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First drive: Volkswagen Amarok sets new ute bar

Amarok Ultimate: Top spec Ultimate variant headlines the 2011 VW Amarok range.

VW Amarok brings class-leading safety and efficiency to one-tonne segment

22 Feb 2011

A MAXIMUM five-star safety rating, electronic stability control, four airbags and sub-8.0L/100km fuel consumption across the range are just some of the firsts Volkswagen brings to the one-tonne utility segment with its all-new Amarok that goes on sale this week priced either side of Toyota’s top-selling HiLux.

Volkswagen says the Amarok – taking its name from a nomadic Inuit tribe – will be the number-one seller in its class in Germany and Argentina, where it is built, but stops short of claiming it will clinch market leadership in Australia – the world’s fourth largest ute market – from the HiLux, which routinely tops sales charts in Queensland and West Australia despite commanding higher prices than most of its rivals.

Volkswagen Group Australia will not reveal its sales targets for the Amarok, but says it expects its first model in the nation’s booming ute sector to easily become its best-seller in a local Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles range that accrued more than 5000 sales for the first time locally last year with the Caddy, T5 Transporter and Crafter.

For now, five diesel manual versions of the German designed and engineered ladder-chassis Amarok are available across one four-door dual-cab body style.

Next year, they will be joined next year by a two-door single-cab version, a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol TSI engine and an automatic transmission, giving Volkswagen full segment coverage for the first time.

3 center image(Left) From top: Amarok, Amarok Trendline, Amarok Highline, Amarok Ultimate and Amarok Trendline interior.

GoAuto has learned the latter will not be a dual-clutch automated manual DSG unit, which was deemed unsuitable for low-speed load-carrying or hill-climbing work, but a conventional eight-speed torque converter auto from ZF, constituting yet another unique feature in the ute segment.

Despite comprising just one body, one (diesel) engine and one (manual) transmission, Volkswagen says the initial Amarok range will cover the majority of a light commercial vehicle segment that last year accounted for 17 per cent of all vehicle sales in Australia.

In 2010, diesel manuals comprised 29.5 per cent of the 4x2 ute segment and 60.8 per cent of the much larger 4x4 ute segment, which together comprised more than 150,000 vehicles – 60 per cent of which were built by a handful of mainstream brands.

Toyota continues to dominate with a 25.3 per cent of 4x2 sales and a 26.6 per cent slice of the 4x4 segment and, apart from China’s Great Wall, India’s Mahindra, Korea’s SsangYong and Nissan’s Spanish-built D40 Navara dual-cab, all one-tonne utes sold here are imported from Thailand with the benefit of a free-trade deal.

Australians will be offered only the high-output version of the Amarok’s T5-sourced twin-turbo 2.0-litre common-rail direct-injection four-cylinder diesel engine, which delivers 120kW at 4000rpm and a beefy 400Nm of torque between 1500 and 2500rpm – hence the ‘TDI400’ name applied across the range.

It is mated exclusively to a six-speed ZF manual transmission, which in the sole 2WD model returns combined average fuel consumption of just 7.7L/100km and CO2 emissions of 203g/km, and in 4x4 models returns 7.9L/100km and 209g/km.

Opening the range is the Amarok TDI400 2WD at $33,990 plus on-road costs – $1400 more than its most direct HiLux competitor, the SR 2WD diesel pick-up ($32,590).

Base Amarok buyers get twin front and side head/thorax airbags, front seatbelt tensioners, three-point seatbelts and head restraints for all five occupants, plus potentially life-saving ESC stability control, which is available only on a handful of top-end Japanese-brand utes but should also be standard on the redesigned Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 due for local release in the third quarter.

Even without the ESC system’s segment-unique off-road mode – including off-road ABS brakes, hill hold assist and hill descent control – that is enough for the Amarok to achieve a first-in-class five-star ANCAP rating, one star more than the slightly more stringent Euro NCAP safety rating.

Also standard on the most basic Amarok variant is a “low-maintenance” exterior featuring a matt-black front bumper and 250kg-capacity tailgate that can be open 180 degrees to vertical, allowing a forklift to load up to two pallets in a styleside tray that is a class-leading 1555mm long, 1620mm wide and 1222mm between the wheel-arches and features four cargo hooks and a unique load space light operated via a button on the dashboard.

The entry-level Amarok rides on 16-inch steel wheels and has almost the same ride height almost as 4x4 models, which offer a 28-degree approach angle, 23.6-degree departure angle, 23-degree ramp-over angle and 500mm fording depth, while being able to tackle inclines of up to 45 degrees and side slopes of up to 49.7 degrees.

Inside, there is hard-wearing ‘Spacer’ cloth trim, a well laid out but hard-to-touch dashboard with large controls and four circular air-vents, a large lockable glovebox, four large door compartments, four cup-holders, four overhead grabrails and four pillar-mounted grabrails, while the split/folding rear seat bases flip up to create extra storage space.

Also standard at base level are power windows/mirrors, air-conditioning, AM/FM/CD audio, reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel and one-touch lane-change indicators, while all Amaroks come with a generous 2800kg towing capacity, 280kg towball down-weight rating, double wishbone suspension and disc brakes up front and a live rear axle with drum brakes.

Two load configurations will be available across the range, including a no-cost ‘Comfort’ suspension option with 3+1 leaf springs alongside the standard heavy-duty set-up with 3+2 leaf springs offering a GVM of 3040kg and payload of almost 1200kg.

Only the entry-level Amarok is available in 2WD guise, which Volkswagen says will be a core model pitched at government, business and other fleet buyers, with all others coming standard with a selectable four-wheel drive system comprising standard rear differential lock and switchable 2WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low modes.

The latter includes a 100 per cent front/rear axle lock and super-low 2.72:1 crawler gear ratio, while 4H can be selected at any speed. Top speed of 180km/h is achieved in fifth gear – the first of two overdriven ratios with fourth being one-to-one.

The least expensive 4WD Amarok, the TDI400 4Motion ($43,990, representing a hefty $10,000 price premium over the 2WD), is priced $900 lower than its closest HiLux rival – the SR 4x4 diesel pick-up ($44,890).

The TDI400 4Motion Trendline ($47,990) adds a body-coloured front bumper, door-handles and wing mirrors, foglights, 16-inch alloys, ‘Trail’ interior trim, cruise control and multi-function display (both of which optional on the base model), a tray-mounted 12-volt power outlet and a matt-black rear bumper which allows the tailgate to drop only to horizontal.

Moving up to the TDI400 4Motion Highline costs $52,990 and gains buyers chromed exterior highlights, 18-inch ‘Durban’ alloys, plastic wheel-arch flares, ‘Endless’ interior trim in Anthracite or Mendoza colour choices, an RCD510 sound system, alarm, rear privacy glass and dual-zone climate-control.

Priced at $58,990, the flagship Amarok ‘Ultimate’ is available in either selectable 4Motion 4x4 guise with heavy-duty suspension, or with a full-time 4Motion 4x4 system with comfort suspension.

Unlike the selectable 4Motion system, the permanent 4Motion drivetrain comes from the Touareg and comprises a mechanical torque-sensing centre differential that defaults to a front/rear torque split of 40/60 per cent in normal conditions but can direct up to 80 per cent of power rearwards if required.

Standard Ultimate equipment includes 19-inch ‘Alastaro’ alloys, stainless steel rear sports rollbar and side steps, full leather trim in two colour options, extra chrome exterior highlights and underbody all-look scuff plate ‘design elements’.

Optional Amarok accessories will include and Australian-developed colour-coded hard canopy and three-piece tonneau cover, an aluminium tray, black sportsbar, satellite-navigation, media-in cable, telephone kit and front and side Amarok decals.

“Amarok will be one of the segment leaders,” said Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles executive director of international sales Dr Jens Effenberger at the Amarok media launch in Tasmania’s Sturges Bay this week, fresh from launching the vehicle in South America, South Africa and some European markets.

“Australia is very important in our strategy of internationalisation. It is the fourth biggest Amarok market, so it is very important to us. With Amarok, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles will exceed half a million sales for the first time this year.”

The director of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles in Australia, Phil Clark, said the Amarok would take its rivals head-on with class-leading safety, economy and cargo space, as well as an unprecedented technician training program and an expanded range of dedicated new VW commercial retailers including at least three in Sydney and six in Melbourne.

“Amarok is not a me-too product,” he said. “It has out technology and our DNA in a vehicle that is market competitive and we’re deadly serious about continuing our success in commercial vehicles.

“We’re new to the segment but not to utes and will have a full range within two years. There’s no doubt that convincing some people will be a long-time job but for others it won’t be – it’s just a matter of communicating the technology and features we’ve got.

“We have our (sales) aspirations but we’d be on a hiding to nothing is we revealed them. We’re definitely in the market to be successful – we’re not a fringe-dweller.

2011 VolkswagenAmarok pricing:
Amarok 2WD
TDI400 2WD (m)$33,990
TDI400 Selectable 4WD (m)$43,990
AmarokTrendline 4MOTION
TDI400 Selectable 4WD (m)$47,990
AmarokHighline 4MOTION
TDI400 Selectable 4WD (m)$52,990
AmarokUltimate 4MOTION
TDI400 Selectable 4WD (m)$58,490
TDI400 Permanent 4WD (m)$58,490

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