetle Dune up the infamous Sani Pass. Turned out the Beetle didn’t need our assistance, but a beaten up old Toyota RAV4 did. The out-of-breath RAV4 couldn’t manage the steep last few hundred metres of the pass. So we hooked it up behind the Amarok, and towed it up those slippery sections, the permanent 4Motion system sorting out the traction.
Since the Amarok was doing a lot of 4×4 driving, we decided to beef it up. It was fitted with a VW-approved Seikel Desert suspension system, a Seikel aluminium engine and rear differential protection plates, and rock-sliders. The off-road package was completed with a set of Cooper Discoverer S/T Maxx all-terrain tyres (265/65 R17s).
Although these Coopers are classified as all-terrains, they have an aggressive tread pattern. It is the closest thing to a mud terrain tyre (without being called a mud terrain tyre) and they served us well. To securely transport equipment on the ‘bak’, we initially used a Tonneau King hard cover, which worked a charm. Later we upgraded to an RSI SmartCanopy, which came with an optional RSI SmartKitchen. The canopy looks pretty cool, but we were initially a bit sceptical about the SmartKitchen, which adds more than R20 000 to the asking price. However, an eight-day odyssey in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana changed our perceptions. The unit’s removable two-burner gas stove proved easier to use than the off-road caravan’s stove. There wasn’t a day that the slide-out aluminium table and wash and cooking table weren’t used.
A Toyota Land Cruiser 79 SW V8 4.5D-4D with 35-inch wheels and the entire 4×4 Mega World’s catalogue of accessories fitted to it had joined us on the Botswana trip. When we reached the first bit of gravel, we stopped to deflate the tyres a bit. Meanwhile the Land Cruiser man extracted a recovery strap from the depths of the Cruiser’s fancy drawer system, attached it to his Toyota’s fancy bull bar, and pronounced: “Just getting the strap ready for when we have to tow the Volkswagen.”
But in all the days we drove through sand, mud and ruts, the VW Amarok, towing a very heavy Jurgens Safari Xplorer, never faltered, and never required a recovery. In fact, the Cruiser actually came tantalisingly close to getting stuck following a lack of concentration behind the steering wheel… now that would have been a tale to tell: the day the Amarok saved the mighty Cruiser from the Botswana mud. At least the German bakkie had towed a Toyota up Sani Pass, albeit a much smaller and lighter one than the big Cruiser.
In between forging rivers and driving over mountains, the VW Amarok was also used for the daily traffic grind. If there is one thing this Amarok most definitely is, it is comfortable. The front seats are extremely snug, the eight-speed gearbox super-smooth, and the cabin well insulated. It feels more like you’re driving a luxury SUV than a bakkie. The high-end infotainment system proved the only (slight) bugbear in an otherwise excellent cabin. Firstly, it’s not very user-friendly; we had to pull out the owner’s manual to figure out how to pair the Bluetooth system with our smartphones.
Another rarity in this day and age is the omission of a USB port, of any shape or form. There is an aux input, but nowadays even a Renault Kwid has satellite navigation and USB connectivity, so it does seem a strange oversight on a bakkie retailing for almost R700 000 (with all the extras). For the record, the latest facelifted Amarok derivatives have both Bluetooth and USB connectivity as standard.
And running costs? The slightly bigger off-road tyres (as well as the extra weight of the canopy and the slightly higher ride afforded by the Seikel Desert suspension) did have an influence on fuel consumption. Before the upgrades, the Amarok averaged less than 10 litres/100km. With the extras fitted, that figure levelled out 10.5 litres/100km. Still, running costs of R1.40 per kilometre is not too shabby.
Any other gripes? Well, maybe one. The two-litre twin-turbo engine proved utterly reliable and up to the task of hauling this lumpy double cab around, 99% of the time. The only instance where it seemed to run out of juice was when it was heavily loaded or towing something heavy, at speeds of around 120km/h.
You may argue that 120km/h is the limit anyways, so there is no problem. But the lack of cubic inches does seem to have in influence when you try and overtake slower-moving traffic around the 120km/h mark. At that speed, with a heavy load, acceleration is okay-ish, but certainly not brisk. You need to plan your overtaking moves.
That said, the slightly bigger off-road tyres (which marginally changed the gear ratios) also didn’t help in this department, and a stock Amarok, with standard-sized tyres, will fair slightly better. Poor Amarok. It lived a tough, hard life. One filled with adventure. It traversed places where we thought it would certainly perish. It took us safely over rock-infested mountains, through flooding rivers, through mud, ruts and dongas. Yet, during the week, it was perfectly content on dealing with traffic in a most comfortable manner.
You will be missed, FH 87 DT GP.
Off you go then, on a new, different adventure.
Good Comfortable cabin. Off-road ability (despite lack of transfer case). Optional bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights look the snazzy part
Not so good No USB connectivity. Lacks some punch around 120km/h, with a heavy load
Average consumption 10.5 litres/100km (9.5km per litre)
Fuel tank size 80 litres
Range (at 10.5 litres/100km) 762km
Rand per kilometre (@ R13.38 per litre) R1.40
Text: Danie Botha