Remember the Subaru Brumby? The ubiquitous, seemingly indestructible little styleside ute was sold here from the mid-1980s until about 1994, but there hasn’t been a compact pick-up to replicate it since. Okay, the essentially identical Proton Jumbuck tried and failed to fill the gap, while slowly and surely the larger dual-cab commercial pick-up crept in and took our market by storm.
But just because big utes are gussied up with leather trim and big alloys, it doesn’t change the fact that they are still merely a commercial vehicle dusted with a veneer of civility. With high centres of gravity and agricultural steering, not to mention their sheer size, a dual-cab ute really isn’t the ideal suburban load lugger.
The Tarok, though, shines a very bright light on a potential replacement for the much-loved Brumby. Designed primarily for South American markets like Brazil, where small utes are still very popular, showing the Tarok concept to New York was quite the bold move by Volkswagen, which is in the midst of ramping up its electric credentials at a rate of knots.
Built on top of its widely-used MQB platform, which underpins everything from the Golf to the Tiguan to the Polo to the incoming T-Roc and T-Cross, the Tarok concept sported a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine – not a hybrid system nor electric motor in sight – and that interior isn’t concept-like at all.
What it looks is affordable, and an affordable small ute – say, $30,000 – could find a foothold with customers keen on the lifestyle aspects that a ute brings but who are also keen to retain more car-like handling and parking attributes.
What it also has is a clever design. The five-seat, four-door ute is a shade under five metres long – about 700mm longer than a Volkswagen Golf and 600mm longer than the Brumby, but 350mm shorter than an Amarok – while a folding panel on the back of the cabin and folding rear seats means that the ute bed can extend to more than 1.8m long. An Amarok dual-cab’s tray is just 1490mm long.
It also sports short overhangs, an interior treatment that mimics that of VW’s passenger cars and a definite off-road vibe – and it’s the rough-and-ready demeanour that will win hearts in markets like the US and potentially Australia.
The big fly in the ointment is that the Tarok is left-hand-drive only at the moment… but the MQB platform means that a switch to right-hook isn’t off the cards should a business case be put forward.
Don’t forget, too, that VW is moving away from the commercial ute-based Amarok, favouring a share deal with Ford’s next-gen Ranger instead. Local Amarok customers, too, have a taste for the finer things with the expensive V6 making up the vast majority of its sales, leaving a distinct hole in a crucial price point.
Could the Tarok become the next Brumby? It’s a long shot, but I have a feeling about this one…