Off-Road Test: VW Amarok 2.0 BiTDI 132kW
VW AMAROK 2.0 BiTDI 132kW HIGHLINE 4MOTION: New school of thought
VW recently released a version of its 2.0 BiTurbo 4Motion Amarok that boasts 132 kW of power. Since we’ve not published an “official” off-road test on the Amarok, we used the opportunity to test this slightly more powerful bakkie’s abilities off the beaten path.
“I take off on my right, or outside, foot rather than my left foot. Then I turn my back to the bar, arch my back over the bar, and then kick my legs out to clear the bar.” This was how Dick Fosbury described his unique style of high jumping, which soon became known as the Fosbury Flop.
The style was weird, absurd even. But it worked. And when Fosbury took home a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics, the world realised that old Dick was onto something. It might have flown in the face of conventional wisdom, but his awkward leap delivered the goods. Pretty soon everyone was Fosbury flopping their way over the bar. The weird way had become the established way.
The VW Amarok is the vehicular equivalent of the Fosbury Flop. How so? Well, it goes about its business in a manner unlike that of its competitors. Most high-end double cab bakkies are powered by a robust three-litre engine. The Amarok gets its power from a diminutive two-litre powerplant with two turbos.
A lot of bakkie buyers are sceptical of this setup, believing that a two-litre mill with two turbos will be forced to work too hard when dealing with tough terrain. Moreover, with two turbochargers on board, there’s more that can go wrong.
The question is: are the naysayers correct? Will the two-litre bi-turbo Amarok be remembered as a failed experiment, or as a revolutionary game-changer?
*** Features and equipment
The 132 kW Amarok has the same two-litre bi-turbo engine that powered the original 120 kW version. Capacity is still pegged at 1968cc and maximum torque remains the same. The oilburner generates peak torque of 400 Nm from 1500-2250 r/min. The only difference is that peak power of 132 kW, instead of 120 kW, is now generated at 4000 r/min.
With a mere 12 kW of extra oomph and a torque figure that is still the same, the change in power isn’t particularly noticeable. You certainly won’t be blown away by the difference.
That said, we did find that this Amarok offered a better drive than previous versions. Setting off and accelerating felt easier than before.
While the added power might have had something to do with it, there were more noticeable changes. The clutch action on the bakkie that we tested was much better than on previous models. Controlling the clutch when starting off, and changing gears felt much easier. The gearbox also seemed smoother. The previous gearbox was a bit notchy. This one allowed us to swap cogs with ease.
The clutch/gearbox combination is still a bit finicky, and it is still easier to stall the Amarok than just about any other bakkie, but there has been an improvement.
The engine performed well during testing. Accelerating to overtake wasn’t difficult, though we found that we had to work the gear lever quite a bit, gearing back from sixth to fourth when we wanted to overtake quickly, especially on uphill sections.
The fact is, a three-litre oilburner offers power and torque across a larger section of the rev counter. The Ranger, for example, delivers 147 kW at 3000 r/min, and peak torque of 470 Nm from 1500-2750 r/min. The Hilux delivers a maximum of 120 kW at 3400 r/min, and its maximum torque of 343 Nm all the way from 1400-3200 r/min. The Amarok’s torque curve isn’t nearly as flat, forcing you to change gears on a regular basis.
It isn’t all bad news, though. The Amarok can coast at 120 km/h in sixth gear at less than 2000 r/min, providing excellent fuel consumption. During our test, which also included a fair amount of low-range work, the Amarok averaged 10,3 litres per 100km. The Ford Ranger averaged 11,39 litres per 100km on precisely the same route. If you travel largely on open roads, the Amarok’s fuel consumption will undoubtedly dip well below 10 litres per 100km.
Although the engine has been fiddled with, the interior of the Amarok has remained unchanged, but that’s not a bad thing. It still has one of the nicest cabins in the segment.
It strikes a good balance between classy and practical – it isn’t particularly plush, but it still manages to look upmarket and SUV-like.
Considering how nice the interior is, though, it is a shame that leather seats are an optional extra, even on the pricey Highline model. Fitting leather-clad seats will add R6530 to the price tag.
Park distance control – a very handy feature on a vehicle as large and unwieldy as the Amarok – is also an optional feature (R5300).
There is no shortage of 12V sockets (in the load area, centre console and dashboard), but the Amarok has no USB terminal or AUX jack (an optional radio with SD card, USB terminal and Bluetooth capability is available). It does, however, boast Bluetooth connectivity for phones, as well as controls on the steering wheel.
The rear of the Amarok is comfortable and roomy, but as is the case with most bakkies, getting in and out is tough, since the wide front doors necessitate the use of smaller ones at the back. The only exception is the Ranger, which has smaller front doors on the double cab models to allow for more space at the rear. Still, the Amarok can easily transport four adults over long distances.
Yes, its cabin lacks a few nice-to-haves, but it is wonderfully comfortable and quiet.
**** Gravel performance and handling
When it came to dealing with gravel roads, the Amarok was in a class of its own.
Firstly, the VW felt very composed on ugly dirt roads. As is the case with all bakkies that we test, its load area was empty, yet it very rarely seemed skittish. It did not boast the stability of an SUV such as the Touareg or Prado, but for a bakkie, it came unbelievably close.
Secondly, the Amarok offered a comfortable ride on dirt. It was incredibly SUV-like, managing to soak up road imperfections with ease and providing very low NVH levels.
The Amarok’s ability to travel on gravel was its stand-out feature during our test. It offered stellar comfort, handling and stability on dirt.
It is also worth noting that the Amarok has an electronic stability program (ESP), as well as off-road ABS, which also adds to the feeling of confidence the driver has behind the steering wheel.
If we had to travel long distances on bad gravel roads, this is undoubtedly the bakkie we would choose to do it in.
*** Trail capability
We tested the Amarok on the same winding, steep and rock-strewn 4×4 trail that we tested the Ford Ranger on last month (issue 100, page 38).
Somewhat to our surprise, the Amarok climbed the sharp hills with more ease than the Ranger did. We did not resort to using the rear diff lock as often as we did with the Ranger.
Overall, though, the Amarok did not really perform better than the Ranger, due in large part to the fact that it was tough to navigate the bakkie along the narrow trails.
Interestingly, the Amarok is slightly shorter than the Ranger and about the same width, yet it felt much larger on the tight trail. Despite its size, the Ranger seemed smaller and more agile.
The Amarok also lacks ground clearance. It is often stated that the bakkie has a ground clearance of around 250mm, but that is the figure you end up with when you measure clearance at a spot between the front and rear axle. The ground clearance directly under the front axle is 192mm.
Like the Ranger, the Amarok’s ESP adjusts settings when you travel on 4×4 trails. The bakkie has an “Off Road Mode” button that alters the electronics, subtly changing systems such as the ABS and ASR (anti-slip regulation) to improve performance.
Overall, the Amarok performed admirably on the trail. It was a tougher trail than the vast majority of owners will ever tackle, and the Amarok completed it in standard guise without hassle.
It is a competent off-roader, but its bulk makes it tough to manoeuvre on a 4×4 track. To be fair, though, one can’t single out the Amarok in this regard. Modern bakkies in general are too long and wide to perform well on trails.
When it comes to trail capability, the Amarok is on par with vehicles such as the Ranger and Hilux.
*** Overland suitability
How suited is the Amarok to overland travel? This has been the subject of great debate since it was launched late in 2010.
VW has been adamant from the start that it is suitable for overland travel, stating that the bakkie had been tested over millions of kilometres, and even used as a support vehicle during the Dakar Rally.
To further prove its point, VW supplied Johan Badenhorst’s Voetspore team with a fleet of bakkies for an overland adventure. But one of the vehicles broke down, conveniently providing ammunition for the Amarok sceptics.
The fact of the matter is that the Amarok has a lot going for it as an overland vehicle. The cabin is spacious and it has a large loading area. It is also supremely comfortable, offering a wonderful drive both on tar and gravel. Finally, the two-litre bi-turbo engine provides more than enough power, while also delivering great fuel economy.
Still, one can’t simply dismiss concerns about its suitability for travel in Africa. The Amarok has a small-capacity engine that sports two turbos and is mated to a rather finicky clutch/gearbox combination. Logic suggests that such a setup would take far more strain when having to power a heavily-loaded vehicle on tough 4×4 trails in scorching weather than a larger-capacity engine that doesn’t need to work as hard.
The long-term reliability of the Amarok’s engine is something that only time can reveal. Meanwhile, there are a lot of satisfied Amarok owners out there who have not experienced a day’s hassle.
The Amarok is a great all-round performer. It drives wonderfully, is comfortable and delivers great fuel economy. And with the introduction of the new 132 kW model, old niggles such as a notchy gearbox and tricky clutch have largely been addressed.
For buyers looking for a practical leisure vehicle, the Amarok is a great choice. Some bakkie buyers will complain about the small engine, and admittedly, it probably wouldn’t be the best choice for someone looking for a plaasbakkie that can do merciless duty on a daily basis. But if you’re looking for a vehicle that boasts the comfort and refinement of an SUV and the practicality of a bakkie, the Amarok is definitely worth a look.
And whether we want to admit it or not, small-capacity engines with multiple turbos are the way of the future, largely because fuel efficiency is becoming increasingly important to buyers and manufacturers. Some performance vehicles are already sporting three turbos. It is very unlikely that the Amarok will be the last bakkie with a bi-turbo setup. In fact, it will probably go down in the history books as a trailblazer – just like Dick Fosbury.
AMAROK 2.0 BiTDI 132kW HIGHLINE 4MOTION: The Specs
Type: Four-cylinder, bi-turbo
Valvetrain: DOHC, 16-valve
Bore x stroke: 81 x 91.5 mm
Max power: 132 kW @ 4000 r/min
Max torque: 400 Nm @ 1500 /min
Fuel supply: Common-rail, bi-turbo, intercooled
CHASSIS AND BODY
Layout: Front engine, four-wheel drive
Frame: Ladder-type frame
Brakes front: Ventilated discs
Tyres: 245/65 R 17
Spare tyre: Full size
Steering: Power assisted
Turning circle: 12,95m
Suspension front: A-frame arm, double wishbone and spring dampers
Rear: Multilayer rigid axle with leaf springs
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Traction/Stability control: Yes/Yes
Limited slip diff: No
Differential lock: Yes (rear)
Full-time 4WD: No
Vehicle weight: 1886kg
Width: 2228mm (with mirrors – 1954mm without)
Top speed: 183 km/h (claimed)
Overall fuel consumption: 10,33 l/100km
Fuel tank size: 80 litres
Estimated tank range: 774km
Approach angle: 28
Departure angle: 23,5
Ground clearance: 192 (Front axle)
Wading depth: 500mm
NEED TO KNOW
Fuel economy and comfortable ride.
BUT WE DON’T LIKE
Sharp torque curve.
An incredibly SUV-like bakkie that offers great comfort and good fuel economy.
PRICE AS TESTED
Loads of 12V sockets
Handy light in load area
Easy-to-use 4×4 controls
Load capacity of only 859kg
Leather seats optional
USB terminal/SD reader optional
Toyota Hilux 3.0 D-4D 4×4 Raider
Ford Ranger 3.2 TDCi XLT 4×4
Nissan Navara 2.5 dCi 4×4 LE
Height/ reach adj steering: Yes/Yes
Tuner/CD player: Yes
CD Shuttle: No
USB terminal: No (optional)
Bluetooth Yes (phone)
Aux input: No
Automatic air-con: Yes
Satellite navigation: No
Electric windows: Yes
Adj exterior mirrors: Yes
Remote central locking: Yes
Leather upholstery: No (optional)
Driver/passenger airbags: Yes/Yes
Sidebags/curtain bags: Yes/Yes