Petrol-powered double cab bakkies are teetering on the verge of extinction and it's not hard to see why.
Unless you're happy with a smallish four-cylinder engine that never really applied for the job of moving a two-ton behemoth in the first place, your choice is limited to big old-school V6 lumps of metal and filling their tanks is never going to be a comfortable experience unless you own Saudi Arabia.
But now there is a new option that could just hit the sweet spot. Downsized turbopetrol motors are not a new phenomenon, but the arrival of VW's Amarok TSI means that one bakkie manufacturer finally got the memo.
But does it make sense to fit a small boosted motor to a big bakkie, one that's usually tasked with towing heavy items or carrying huge loads? You might be concerned that VW's 2-litre motor is overstressed in this application and there is really no way of telling how reliable it will be in the long term, but looking at the raw figures - this motor might not be as over-burdened as it sounds.
VW's direct injection, turbocharged 2-litre petrol motor makes 155kW and 280Nm in the Golf GTI, but the version fitted to this Amarok produces just 118kW between 3800 and 5500rpm. Torque, though, is up 20Nm to 300Nm in the range between 1600 and 3750rpm, which means the engine has at least been tuned to meet the load-lugging and towing requirements of a bakkie.
Having experienced the diesel Amarok last year, the first thing I noticed when firing up the petrol Amarok was that it didn't sound like a farm utensil. While (unlike VW's diesel cars) the oil-burning model makes no attempt to hide its diesel clatter, the TSI is almost as quiet as a passenger car. If nothing else, the petrol engine lends a welcome feeling of refinement to this bakkie.
Sadly, the clutch is just as heavy and clunky and if that isn't enough to detract from the overall driving comfort, the gear ratios are far from ideal. They're simply too tall from third upwards. In fact, turning corners I often felt that second was too low and third too high.
On the upside, the TSI does have a far flatter torque curve than the diesel, so most situations demand less gearing, and it is a silent-cruising peach in sixth gear on the highway.
While never really giving the impression of being very powerful, the motor does supply the goods in most driving situations.
HARDLY A GUZZLER
It's when looking at the fuel consumption readout that the reasoning behind VW's small turbo engine approach started making sense - in a mixture of highway and urban driving it never hovered too far above the ten litres-per-hundred mark. Costing almost R30 000 less than the equivalent diesel model, this TSI could be a sensible alternative if extreme mileage is not on the cards.
The other Amarok attributes, including its decent ride quality - by bakkie standards - and large load bay (good for 948kg, or 1147kg with the optional heavy-duty suspension) also make the Amarok a formidable rival in the hotly-contested bakkie market. I did, however, drive the new Ranger diesel two weeks later, and can say that the new Ford is asking the Amarok and Hilux some serious questions when it comes to interior space and ride quality.
Another downside, for bundu bashers at least, is that VW is not offering a 4x4 TSI for now.
Comparing this Amarok directly to its petrol double cab rivals (listed below) is a tricky task as power and spec levels vary, but given the Amarok's turbocharged performance advantage - a boon at altitude - it does present a pretty tempting deal.
It plugs the gap between the underpowered four-cylinder petrols and thirsty, expensive V6s. The only other tempting choice here would be the cheaper 2.5-litre Ranger.
VW Amarok 2.0 TSI DC Trendline (118kW) - R313 500
Ford Ranger 2.5 DC XL (122kW) - R265 120
Mitsubishi Triton 2.4 DC (97kW) - R296 900
Nissan NP300 2.4 DC (105kW) - R288 100
Toyota Hilux 2.7 DC Raider (118kW) - R322 000