What stands out?

The comfortable and sophisticated Volkswagen Amarok handles and steers better than most SUVs – let alone other dual-cab utes. The smooth V6 diesel in the most expensive Amaroks provides highway performance that’s unmatched. Four-wheel drive Amaroks are very good off-road, too, and auto versions drive all wheels at all times.

What might bug me?

That passengers in the rear seat are more exposed to head injuries, from side impacts, than they would be in almost any other new vehicle of comparable size. The Amarok’s side-curtain airbags protect front occupants only.

That it might be hard to find someone who can fix your Amarok if it fails on a trip out of town. Volkswagen dealers in country towns are relatively scarce.

That unlike most 4WD utes, your expensive V6-engined Amarok does not offer a second set of low-range gears, for driving very slowly off-road. (However, its eight-speed auto gearbox does have very low ratios in first and second, which is nearly as good.)

What body styles are there?

Dual-cab ute and dual-cab chassis only. The utes come with a tub at the rear that matches the cabin. Cab-chassis versions don’t have the tub: you fit the tray of your choice.

The Amarok is available with rear-wheel drive only, or with four-wheel drive.

Four-wheel drive Amaroks with manual gearboxes come with part-time 4WD and dual-range gearing – like most other 4WD utes. You must drive only the rear wheels on sealed surfaces, but may switch to 4WD on slippery surfaces. You may also select low-range 4WD, which allows you to drive comfortably at very low speeds off road.

Four-wheel drive Amaroks with automatic gearboxes come with full-time 4WD - they drive all four wheels all the time, even on sealed roads. They do not have dual-range gearing, however.

The Amarok is classified as a light commercial pick-up.

What features do all Amaroks have?

A sound system with an AM/FM radio, a CD player, an SD-card slot, USB and auxiliary input jacks, and six speakers. A 12 volt outlet on the centre console. Bluetooth phone connectivity with voice control.

A 6.3-inch colour touchscreen for controlling cabin comfort and infotainment. Support via Mirror Link for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, allowing you to display apps from compatible smartphones on the touchscreen and control them from there. The screen supports smartphone swipe and pinch-zoom functions.

Cruise control. Buttons on the steering wheel for operating the audio system, cruise control and centre-display readouts, and for making phone calls.

Air-conditioning that maintains a set temperature. Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, and height adjustment for both front seats.

A very handy light that can illuminate the rear cargo-area.

Trailer-Sway Control, which helps settle the car if a trailer is swaying from side-to-side.

Electronic traction control, which helps the Amarok maintain drive on slippery roads or when off-road.

On all 4WD Amaroks: a rear differential lock, which helps you go further off road. (On 2WD Amaroks you can add the diff lock as an extra-cost option. It’s a handy feature on muddy building sites, for example.)

Four airbags, and electronic stability control. (For the placement of airbags, and more on Amarok safety, please open the Safety section below.)

All Amaroks carry Volkswagen’s three-year, unlimited kilometres, warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

Three engines are available in an Amarok, all turbocharged diesels. On official government test results, the most fuel-efficient is the biggest and most powerful of them, a 3.0-litre V6 that Volkswagen calls the TDI550 and that comes only with an auto gearbox. It consumes 7.8 litres/100km (city and country combined).

This is a gem of an engine, smooth and very strong. The most obvious reason why you wouldn’t go for it is that you want to pay less for your Amarok: it is available only in the three most expensive models.

A second reason is that you can’t get it with dual-range gearing. Most of the time this is not a problem, even off road. But for some uses you might want a manual ’box with a low range.

A third and less obvious reason you might not choose it is that in the real world, it does use a bit more fuel than the alternatives, both 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinders.

Neither of these 2.0 litre engines comes close to the 3.0 V6 for effortless urge, but both are unusually smooth for a ute engine and broadly responsive. The TDI400 is mated to a manual gearbox and the very similar TDI420 comes with the automatics.

In the real-world, you can expect to average about 10 litres/100km from an Amarok TDI400 (from a mixture of town and country driving), about 11 litres/100km from a TDI420, and about 12 litres/100km from the TDI550 V6.

Amarok manual gearboxes have six ratios, while the Amarok automatics have eight.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly Amarok is the Amarok 2WD, which is aimed at commercial buyers and has 16-inch steel wheels, a four-cylinder engine and an automatic gearbox. (You can no longer get a 2WD manual.)

Spend more for an Amarok Core and you get 4WD, and a choice between manual and auto transmission. The Core has fancier wheels made from aluminium alloy – wrapped in tyres that are useful off-road and on sealed roads. It also has a rear camera to guide you when reversing, and rear parking sensors that tell you how close you are to an obstacle. (The rear camera and sensors are options on the Amarok 2WD.)

Spend more again for a Core Plus and you’ll find carpet on the floor rather than rubber. Windscreen wipers come on automatically when it rains, and headlamps switch on automatically when it gets dark. There are front foglights, front parking sensors, and three additional 12-volt outlets – one on the dashboard, one at the rear of the centre console for rear-seat passengers, and one in the tub. The tailgate is lockable. Wheels are bigger and sportier-looking 17-inch alloys, fitted with lower profile tyres biased more towards road use. On the tub is a sports bar, and there are wheel-arch flares and other styling changes.

The next price-step is to the TDI 550 Sportline, which brings you the V6 engine, an auto gearbox and 4WD. Front parking sensors augment those at the rear, and the air-conditioning is dual-zone climate control (which allows the driver and front seat passenger to set their own cabin temperatures). Bigger wheels again (18 inches) are fitted with wider, lower-profile road tyres.

Spending more on a V6 will get you a TDI550 Highline, which gets you built-in satellite navigation, and sidesteps (which make it easier to enter the car). Headlights are extremely bright bi-xenon units, there are long-lived LED running lights so the car stands out more on dull days, and a pressure monitor warns you if a tyre loses air. If you are driving, you can amplify your voice through the rear speakers – an easy way to make sure rear-seat passengers hear you.

The most expensive Amarok is the TDI550 Ultimate, which in addition lets you control the gearbox from the steering wheel, and trims the cabin in leather. Both front seats are power-adjustable, and heated. There is an extended sports bar for the rear tub, and bigger wheels (19-inches) with even lower profile tyres.

Satellite navigation, heated seats, bi-xenon headlamps and LED daytime running lights are available on the Core Plus as an extra-cost option. Leather-trimmed and heated front seats are optional on the TDI550 Highline.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

As with all utes, the extra equipment carried by the more expensive models adds weight and reduces the permissible payload – that is, there is less capacity left for other stuff you might want to carry.

Choosing an automatic gearbox means you cannot get dual-range gearing.

The 18-inch and 19-inch wheel rims and lower-profile tyres fitted to the V6 Amaroks are more susceptible to damage off road than the smaller wheels and higher-profile tyres on less costly models, and the tyres will be generally less effective off road. The lower profile tyres also ride more harshly on rough roads than the 16 or 17s.

(If you want to optimise your TDI550 for off-road use, Volkswagen offers 17-inch wheels, fitted with more suitable tyres, as a no-cost option.)

Any colour except white is an extra-cost option.

How comfortable is the Volkswagen Amarok?

It’s a good step up to Amarok’s cabin. The front passenger gets an assist-handle to haul on, but the driver does not.

Inside, an Amarok feels big and airy, and the presentation is reserved and understated. Models fitted with the rubber floor coverings have a work-vehicle air about them, while the most expensive feel quite luxurious.

With a good range of adjustment for the seat and the steering wheel, the Amarok can accommodate short and tall drivers with equal comfort. Front seats in a ute don’t come any better.

On the move, the Amarok is quiet and comfortable – and more so than any other 4WD ute. You will hear less road noise in an Amarok cabin than you would in many hatchbacks and sedans.

The Amarok’s ride when unladen still has some of the rear-end kick typical of utes, but it’s better than most. And like others, it settles nicely with a load on board.

All the engines are smooth and quiet, especially for diesels, with the V6 even better here than the fours.

The auto gearbox is the best automatic of any ute and offers seamless, barely detectable gearchanges.

What about safety in an Amarok?

Every Amarok has four airbags: two directly in front of the driver and front passenger, and one on the outer side of each front occupant that protects the head and chest from side impacts.

A reversing camera and rear parking sensors are standard on all but the Amarok 2WD, and optional even there.

All Amaroks have anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control - which helps you control the car in a skid. In auto-gearbox Amaroks, the full-time 4WD system – a rare feature among utes – also helps stability on sealed roads where it’s slippery.

The Amarok also offers a feature called Multi-Collision Braking. After a crash, this applies the brakes automatically. The aim is to prevent your rolling or being nudged into further danger – for example, into an oncoming lane.

However, this is not autonomous emergency braking (which uses sensors to detect obstacles ahead, and can brake automatically to help prevent the first crash).

The Amarok does not offer airbag protection for rear-seat passengers.

The Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded four-cylinder dual-cab Amaroks five stars for safety, its maximum, in April 2011. Amarok V6 models have not been rated.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

If you want a diesel dual-cab 4WD that goes and turns like a sports car, this is as close as you’ll get. The Amarok handles better and steers more precisely than any other 4WD ute. Amarok V6 models add punchy engine performance that is also unmatched. A V6 Amarok overtakes on the highway with urgency – something you can’t say about any other ute.

Although not as powerful, auto and manual four-cylinder Amaroks are easy and pleasing to drive – partly because their engines use two turbochargers rather than the usual single turbo. The smaller of the two turbos brings immediate response when you press the accelerator, and the bigger one builds power if you hold your foot down.

The Amarok is also an enjoyable drive off-road and is about as capable as it gets for a light 4WD ute. The standard rear diff lock helps here. So does the traction control, which remains active at the front even when the rear lock is engaged. The Amarok’s underside is well protected, also.

While automatic 4WD Amaroks do not have low-range gearing, the eight-speed gearbox has unusually low first and second gears, which make it easy to drive very slowly off-road if needed. Because they also have full-time 4WD, you can head off road straight from the highway – without having to engage 4WD or low-range.

How is life in the rear seats?

The Amarok is better than similar utes for rear shoulder room, literally the pinch point in dual-cabs when you are trying to seat three adults in the back. Rear legroom too is good but some other utes have slightly more. Rear passengers are looked after about as well as they would be in many medium SUVs.

The rear seat itself is firm but comfortable. It folds (base up, back down) if you want the rear-seat area for cargo.

There are three child-restraint anchorages in all models.

How is it for carrying stuff, and towing?

Being a ute, the Amarok is tailor made for carrying stuff. It can accommodate a standard pallet between the factory tub’s wheelarches, a feat few utes can manage.

Amarok payloads (the weight you can carry, including passengers) are midfield for a ute like this, and range from 1139kg for the 2WD model down to 864kg for the TDI550 Ultimate.

Four-cylinder Amaroks have a 3000kg towing capacity, which is 500kg short of a Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado and some others.

In October 2017, Volkswagen announced that for the 2018 model-year, every Amarok V6 would have its towing capacity lifted 500kg to 3500kg. (Volkswagen said it had amended the step area under the tailgate to achieve the higher rating.)

The Amarok V6 also matches the best alternatives for how much it can carry and tow simultaneously. The V6 power will be especially useful for towing and carrying a big combined load.

Use caution (in any ute) if you want to drive with loads approaching legal rated limits.

Where does Volkswagen make the Amarok?

All Australian delivered Amaroks are made in Argentina.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Side-curtain airbags that protect the heads of rear-seat passengers from side impacts. These are supplied with the Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, Mitsubishi Triton, Holden Colorado, Isuzu D-Max and Nissan Navara dual-cabs, for example.

An automatic gearbox with dual-range gearing, which is available on most utes. The main reason you might want this is for towing a heavy camper trailer on steep off-road tracks.

Perhaps Active cruise control, which will match automatically the speed of a slower car in front on the highway. And other active driving aids aimed at augmenting your attention, such as forward collision warning (telling you that you are in danger of crashing into a car in front) and lane departure warning (telling you that you are drifting into an adjoining lane). Such systems are available on the Colorado and Ranger, for example.

Other utes you might consider include the Mazda BT-50.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The TDI550 Sportline has arguably become the value sweet spot since it was introduced in August 2017. It is the least well equipped Amarok V6 but it still brings you plenty of kit, combining proficiency as an all-round ute and family car with unmatched performance.

The TDI550 Sportline won’t suit everyone however, especially if you want a more basic and work-oriented vehicle.

Are there plans to update the Amarok soon?

The Amarok was launched overseas in 2010 and arrived in Australia in 2011. The TDI550 V6 engine arrived in late 2016.

About February 2017 Volkswagen cut back its Amarok four-cylinder models, axing all Single Cabs and making its 2WD Dual Cab auto-only. The feature-rich Highline and Ultimate trims were reserved for the V6 engine.

About August 2017 Volkswagen added a third, and less costly, V6, the Amarok TDI550 Sportline.

Late in 2017, for the 2018 model-year, the tow rating of the Amarok V6 (only) was raised 500kg to 3500kg.

Volkswagen says a second TDI550 Sportline, this time with a manual gearbox and dual-range gearing, will arrive in 2018.

A new-generation Amarok is not likely before 2020.