The Volkswagen Amarok has not only been up against its competitors in the sales race, but it’s also been battling perceptions. Essentially though, the Volksie has paved the way for other smaller-capacity bakkie mills to be introduced here.
Claim to fame: Wesley Snipes has starred in a myriad movies over a career spanning more then three decades. One of his best-known roles was that of Blade, in the similarly named trilogy, where he plays the role of, well, a good vampire who takes on all the bad vampires.
Great quote: “We have a good arrangement. He makes the weapons. I use them.”
The VW Amarok knows a thing or two about being the underdog. When it was launched in South Africa in 2010, many pundits bemoaned the fact that it came with a two-litre turbodiesel mill instead of a ‘real’ bakkie engine. There was no way Volkswagen could expect to sell a massive double cab bakkie with a 1 962cc four-cylinder engine that also does duty in a Golf, some observers claimed.
Six years down the line, the Amarok continues to rake in steady sales. Sure, it’s still not challenging the Ranger and Hilux models but, interestingly, the Amarok owner demographics differ from that of the Ford and Toyota. Volkswagen traditionally sell far more high-end double cabs than workhorse single cabs, and it’s especially the eight-speed automatic version that is proving the most sought after derivative.
The Amarok’s slow but steady progress to change perceptions about smaller capacity engines has changed the way the traditional bakkie market views such engines. Nissan’s twin-turbo 2.3-litre and Mitsubishi’s twin-turbo 2.4-litre diesel engines, both due to arrive here soon, are prime examples of other manufacturers following suite on the smaller-and-more-efficient-engine ethos.
Back to the Kalahari Tough Test: the Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion AT has 132kW and 420Nm of torque, the latter peaking at 1 750r/min. Thanks to the twin-turbo set-up, turbo lag is almost imperceptible. Interestingly, there is no transfer case (as used in the manual 4Motion version) in the eight-speed automatic 4Motion model. So the AT version is a permanent 4WD while the manual is a part-time 4×4, with the rear-wheels the default driven ones.
The automatic gearbox features an unusually low first gear, which is aimed at slow-speed off-road driving. It’s so low, during normal city driving the ‘box most often takes off from standstill in second gear.
The result is a 4×4 without a transfer case that can go places where a 4×4 with a transfer case can go. A rear differential lock, and extremely very effective hill descent and traction control systems further enhance the AT’s off-road prowess. So the Amarok had no trouble negotiating Riemvasmaak’s rocky tracks, nor did it have any issues in the sand.
A cool 4×4 party trick is the Off-road function, which is activated via a button next to the gearlever. When activated, this system changes the Amarok’s electronics for optimum off-road performance. This includes allowing the ABS equipped brakes to lock up more than they would on tar, resulting in shorter stopping distances on slippery gravel.
The cabin is a comfortable, SUV-like space. But whereas bakkies such as the Ford and Toyota come with a plethora of buttons and screens and whatnots, the Amarok’s treatment is more Spartan, and straightforward. There’s still a lot of plushness about, but it’s just less flashy than, say, a Ford Ranger cabin.
Wesley Snipes’ character Blade is always up against the vampire, er, establishment, taking on seemingly impossible odds but, in the end, coming out on top. The VW Amarok is mostly in the same boat. Up against the established double cabs, it has slowly yet steadily been whittling away at the challenges and perceptions it faced.
This double cab lorry is the real bakkie deal.
VW Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4MOTION AT
Engine: Two-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
4WD System: Permanent 4WD
Traction Aids: Rear differential lock, ‘Off-road’ function, traction control
Ground Clearance: 192mm
Price: R580 200