Volkswagen’s all-new Amarok dual-cab ute is pricey but absolutely worth it
Even as the first-generation model was being run out after 12 years of service, the original Volkswagen Amarok was still one of the best dual-cab utes to spend time in, and correspondingly popular with Australians right to the end.
It received a number of updates and enhancements over the course of its lifetime including the game-changing introduction of a V6 diesel, a continuous improvement to technology and design revisions and, despite its age, the first-generation model was always going to make life hard for a successor.
But Volkswagen hatched a clever plan. By partnering with Ford to create the second-generation Amarok, the company not only mitigated some of the vast development investment but it gained the underpinnings of the best ute money can buy – or should that be ‘could’ buy?
With the mechanicals of the 2023 Ford Ranger, the addition of some European class and a design penned right here in Australia, Volkswagen’s all-new Amarok has the potential to become the easiest dual-cab to recommend, bar none.
If you want to see how the new Ranger and Amarok compare, however, check out our back-to-back 2023 Amarok vs Ranger comparison review, conducted on our vaunted Car of the Year testing roads.
Opening the new model range is the kit-lite Amarok Core, which has a 125kW/405Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, a six-speed automatic transmission and targets the tradies with a $52,990 starting price.
Above that, the Life costs from $56,990 and is all about versatility, says Volkswagen. It gets a more-powerful 154kW/500Nm twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel bolted to a ten-speed auto.
Keep your eyes on Chasing Cars in June when the more affordable pair of Amaroks arrive in Australia and we bring you all the lowdown. Until then we’ll be focusing on a trio of higher-grade variants.
In the middle of the range, the Style is available with a choice of the Life’s diesel or a more muscular V6 diesel with 185kW and 600Nm and a ten-speed automatic, priced at $66,990 and $70,990 respectively.
Volkswagen predicts the mid-range Amarok to be the bestseller, offering a decent list of standard inclusions such as a fully digital 12.0-inch instrument cluster, another in portrait orientation for the central touchscreen, electric adjustment for the front seats, an upholstered dashboard, 18-inch alloy wheels and LED matrix headlights.
The latter is segment-leading, says Volkswagen.
Above the Style, the Amarok range offers a brace of flagship variants that share similar levels of equipment but offer differences depending on the customer’s intentions and lifestyle.
With 18-inch wheels wearing all-terrain tyres, a tubular sports bar, a more durable tray-liner coating and matte black exterior design theme, the Panamericana version is intended for Amarok customers who want to hit the trails.
For those wanting to stay on sealed roads for a majority of the time, there’s the Aventura. It gets a more aerodynamic ‘sail’ design sports bar, powered roller cover for the tray area, 21-inch alloy wheels, Savona leather upholstery and matte silver exterior touches.
Both the Panamericana and Adventura get a premium Harman Kardon sound system, wireless device charging, wireless smartphone mirroring, black roof liner and the 600Nm V6 diesel.
However, the Aventura is also offered with a second engine choice of a 2.3-litre petrol four-cylinder with 222kW and 452Nm.
Regardless of the engine option, the Amarok Aventura costs $79,990, while the Panamericana is on offer for $75,990.
Volkswagen is so confident that it’s nailed the various levels of specification that it’s offering just three options – premium paint for $990, adding the posh Savona leather interior adds another $3000, while an electric brake controller costs $499.
Pictured: the interior of the top-spec Aventura grade
Conversely though, the company is offering a veritable plethora of original equipment accessories allowing customers to build their own unique Amarok.
More than 40 extras are on offer ranging from cargo-boosting options for big families and tradies, through to extras for keen campers as well as kits for increasing all-terrain capability for the off-road enthusiast.
In response to previous customer demand, all Amaroks are supplied with a tow bar kit and electrics installed as standard.
Speaking of which, the down-ball weight has been increased from 300kg to 350kg, together with a 400kg GCM increase to 6400kg and a static roof load that grows to 350kg.
Meanwhile, wading depth has increased by 300mm to 800mm.
In its previous generation, the Amarok was regarded as one of the most rewarding utes to drive on-road, while its simple operation point-and-shoot four-wheel-drive system made it one of the easiest to drive off-road too.
For the second-generation, these excellent attributes carry over, as demonstrated in the Panamericana.
Utes are generally not known for their corner-carving abilities, tending to focus instead on load-lugging duties. But as the Volkswagen takes the Ford Ranger’s chassis and core suspension as its basis, it also inherits the blue oval ute’s commendable ride and handling that so many have praised.
Actually, it’s better. While the mechanicals are the same, Volkswagen dialled in its own chassis tune and the result is a beautifully weighted but sharp steering feel, and surprisingly good cornering stability and dynamic body control.
Despite its excellent driving characteristics, the Amarok manages to offer a comfortable ride for all on board, albeit a little sudden for rear passengers when the tray is unloaded, which is fairly typical leaf-spring suspension stuff.
What’s less common in the ute world are disc brakes in all four corners offering excellent braking confidence when either loaded up or enjoying remote roads unladen.
Cabin noise levels are relatively low, as is tyre roar regardless of the fitted tyre and wheel combination, and the ten-speed automatic transmission is slick.
With its combination of muscular torque and smoothness, we suspect that the V6 diesel will be as big a hit as it has proven under the bonnet of the Ranger. It’s not the most refined or sophisticated oiler six we’ve encountered, but owners after big towing capability will love it.
It also lends itself very well to off-road driving. A couple of loops of a typical state forest track after some horrid weather demonstrated the broad talent we were hoping would carry over from the Ranger.
There’s the same options of rear drive, automatic four-wheel drive – which makes the best use of a combination of both rear and all wheels – as well as permanent four-wheel drive and a low-range four-wheel drive. For really tough stuff, the rear differential is also lockable.
Add to that three different off-road electronic programs (slippery, snow/sand, mud/rut) and there’s not a lot that should halt your progress in the Amarok through the rough stuff.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came with a switch to the 2.3-litre petrol Aventura.
It’s hard to imagine Volkswagen will find many homes for the oddball one-tonner with towing owners most likely to opt for a diesel, but that doesn’t mean the petrol 2.3L isn’t worth a look because it’s as much fun on-road as the Panamericana is off-road.
Unlike diesel-powered utes, the four-cylinder petrol develops its performance in a typically spark-ignition manner and loves to rev. In-gear acceleration is hilariously good and the Amarok builds speed eerily well.
It’s not so good from a standing start, where paddle shifters would help overcome the significant dead weight off the mark, but up and about the petrol Amarok is huge fun.
It has the best weight distribution of the lot thanks to the lightest engine up-front and it feels lighter overall than diesel versions.
The difference is as noticeable as switching from the V8 Ford Mustang GT to the Ecoboost turbo four which, coincidentally, shares the same 2.3-litre engine here in the Amarok.
Not convinced? Volkswagen points out that with 222kW on tap, the 2.3-litre version of the new Amarok is the most powerful offering in the market while also offering the full 3500kg braked towing capacity.
Sadly, a sport driving mode is not offered as part of the six-option driving mode menu. If the Volkswagen engineers had been allowed to dial in a special on-road mode, the petrol Aventura could have teetered on being the proper athlete of the Amarok range.
Perhaps we’ll get one as part of a future sports special…
Despite the shard DNA with Ford, Volkswagen has done as good a job at differentiating the interior design as it has on the exterior.
If you look for them, there are a number of details that connect the pair of models, such as the key, unusual door handles and gear selector, the stuff that matters however, is a very different story.
The entire dash design is completely different in the Amarok, with a more subtle approach, and there’s the same double glove box storage that some Rangers, albeit executed differently. Elsewhere, the digital screen graphics appear to have been reimagined from scratch.
Pictured: the interior of the Panamericana
We particularly liked the typically ergonomic Volkswagen steering wheel and firm but comfortable and supportive seats, both of which are unique to the Amarok and an improvement over the Ranger.
What isn’t an improvement however, is the move to relocate climate control fan speed back into an infotainment submenu rather than as a physical control, ala Ford Ranger, making adjustments to cabin comfort a little less convenient.
Perhaps the only other element to detract from otherwise typcially sound Volkswagen quality all-round is a tendency for the doors to ring when slammed – a trait some Ford owners might find acceptable but less so those hoping for a more discerning experience from this Volkswagen.
Go for the highest-grade leather interior and you’ll get a cool C-shaped contrasting stitching, which head of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Design Albert Kirzinger says he first applied on the Audi TT.
Space and comfort rates well in the front row of seating, with electric seat adjustment, heating and supportive bolstering.
In the second row, space is also generally good for the segment and while the rear seats are not as bolt-upright as some rivals, there is still a touch of the church pew feel when sitting in the back.
Tech highlights include an impressive Harman Kardon stereo, wireless device charging that can accommodate all but the largest phones (when in a protective case), and an information and entertainment system that’s intuitive, easy to navigate and one that presented no bugs or glitches on test.
Fully digital displays always lift the feel of a cabin and the Amarok is no exception, with the pairing of 12.3-inch driver and 12.0-inch media screens tying together the deeply impressive interior design and quality, regardless of whether you’re riding onboard the Panamericana with its more rugged Cricket leather interior, or the more elegant Aventura and its Savona trim work.
That said, it’s not a huge step down the premium experience ladder to slot into the Style, which offers the same sharp displays and an interior that appears to be as durable as it is aesthetically well executed.
Even at the entry level, you’ll still get dual digital screens, albeit in a smaller 8.0-inch driver’s display and 10.0-inch media touchscreen combination.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) has awarded the new Amarok, date stamped 2022, a maximum five-star rating.
Its Ford Ranger relative also scored the maximum number of stars as you might expect, however, thanks to a couple of extras in the Volkswagen’s credentials, the Amarok scored slightly higher in the points breakdown.
While both models scored identical numbers in child occupant protection (93%), vulnerable road user protection (74%) and safety assist (83%), the Volkswagen did a little better when it came to adult occupant protection with scores of 86 percent versus the Ford’s 84 percent.
The huge bugbear with the old Amarok was its lack of age-old fundamentals such as AEB and, as a family proposition, rear airbag coverage.
The gen-two not only amends these shortcomings, but conforms to ANCAP’s latest protocols that demand forward junction AEB and reversing AEB systems.
Further, for this new model, VW has included more than 30 new driver assistance and safety systems for the higher grade versions.
Some highlights include the addition of dynamic road sign display and speed sign recognition – a first for VW Aus – nine airbags, a predictive speed limiter, which uses the displayed speed limit to adjust cruise control, and autonomous braking with vulnerable road user detection.
The only small black mark is the inclusion of front view and 360-degree cameras from the Style grade up, although the lower-grade Core and Life do get parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
As part of the all-new model introduction, Volkswagen also reviewed and revised the Amarok’s servicing costs. And it’s good news.
For the previous-generation Amarok, servicing costs totalled $2000 over five years for four-cylinder diesel versions, while V6 diesel variants were $200 more expensive at $2200.
However, all 2023 Amaroks now have a capped price total of $1800 regardless of the variant or drivetrain.
For the five-years of coverage, fixed price and maximum savings, Amarok customers must purchase the full deal up front and while the price for individual services currently equal $1800, Volkswagen does not guarantee the prices over the five years if purchased separately.
With the new deal, the Amarok is one of the cheapest dual-cabs to maintain and is only trumped by the very price-led Chinese brands.
As for consumption, Amarok’s powertrain lineup presents combined claims of 8.0L (125kW 2.0TDI), 7.2L (154KW 2.0TDI BiTurbo) and 8.4L (184kW 3.0TDI V6) per hundred kilometres for diesels, and a 9.9L figure for the 2.3TSI turbo petrol format.
The 2023 Volkswagen Amarok could have been a victim of its predecessor’s success if it failed to adequately raise the bar, while high expectations regarding its relationship to the excellent Ford Ranger could also have been a reason for disappointment or anticlimax when it finally arrived.
Thankfully, neither have manifested.
The new model offers all of the attributes that put it on the map first time around, while the Ford connection has infused the Amarok with most of the elements that make the Ranger such a compelling proposition.
Volkswagen has taken the best in the game as its Amarok basis and gilded it with styling that your reviewer feels is less divisive and more sophisticated, one that approaches the interior with the same strategy, and one that benefits from a sharper chassis tune as the icing on the cake.
There might not be any plans to slot a Raptor-like turbo V6 petrol engine under the Amarok’s bonnet, but the likeable inline four-cylinder petrol is a good point of difference and a sporty option that the Ranger lineup doesn’t get.
There are those who will claim it is too expensive, but the pointy end Amaroks aren’t the first $70,000 to $80,000 utes offered in Australia so there’s history to suggest that Aussies are happy to outlay that kind of cash if they feel the product is worth it.
In the case of the 2023 Amarok, if you have the budget, there isn’t another one-tonner in the current market that’s easier to recommend.
The new Ford Ranger finally arrives complete with a desirable V6 turbo-diesel option. After years in the making, is this the perfect pickup for modern Australians?
Key specs (as tested)
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