Blog: VW's You-Beaut Ute
Glenn Brooks | 25 May 2011
Field work in the grounds of Chavenage House
Where I come from, saloons are sedans, estates are station wagons, pick-ups are utes and VWs were once called dak-daks. Well, the Beetle and Kombi were, at least. But those days are long gone. Pronouncing it FOLKS-vah-gern as years of consistent ad messaging has inspired middle England to now do, is somehow strange to me. No matter. But how do any of us say the name of that ladder-frame pick-up, the Amarok?
According to the press team at VW GB, who set up a drive event earlier today at a country house not too far from Charles and Camilla's official digs, it's AMMA-rock. As I've got a damaged shoulder just now, I'm not allowed to drive much. Throwing a two-tonne 4x4 ute around a field would be verboten, for sure. So I rode shotgun, climbed down and out to take pics as well as open and shut gates, while an off-road specialist piloted the controls. I have to say, I came away impressed.
Let's talk tech. The 4x4/ABS/ESP system is supremely clever: this was my first experience of a cable-less throttle connection that allows a vehicle placed in neutral to inch up a slope simply by touching the right pedal. No need for the fast one-two gearchange to prevent a roll-back or a stall, plus there's a hillholder system. I watched pedals and gearlever, in amazement. As the brow was crested, automatic cadence braking took control and maintained a steady, serene descent on a steep section. For those of you who might be interested, the lock-up diff is supplied by AAM (American Axle & Manufacturing).
Like most of its rivals, the Amarok has a leaf-sprung rear end and drum brakes. And yet poised in the passenger seat as I was, the thing rode with aplomb and a couple of demonstration emergency stops saw not even a hint of axle tramp or sway.
In Europe, this is a big vehicle for the class and I also now get why VW of America won't be selling it. In the US, it would be caught between the Toyota Tacoma and the full-sized Tundra, never mind being eaten alive by the inexpensive, larger and big-engined Ford F-150 or GM's Silverado and Sierra twins. The Amarok offers only a 2.0-litre diesel with one or two turbochargers. There is no petrol engine.
Inside, the usual VW softish-stylish plastics are missing but that's not to say it's like an '80s Golf or the cheap but decidedly cheerless Fox minicar. No, more like North America's 2011 Jetta - built to a price, and half a step down from European-made VWs. It also looks like it has been made to last, so I know why the Aussies are falling for it - for a ute with a European badge, that's a breakthrough. Maybe the Hilux has got itself a proper rival down under at long last. Australia is probably the largest global market for pick-ups of this size and until now, there hasn't been one vehicle that combines the panache of a near-premium badge with Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi or Isuzu indestructibility.
The Pacheco plant in Argentina has been building the Amarok for all global markets since early 2010. You'll be out of luck trying to get an Amarok in Canada or the US, but elsewhere in the Americas, VW's Mexican and Brazilian dealers will happily sell you one.
Here in the UK, as posh as a VW badge almost is, this is not a vehicle in which to arrive at the Dorchester. To be fair, nor is the importer charging Park Lane postcode prices for the Amarok. Underlining that, the bed-liner is of the spray-in kind but there's the option of an anti-chemical coating to protect it. From what, London rain? Its looks might be caught between the farmhouse and the mews house, but this truck would be perfect for shielding its occupants from the UK capital's many diabolically potholed roads.
Britain won't be a major market for the Amarok but it could well be one of the largest in Europe, thanks to the peculiarities of a system which classifies certain one-tonne pick-ups as tax-exempt.
On balance, this is already becoming an important model for the VW brand globally and maybe even soon, regionally. And yet, not even Volkswagen, with all its riches, could justify developing RPU, presently a bespoke platform, for just one vehicle, made in one plant. I would guess that single cabs, an auto gearbox, a petrol engine and maybe even an SUV-style derivative are on the way.
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