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In South Africa bakkies tread a very thin line between commercial vehicles and passenger cars. The problem is that most of these vehicles have commercial vehicle roots and using them as everyday runabouts has its drawbacks. Reuben van Niekerk reports
Bakkies are often not comfortable vehicles since their suspension setups are designed to carry loads while interiors are styled for durability rather than opulence.
But, when Volkswagen launched its Amarok in 2010, things changed. The interior of the original model was car-like and, for a bakkie, the level of equipment was class leading. Dynamically, the vehicle set a benchmark for SUV-like ride quality.
The Amarok was all set to take the bakkie market by storm – but it didn’t. Though always a good seller, the model was never able to reach volume levels attained by segment leaders Toyota and Ford.
Powered by a range of 2,0-litre engines perceived as too small for a bakkie, the model faced criticism from the public. Traditional purchasers tended to shun the downsizing argument, adhering to the mantra: “There is no replacement for displacement.”
Now, seven years on, Volkswagen has finally listened to the complaints and the Amarok has been fitted with a 3,0-litre V6 165kW TDI engine. Additional features include a new interior and the latest in-car infotainment systems as well as additional safety and technology elements.
This is the only six-cylinder engine in the segment and it delivers 165kW of power and 550Nm of torque, which is then channelled through an eight-speed automatic gearbox to all wheels. The unit enables the bakkie to reach a top speed of 193km/h and complete the 0 to 100km/h sprint in 8,0 seconds.
The engine has been sourced from Audi, which means that it is extremely refined in its operation, and the Amarok V6 offers smooth, powerful acceleration all the way through the rev range.
From the outside the new model distinguishes itself from the previous generation thanks to a redesigned front bumper which incorporates fog lights and a new radiator grille. Wheels are uniquely distinctive while, at the rear, a high-level third brake light incorporates LED technology.
Aligned with the look of the rest of Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle family, horizontal lines dominate the Amarok’s front end, with much cleaner angled folds and edges.
Inside sees a new dashboard design incorporating the brand’s modular infotainment system with touchscreen radio, App-Connect, Bluetooth and USB interface.
The 4Motion all-wheel drive system remains a marvel. Pressing a single button changes the characteristics of the vehicle so that it is ready to hit the dirt. The Amarok is also still the only vehicle in the segment to offer off-road ABS – something that could mean the difference between missing a Kudu in the bush and creating road kill.
The drivetrains of all three engine derivatives in the range include an electronic differential lock. Also available is a mechanical rear-axle differential lock for demanding off-road use.
In all operating conditions, a torque-sensing, central Torsen differential ensures optimum distribution of engine output between front and rear axles to promote excellent driving dynamics on the road and high levels of traction in off-road applications.
Volkswagen has further shunned the Amarok’s commercial vehicle roots by announcing that the range no longer includes single cab versions. Instead, the vehicle’s focus is on the double cab market, with a variety of engine and specification grades.
The Trendline equipment trim level has been replaced by an upgraded equivalent, Comfortline, which offers additional standard features. Highline plus has been added to the model line-up for customers looking for more top-end convenience, while Extreme replaces Ultimate in top of the range derivatives.
Under the skin, the Amarok’s running gear has not been fundamentally changed from that of previous generations. The baseline derivative is powered by a 2,0-litre TDI engine that produces 103kW. Drive is through is a six-speed manual gearbox with the option of permanent 4Motion four-wheel or two-wheel-drive systems.
Also carried over from the previous model range is the tried and tested 2,0-litre bi-turbo TDi engine which delivers 132kW. The unit is offered with a choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. Customers have an option of selectable 4Motion on derivatives with manual transmission and permanent 4Motion on automatic transmission variants.
There is no denying the practicality of a bakkie, especially for people who enjoy outdoor activities over weekends. But why pay the price of being stuck in an uncomfortable vehicle all week? In my view, the new Amarok overcomes that problem.
The Amarok model range comes standard with a 3 year/100 000km manufacturer warranty, 5 year/90 000 km Automotion Service Plan. However fleet managers will be able to customise this Automotion plan according to their time or distance requirements.