Volkswagen broke new ground with the release of the Amarok bakkie, drawing a lot of adverse comment with its use of a small, high-revving turbodiesel rather than the big, brawny tractor engines favoured by the establishment.
A few years down the line, there have been no reports of wholesale premature engine failure, and the Amaroks we see on the road continue to continue.
Now VW has once again thought outside the box - the gearbox this time - and come up with what it claims is the first eight-speed auto transmission on a one-tonne bakkie.
And it is actually an auto, complete with an old-style torque converter, rather than a fashionable dual-clutch set-up. This tranny, it says, was specially developed for the Amarok, with the emphasis on smooth gear shifting, weight reduction and reliability.
Shift times, VW claims, are on a par with DSG gearboxes, but with better response at low speeds - especially when towing or driving off-road - and less resistance to slip.
CRAWLER TO OVERDRIVE
The additional gears also allow a wider spread of ratios between first and top, allowing the BiTDI engine to spend more time in its most efficient rev range.
First is a crawler gear for pulling away off-road or when towing, while eighth is actually a fuel-saving overdrive - in fact the two-pedal Amarok hits its top speed of 179km/h in seventh.
VW says the auto Amarok is also the first bakkie on the SA market with permanent all-wheel drive, using a Torsen differential to apportion drive between front and rear axles. The basic setting produces a 40:60 split which improves traction on the road.
Thanks to its long top gear, VW quotes average fuel consumption of 8.3 litres per 100km and CO2 emissions of 219g/km, with the added benefits that the lower engine revs reduce noise, vibration and harshness at cruising speeds.
The new automatic transmission is combined with a 132kW, two-litre Bi-turbo TDI engine, rated for 420Nm at 1750rpm, with a 0-100 sprint time of 10.9 seconds and an increased towing capacity: a full three tonnes, up a 12 percent gradient.
The auto Amarok is only available in top-of-the-range Double Cab Highline spec, which includes electronic stabilisation control, brake assist, hill hold, off-road antilock braking, driver and front passenger airbags, daytime running lights, 17” alloy rims, radio/CD/MP3 player with 6 speakers, dual-zone aircon, storage drawers under the front seats, cruise control and 12-volt sockets in the centre console, dashboard and load box.
The Amarok Double Cab 2.0 BiTDI 132kW 4Motion Auto Highline will set you back R461 100.
If you want to spend more, however, you can ask for the communication package, which includes multi-function steering, Bluetooth cellphone preparation, front and rear parking sensors and leather seats.
The Amarok Double Cab with automatic transmission comes standard with three year or 100 000km warranty, and a five-year or 90 000km service plan. Service intervals are 15 000km.
From April 2013, all Amarok models will be available with BlueMotion Technology, including idle stop and regenerative braking, for improved fuel consumption and lowers CO2 emissions.