The king is dead, long live the king – of utes, that is. Since it first stormed the pick-up segment in late 2016, the Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate has been the nicest commercial vehicle money can buy, mixing luxo features like a Nappa leather interior, the Amarok’s sorted refinement and a silky, strong six-cylinder. In the intervening 24 months, emerging rivals have eyed off the Amarok’s class-leading status – the brand weight of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class, and the seriously capable Ford Ranger Raptor have been significant threats – but Volkswagen hope that a round of 2019 updates to the Amarok V6 Ultimate will keep it on top.
Where utes like the Ranger Raptor – and a cohort of pretenders to the throne, like the Toyota HiLux Rugged X and Holden Colorado Xtreme – aim for off-roading prowess, Volkswagen knows their ute’s core strengths sits firmly on the blacktop. For that reason, the 2019 changes to the flagship Amarok, which sits atop a four-strong range of V6-equipped variants – are directed at on-road performance.
The 165kW/550Nm tune of Volkswagen’s 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel V6 – which remains in use for the other Amarok V6 models – has its wick turned up for the Ultimate model, which is now priced at $71,990 before on-road costs.
Befitting its rather grand badging, the 2019 Ultimate has outputs of 190kW/580Nm – a power figure that turns up to 200kW on flat-footed overboost. The new 580TDI tune runs the 0-100km/h sprint in 7.3 seconds, 0.6 seconds quicker than the 550TDI.
There was already daylight between the Amarok V6 and the next best ute in terms of on-road dynamics – the 3.2-litre five-cylinder Ford Ranger – and the new 580TDI tune only extends the Volkswagen’s bitumen dominance.
The V6 Ultimate is about 8% faster than the old version to 100km/h and that feels about right. Plant the foot from a standing start and there is just a moment of lag before the turbo kicks in – the Amarok steams through the lower gears of its excellent eight-speed torque converter automatic very rapidly. In overtaking situations, downshifting and acceleration happens so quickly that you are out and back in before you know it. The 580TDI is a great partner for high-speed Australian country driving.
And unlike high-torque four-cylinder units, the Amarok V6 delivers its pace with true grace, as it always has. The V6 is quiet at low revs but makes a cool-sounding woosh as it races through the tachometer. Only the fairly pronounced wind noise from the upright front screen disturbs the peace. Fuel economy has been a strong point of the 3.0-litre V6, and our average of 8.5L/100km was a little better than the official combined figure.
Larger 20-inch wheels with lower profile (and relatively grippy) Bridgestone Dueler H/T Sport tyres are subbed in for the previous 19-inch setup. We’re surprised to say that this change has given the V6 Ultimate some real cornering chops – a point Volkswagen went to great lengths to establish, closing the Lake Mountain Road from Marysville to the ski resort chalet above.
Saddled up in the 580TDI, I was read pace notes from a pair of rally-honed passengers as we hurtled the new V6 Ultimate up Lake Mountain at full pelt. We knew it was good in a straight line, but with sheer drops to our left the entire time, the Ultimate’s frankly incredulous cornering abilities – given its size – were something of a relief.
The Bridgestone tyres clearly communicate your progression toward the limit of adhesion and, as long as you respect the Amarok’s 2.2 tonne mass, you can attack a mountain pass in this ute and actually have fun. Ranger Raptor potentially aside, that is not a remark you can make about any other pick-up.
A handsome new colour, Peacock Green, is exclusive to the new flagship Amarok – but the biggest giveaway that you’re looking at a new 580TDI Ultimate, and not its older 550TDI iteration, is the red ‘580’ badge on the tailgate.
A switch to moodier black headlining in the cabin rounds out the upgrades. Otherwise, the MY2019 Ultimate reflects last year’s specification. The Amarok retains a conventional wishbone front end and leaf-spring rear suspension of most utes, though a masterful rear-end tune means the Amarok doesn’t have the warbles and shakes of most pick-ups. The Amarok V6 gets bigger disc brakes than the four-cylinder variants – the front discs measure 332mm, the rears 300mm. That’s important when you need to stop a pretty fast ute.
Outside, bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights set the Highline and Ultimate models apart from lesser Amaroks. However, it’s inside the Ultimate grade where the Amarok reaches above the rest of this class. The Mercedes-Benz X-Class has a decent-looking interior, but the Amarok’s functional layout, beautiful material quality and superb fit and finish mean the Amarok has real substance, rather than just showiness.
The combination of Volkswagen’s trademark quality leather steering wheel and shifter with the Ultimate’s Nappa leather seats leave you feeling like you’re sitting in an expensive SUV, not a dual-cab ute.
The seats feel very similar to those in a top-specification Passat wagon, with 12 ways of electric adjustment, plus a manually adjustable thigh extension. Plainly put, the Amarok V6 Ultimate is, by far, the most comfortable and best-finished dual dab on the market.
There are some hard plastics on the dash and door tops that could be softened, but the sheer size of the Amarok means you don’t tend to rest your arms there. The large centre console box, and the armrest pads, are both soft plastic, and this is where your elbows naturally fall.
The technology proposition can’t match the X-Class for wow factor, however. The Amarok’s 6.5-inch touchscreen is functional and easy to understand, but it looks quite small, given the breadth of the dashboard. At least it’s sharp, has integrated navigation and, unlike the Mercedes-Benz, it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This week, Google Maps was released for Apple CarPlay, and it worked a treat on our drive of the new V6 Ultimate. Why only one USB port, though?
Unfortunately, the sumptuousness of the front cab isn’t reflected well enough in the rear. Three distinct seats are still covered in that lovely stitched black leather and headroom is good, but legroom is poor – a six-foot rear passenger cannot comfortably fit behind a six-foot driver. The seatback is a little upright, and there are no air vents for the second row.
Nor are there rear side airbags. This continues to be a major thorn in Volkswagen’s side when it comes to the Amarok, which comes so close to being the ‘ultimate’ ute but we cannot honestly agree with that badging while a basic passive safety omission persists. We are assured the Amarok’s frame strength is up there with the best but this feels like cold comfort.
The ageing Amarok platform also means that modern technologies like autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane keep assist or blind spot monitoring have not been engineered into this ute. Volkswagen’s Australian executives concede that “this is not as we would have it.” Given we are now seven years into the Amarok’s run, we think it will be a wait until a possible second-generation before we see meaningful change in this area.
Further back, the Amarok’s tray continues to be capable of fitting a Euro-size pallet between the arches and there is a little bit of damping assistance to help you open the tailgate smoothly. The V6 Ultimate comes ready-to-go with a spray-on black bed liner, though you’ll naturally need to pay more if you want a tonneau cover or canopy.
So, should you buy a $72,000 Amarok – factoring in even more for on-road costs? Yes, you should – if you really want a dual cab, you strongly value on-road handling, and you won’t be putting precious people into the rear outboard seats too often.
Chasing Cars – and the wider Australian media – has always given fair consideration to the Amarok’s lack of rear side airbag fitment but even taking this into account, it is clear to us that the Amarok V6 Ultimate remains, on balance, the best ute on the market.
The best driving experience by far in the environment that matters most – on the road – coupled to a luxurious and refined interior mean you don’t feel short-changed spending big money on a ute. That is not the case for most dual-cabs at this price, which force you to spend equal money to the Amarok V6 Ultimate but are, in reality, extremely agricultural to drive.
Also, the Amarok V6 and the Ranger Raptor are two ends of a continuum. If you want to attack a trail at ten-tenths, the Ford is the go. If you want to do the same to a good rural road, you’ll want the Amarok.
So, ignore the pretenders to the throne. The Amarok V6 is still the king.
Key specs (as tested)
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