What’s the old adage about it being tough to get to the top, even tougher to stay there? Whatever it is, no-one has told the Amarok. VW’s contender rose to comfortable ascendancy at our last 4x4 ute Megatest (May 2016), and here it is again, this time in V6 spec, still showing the field – and new arrivals – how to best blend the disparate demands of on-road refinement and off-road capability.
It’s the only contender here with six cylinders; an advantage it doesn’t squander. The V6 is, by a fair margin, the most powerful and torque-rich of this group, and delivers performance that’s swift and punchy.
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Its 0-100km/h of 7.9sec clobbers its rivals (the next quickest, the Holden, is still 1.6sec adrift), while it hammers through the 80-120km/h overtaking move in just 5.3sec, or nearly 35 percent quicker than the slower rigs here. Part of this is down to the overboost function, which sees peak power swell to 180kW under 70 percent throttle or more, beyond second gear. Admittedly its consumption is the second-thirstiest of the bunch, but you can forgive it that because of its overwhelmingly superior performance.
Almost as significant as Amarok’s power advantage is its powertrain refinement. This engine actually sounds like it enjoys the workload thrown at it, and is appreciably quieter and better sounding than even the Merc’s, the next most hushed of the bunch. It also has no aversion to revs, upshifting at 4400rpm on full throttle, but capable of closer to 5000rpm if you want to select manual mode and hold a ratio.
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Speaking of ratios, the Amarok is the only ute here to boast an eight-speeder, which allows both swifter step-off acceleration and calm, unstressed highway cruising. Shift smoothness and kickdown response also mark this as one of the best autos in the group. In short, this is an engine and transmission combo you’ll actually enjoy driving.
Then there’s the Amarok’s other on-road ace: full-time all-wheel drive. Driven hard, or in the wet, the rest of the field will lurch, attempt to spin up, and trigger ESC intervention. The VW mostly just gets on with the job of transferring grunt to ground. It’s also the only ute we tested that requires no dial-turning or button-pushing when you head off-road. Despite the lack of low-range, this thing is every bit as capable in properly rough or steep terrain as the best in the group.
Put it down to that short first gear made possible by the eight-ratio spread, along with a self-locking centre diff and a rear diff lock that keeps the front traction control active.
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The only dynamic element the Amarok does not ace is steering. It’s far from awful, just a bit remote and unengaged, especially against the standard-setting rack in the Ranger. Otherwise, the Amarok again rises to the pointy end of the field. It rides with a controlled absorbency that’s a world away from the brutal stiffness of the Hilux, yet still manages to retain the sort of body control delivered by the likes of the Ranger.
With this level of multi-discipline dominance, the Amarok could have an interior like an outback dunny and you’d still consider one. Naturally it doesn’t; despite its age, the cabin still nails the brief in terms of comfort and functionality. It’s way less flashy than the Merc, but it actually works better, with superior storage, more adjustment to the driving position, and better-shaped seats, if falling short on equipment.
So while Amarok comfortably tops our second-ever ute Megatest, the Hilux continues to outsell the VW by a ratio of around five to one. There’s a message in there, if only we could figure out what it is.
Price $52,990 (driveaway*)
Engine 2967cc V6, dohc, 24v, TD
Power 165kW @ 4500rpm
Torque 550Nm @ 1500-2500rpm
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 5254/1954/1878/3095mm
Tray capacity 911kg
Braked towing capacity 3000kg
Unbraked towing capacity 750kg
Ground clearance 192mm
Tyres Pirelli Scorpion ATR 245/65R17
Test fuel average 11.2L/100km
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