I have just completed over 5000 kms in one of these through Namibia. I hit lots of tar, gravel and even some reasonably challenging off-road bits. So it is any good?
There is no point in doing a test on any pick-up without comparing it to the others. For this, I must divide the offerings in two categories: not worth considering and, difficult to choose between them. In the first are all the Nissans, all the Chinese buckets of bolts, the funny looking Indian things and even the Isuzu. Right now, only the Hilux and the brilliant new Ranger fit into the second. So, the question is, in which category does the Amarok fit?
Let’s see. On the open tar, the 2.0L pulls extremely well. Seats didn’t give me backache during three full days in the vehicle, almost without a break. The cab is extremely wide and a nice place to be. The gear lever is very notchy and it took me a while to like it. The instruments and layout are fine. No medals, but nothing wrong either. But I couldn’t play my iPod music because there is no connection or Bluetooth. Bad VW!! Don’t you know that not many people use CDs any more?
Cruise control is faultless and the motor pulls up and down hills at 120 kph, and overtakes are easy. Economy was outstanding.
In town it’s a big car with poor rear visibility. My wife did not enjoy driving it at all. And the worst part of all, the engine produces very low torque at low revs so stalling is a regular occurrence, especially in reverse (reverse gear is a higher ratio than first). It was very annoying and frustrating. I did get used to it, but it took quite some time. I found myself slipping the clutch quite often, which I hate to do.
Rough expedition tracks. The ride is good and the loadbay is huge. The canopy supplied (SA-Canopy Carryboy) was as useful as a chocolate kettle. It let in huge amounts of dust, the catches broke several times and each time we spend a good hour trying to get them to latch properly.
Off-road. The four-wheel drive and low range engagement was quick and painless. Low range is nice and low, and the hill climbs were tackled easily. It has a rear diff-lock, which I avoided using, as I wanted to find out what it could do without it - and it did well. Clearance looks to me to be average. On down hill compression descents the Amarok drove truly brilliantly. The hill-descent-control works extremely well and the speed limit setting is just right.
Conclusion. After getting used to the stalling on pull off, my Namibia experience was only made better by this very enjoyable vehicle. I like the Amarok very much, and it easily fits into category two. Would I prefer a larger engine? Sure, but at what price in economy? So would I choose the Amarok over a Hilux or Ranger? I honestly don’t know. I would have to jump back into those two, to remind myself just how good they are.