Road test: Volkswagen Amarok


The recent spell of stormy weather will likely have had many a motorist considering trading in the reliable hatchback for something with a raised ride height and some rugged off-road addenda.

The fact of the matter is that many of these so-called 'soft-roaders' or SUVs fare no better on flooded roads or icy tracks than their city-car brethren. Step forward the Amarok – a most manly of manly motors that is chiefly designed to transport building and farm materials around muddy tracks but, as we found out, could happily serve as an everyday run-around. Especially when the rivers burst their banks...

What is it?

The big, permanent all-wheel drive machine is Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle's attempt to muscle in on the robust pick-up and off-road market, going toe-to-toe with the iconic Toyota Hilux (anyone who watches Top Gear will know they are almost indestructible), the brutish Mistubishi L200 and Nissan's slightly more stylish Navara range. The Amarok certainly has its work cut out but a comfortable cabin, effortless drive and attractive exterior make it worth a look.

What's under the bonnet?

Customers aren't exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to engines as only one 177bhp powerplant is on offer. Luckily, that unit is a torquey 2-litre bi-turbo number that not only provides an impressive amount of shove for the odd impromptu overtaking manoeuvre but also offers a massive 400Nm of pulling power. We won't lie, it's not the most refined unit on the market – making one hell of a racket when the accelerator is pinned to the floor – but it does get the big pick-up moving with gusto and the fuel economy is impressive considering the vehicle weighs over two tonnes.

What's the spec like?

Three basic trim levels are one offer: Austin, Trendline and Highline, with each lavishing the optional extras accordingly. Our test model was a 'Limited' model that, true to its name, has been limited to just 300 units in the UK and came decked out with flashy livery, mammoth 18-inch alloy wheels and a few interior gadgets. Inside, things are, as one would expect, all functionality with little in the way of creature comforts. Buttons are absolutely massive to cater for gloved hands, the infotainment system basic and leg and headroom is in abundance. That's not to say it's not comfortable - in fact it's extremely refreshing to be presented with such simple, easy-to-use functionality with regards to the media system and the sort of head and legroom usually reserved for limousines.

Any rivals?

As previously mentioned, those in the market for a rugged, load-lugging pick-up are fairly spoilt. Toyota has long produced the ever-reliable Hilux, Mitsubishi's L200 is a favourite among rescue services up and down the country while both Ford and Nissan offer the slightly trendier Ranger and Navara models. If a pick-up isn't a must – and to be honest, the payload in the Amarok is a little disappointing – then take a look at a Land Rover Defender.

Volkswagen Amarok

Volkswagen Amarok

What's it like to drive?

Surprisingly easy and stress-free considering the driver is piloting a machine that is almost twice the length of a city car. Volkswagen is adept at creating commercial vehicles that drive and feel like much smaller, more nimble machines (take a look at our VW California long term updates for proof) and the Amarok is no exception. Body roll is kept to a complete minimum, while the permanent all-wheel drive system pulls the beast around a tight corner with ease. Ok, it feels (and sounds) heavy under aggressive acceleration but it will impress with the speed at which it can hit motorway cruising speeds from a standing start. Bugbears for us included the awful turning circle coupled with a slow-geared steering rack that meant supermarket car parks required embarrassing amounts of steering-wheel shuffle, the windscreen wipers didn't cope well in adverse weather and the pick-up payload wasn't actually that big – you can certainly forget chucking a pair of motocross bikes in the back.

The AOL Cars verdict

The Amarok is by far one of the easiest and most relaxing pick-up vehicles to drive on the market. What's more, VW build quality ensures everything works well and feels robust, both inside and out. Off-road abilities are taken care of thanks to a special button on the automatic eight-speed 'box that plonks it into a low-ratio, low-grip mode and the double cab means four people can travel in complete comfort. The rear payload could do with being larger and, if it were our car, we'd probably splash out on a slightly more attractive interior, as basic models can look a bit drab. A Mitsubishi L200 will save you a few grand while a Toyota Hilux is even cheaper and will likely last even longer than the competition but the big VW certainly feels a classier proposition. Plus, that plucky 2-litre diesel engine will save you money at the pumps.

The Knowledge

Price: £24,225
Engine: 2.0-litre BiTDI
Power: 172bhp, 400Nm
Max speed: 108mph
0-60mph: 11.3 seconds
MPG: 35.3mpg
Emissions: 211 g/km CO2