The bakkie market is strange. There are many bakkie owners that have a chip on their shoulder about Toyota’s Hilux, mainly because it has stood at the top of the heap as SA’s best bakkie for so long now, and won’t go away. They all wish something would come along and knock it off its lofty perch. And I think they have been hoping that someone, perhaps VW with its Amarok, just might do it. VW are giving it a very good go, but I am afraid to say, nice but no cigar!
Amarok is as stylish as any pickup out there, its off the line performance brisk but not a market beater. But is it a better package that its competitors?
And another question is, will Amarok survive South Africa? I am told that South Africa’s pick-up market is one of the toughest in the world. It’s about the way we use and often abuse them. Local manufacturers, including Toyota, Ford and Isuzu don’t just take a design from overseas and build it here, because if they do that, they have found, the vehicles don’t last. Toyota engineers tell me that the D4D in SA’s Hilux is, “significantly over-engineered, more so we reckon than any D4D sold anywhere in the world”. Is the Amarok likewise engineered? It is built in Argentina.
“There is nothing like big pistons for a hard working engine”, engineers will tell you. Amarok has small pistons, its displacement only 2.0-litres, with 4-cylinders, the smallness compensated for by two turbo-chargers. To me this sounds like the engine well suited to a hot Golf or passenger car, not a workhorse. It has a six-speed manual gearbox with no auto option, part-time four-wheel drive with a low range transfer gearbox. Suspension is wishbones and coils in the front, leaf springs at the back. Advertised fuel consumption spec average at an outstandingly good 7,9 L/100km combined cycles.
So, a great start for VW’s entry into the battle of the big bakkies, but it’s still got to prove itself. And I must say, in and out, it looks fantastic!
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October 2012 and I’ve had the Amarok for over 5000kms and two weeks, on a expedition to Namibia.
Fuel economy as good as advertised, which measured better than 11km per liter at times. On road performance, space and cab comfort is outstanding among the double-cabs. The width of the cab gives the interior a roomy, ample feel.
On road ride is typical bakkie-like, which is firm, (a bit too firm) with no load in the back. With a load, it is excellent. Handling is first rate.
To be truthful, there isn’t much about the Amarok that is not to like. But one thing..
The low levels of low-down torque means that the Amarok stalls when you pull away. And reverse is worse than first gear, as its got a higher ratio. I found that even mild off-road manoeuvres had to be done in low range, or slip the clutch. This is no doubt why many Amaroks are breaking their clutches – because drivers are too lazy to engage low-range, and instead slip the clutch. A anti-stall programs in the ECU could easily solve this issue.
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A four-wheel drive adaptation of the very popular rear-wheel drive minibus is no longer made and good second-hand units are now rare. There are two versions: the standard ‘Microbus’ and the Caravelle luxury version. Both have a 2,1-litre fuel-injected 4-cylinder engine. Advanced 4WD is permanent, using a hydraulic viscous coupling between the front and rear prop-shafts. Suspension is by independent coil springs on all four wheels. Modifications for off-road use include protective plates, a single low gear ratio for off-road work and raised suspension. The Syncro’s performance over uneven ground is impressive because of excellent vertical wheel travel and axle differential locks.
The Syncro is seriously disadvantaged when conditions get muddy, because of its small wheels, road tyres which clog very quickly and low ground clearance. The engine is low slung and this is a problem both when wading and when the vehicle is being driven over uneven terrain.
VW Touareg is a really interesting vehicle. It seems as if VW set out to build a vehicle that is extremely capable off-road while being a blistering performer on it too. And I think they did extraordinarily well. The body and chassis are built for safety and comfort. Performance, handling, pulling power, particularly with the V10, is brilliant. On road it is an outstanding 4×4 SUV. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the ride, which I found to be harsh, especially over uneven road surfaces (not unlike the Cayenne). Now off-road: The suspension can be air-lifted so as to provide not just adequate, but excellent clearance. Then comes the traction-control, which while not quite in the standard of the class leading Jeep Grand, is excellent. In addition, safety enhancing electronic skid and braking controls are added. The result is a vehicle of supreme performance in all theaters of operation. It really is a marvel of modern technology.
There are few down sides to the Toaureg. One of them is that many consider it to be over-endowed with electronics and a driver who is foolhardy enough to drive it off-road without thoroughly getting to terms with the very thick instruction book, are risking embarrassing themselves.
Other features are the automatic ride height system settles to the ‘low’ setting at a practical ±110 kmh (Take heed, Land Rover Discovery engineers!). The interior has classic refinement, a bit austere, but with enough buttons, switches and knobs to intimidate an Airbus pilot. Its two biggest drawbacks as an all-rounder is that its 18” wheel rims cannot be swapped for smaller rims to enable higher-profile tyres to be fitted as the huge brake discs and calipers do not permit this (18″ tyres are not going to be very effective off road). Toaureg is also not overly strongly built, and cannot be expected to perform in the rough long term like a Land Cruiser or Nissan Patrol.
2010 introduced the second generation Touareg. Not a lot was wrong with the first one, and what was wrong has largely been corrected. The ride is much better, and so whichever way you look at it, Touareg remains a very impressive machine.