Volkswagen’s Amarok bakkie has made a name for itself with its high-class cabin and impressive finesse, but not everybody has been won over by its relatively small, two-litre biturbo-diesel four-cylinder engine.
Although the flagship Amarok’s output figures of 120kW and 400Nm made it one of the gutsiest bakkies in the diesel class (more powerful, in fact, than many a larger-engined rival), it had a relatively narrow torque band and was afflicted with a clutch action that made the manual version easy to stall.
VW SA has addressed both concerns by launching a more powerful 132kW version (the torque stays at 400Nm), which also comes with a revised clutch slave cylinder to ease pull-offs.
For now, this new engine is available in double-cab Amarok derivatives (costing R384 500 and R435 500 for the two and four-wheel drive versions respectively), with single cabs still sold with the 120kW engine until next year.
The tweaks have made a notable improvement to the big bakkie’s driveability. Apart from the fact that I wasn’t stalling it all over the place and looking like a learner driver, gear linkages in the six-speed manual have been modified for smoother shifting so the gearstick doesn’t have a tendency to get snagged between first and second as before.
The power felt generally gutsier and more accessible. This was confirmed when we put the vehicle against the clock and it returned much quicker acceleration and overtaking figures than the previous, 120kW derivative. In the 0-100km/h sprint the 132kW Amarok recorded a best time of 12.7 seconds compared with the 120kW version’s 14 seconds, and in fourth gear 60-120km/h overtaking the difference was even more pronounced at 12.9 versus 15.3 seconds.
Fuel consumption’s pretty decent too.
The gutsier Amarok averaged 8.2 litres per 100km over the week we drove it. That said, the engine still can’t compare to the effortless cruisability of the 3.2 turbodiesel powering the new Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50. For outright easygoing grunt, there’s little to match the performance of that 147kW/470Nm five-cylinder in this price range.
Another factor worrying some prospective Amarok buyers is that the stresses put on the relatively small but high-powered four-cylinder engine could cause long-term reliability issues.
Only time will tell whether this is true, but so far we’re not aware of Amarok engines being prone to blowing up in the two years since the bakkie was launched here, while there’s also the safety net of Volkswagen’s three-year or 100 000km warranty and five-year or 90 000km service plan.
Modern one-tonne bakkies are getting ever more classy and car-like in their cabin execution and the Amarok - even against the impressive new Ranger and BT-50 - still reigns supreme in this department. The soft-touch dashboard and high-quality finishes reveal little sign of workhorse origins; a business suit makes far more suitable driving attire than dirty overalls in this Volswagen bakkie.
It’s a roomy cabin with space aplenty for four or five burly adults. VW has also thrown in some clever features such as a 12V socket on top of the dash for fitting a GPS without having a loose wire flapping around on the fascia, another 12V socket in the load bay, storage drawers under the front seats; and a light in the load bay.
The spec sheet’s fairly generous, and the R384 500 pricetag includes standard items such as an onboard computer, a six-speaker radio/CD/MP3 system, dual-zone climate control and cruise control. The safety list includes stability control with hill start and hill descent, antilocking brakes, and front and side airbags.
You’ll have to pay extra for niceties such as leather seats, Bluetooth and park distance control, and a USB port for your music.
As comfy as it is, the Amarok’s a real workhorse, too, with its 922kg payload and 2800kg towing capacity (braked trailer), and it boasts one of the largest loadboxes in the segment with the ability to handle a euro pallet between its wheelarches.
The two-wheel drive Amarok isn’t necessarily suitable for trans-Kalahari expeditions but can hold its own in many off-roading situations thanks to a generous ground clearance and a rear differential lock.
There is still arguably a place for a big-capacity engine in VW’s Amarok range, but the upgraded two-litre turbodiesel engine has improved one of the classiest double cabs in the business.
VW Amarok 2.0 BiTDI Highline DC (132kW) - R384 500
Ford Ranger 3.2 XLT DC (147kW) - R399 330
Isuzu KB300 D-Teq LX DC (120kW) - R366 900
Mazda BT-50 2.2 SLE DC (110kW) - R372 760
Nissan Navara 2.5 dCi LE DC (128kW) - R393 000
Toyota Hilux 3.0 D-4D Raider DC (120kW) - R381 100