If you weren’t already aware, Australian new car buyers love utes. The ute, in one form or another, has always had a place in the local market, but in recent years the category is booming, especially sales of premium dual-cab models.
Upmarket, high spec models are no longer just the domain of the successful tradesperson, they now appeal to a wide and ever increasing demographic of buyers. Clever marketing tells us utes are now a lifestyle vehicle, a car for work and family duties during the week that can also be used for weekend recreation.
The idea of a ute as a lifestyle vehicle has never sat well with me, after all, isn’t that what the SUV is meant to be? Experience tells me, utes offer plenty of versatility, but it’s versatility that comes with ride and handling compromises.
With considerable fanfare, Volkswagen has raised the stakes in the ute category. The Amarok V6 promises to bring improved levels of performance and passenger comfort, and Car Conversation has put it to the test.
At this stage, the Amarok V6 is available in two variants, TDI550 Highline and Ultimate. For this review, Volkswagen has supplied the Amarok V6 in Highline specification. It has a list price of $59,990 before on-roads are applied. The price is competitive when compared to the top spec rivals from Toyota and Ford.
In taking the time to examine the exterior design of the Amarok V6, it easily integrates into the existing Amarok lineup. It does cast an imposing shadow as a result of its size. The horizontal grille fits with the brand’s current design language. Volkswagen are aiming for an athletic and dominant appearance. That brief is easily meet and enhanced by the standard stainless steel sports bar and alloy wheels.
This ute is all about the engine. It’s what differentiates the Amarok from the Ranger and HiLux. Volkswagen has utilised a 3.0L V6 turbo diesel engine, that’s rated to produce 165kW of power and 550Nm of torque. It provides effortless performance at low revs and always feels like it has plenty of power in reserve.
It’s a remarkably quiet diesel engine, gone are the days of the loud rattles reminiscent of agricultural machinery.
Power is put down through an 8-speed automatic. It’s not one of Volkswagen’s dual-clutch units, the Amarok V6 relies on a traditional torque converter that provides smooth shifts.
When driving the Amarok V6, you do feel very high up. With an overall height of 1,878mm, the seating position is a long way off the ground. It provides a commanding view of the road but takes a little getting used to.
Make no mistake, this is a big vehicle. At 5,254mm long, it can feel enormous when trying to negotiate congested city traffic. Thankfully, nicely weighted steering helps to overcome the bulky proportions during tight manoeuvres.
There is plenty of grip courtesy of Volkswagen’s 4MOTION technology. The Amarok V6 is a permanent 4x4 setup.
The disk brakes – back and front – do a stellar job. The pedal feel is excellent and very comfortable to use. Rivals are still using old-school drums in the rear.
The most noticeable thing about the driving experience apart from the power is the level of cabin refinement. Wind and tyre noise levels are extremely low for this type of car. In fact, it puts some large SUVs to shame.
In the context of the Amarok V6 as a lifestyle vehicle, there can be some issues with the ride on a daily basis. With an empty tray at speeds above 80km an hour, the familiar bounce associated with utes like this comes into play. As a consequence of the heavy duty suspension, every miniscule bump in the road surface makes its way into the cabin. Of course, this is a problem that can be somewhat nullified with weight in the back. We loaded up 500kg in the tray and it did settle things down considerably. So for people who will utilise the rear - tradies carrying tools, camping enthusiasts or fisherman, there should be no problem.
Speaking of the tray, it’s also large and commensurate for the Amarok’s proportions. The cargo bed is 1.55 metres long and capable of accommodating a Euro pallet. It’s rated to carry a payload of 911kg. It can also tow 3000kg should the need arise.
While the Amarok V6 doesn’t exactly scream bush basher in the same way a Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series does, it comes with a long list of credentials should owners require it to perform tasks on dirt. In a very brief stint of dirt track driving, the Amarok inspires confidence that it could easily handle the rough stuff.
When sitting inside the Amarok V6, it could easily be mistaken for a family SUV. As part of the lifestyle vehicle ideology, the lines between these segments can be blurred. There are lots of fittings that are straight from Volkswagen’s passenger cars and SUVs, such as the new Tiguan, that provide a premium feeling.
There is a nice leather trimmed steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control air conditioning, frameless rearview mirror and the Discover Media infotainment system with a screen slightly over the 6-inch mark.
The infotainment system is a very comprehensive inclusion with plenty of functionality and connectivity options. All bases are covered with Bluetooth, satellite navigation and digital radio. In a great move, Volkswagen has included the App-Connect USB interface that provides standard Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink options for smartphone integration.
What did crop up throughout testing was the performance of the satellite navigation, despite looking identical to the system used in the Tiguan it was nowhere near as accurate. Perhaps an update is required.
Putting the sat nav issue to one side, the infotainment system used here is the most comprehensive and intuitive unit available in the class.
There is a clever storage solution incorporated into the top of the dash which is perfect for storing notepads and pens. It also provides a handy place to park and charge a mobile phone thanks to a built-in 12v changing point.
A real highlight was the wonderful Alcantara seat trim – an excellent alternative to traditional cloth or leather. This is a steep $1890 option, but one that adds real class and lifts the overall cabin ambience.
The level of fit and finish of the interior is excellent, nothing creaked or rattled during our week of testing. There is hard textured plastic on the top of the dash, but an effort has been made to make it look good.
Despite the blurred lines between SUV and ute, there are some notable features that are missing in a car at this price. There is no keyless entry or push button start and no rear air vents.
Safety is a real mixed bag in the Amarok V6. It comes standard with Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist and Electronic Stabilisation Program (ESP). There is also Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), Trailer Sway Stability Control (with genuine tow bar wiring kit), Multi-collision brake and Active Roll-over Prevention. Furthermore, the V6 Highline gets a reversing camera and front and rear sensors as standard kit.
The Amarok V6 does get lots of things right, however, the decision to not provide the full complement of airbags is very concerning indeed. For a car marketed as a lifestyle vehicle and suitable for family buyers, only the driver and front passenger get the protection of side (head & thorax) airbags. This isn’t a cheap car, it isn’t from a low-cost manufacturer, it’s produced by a giant multinational corporation that can't offer a legitimate reason for not offering airbag protection for rear passengers.
This test covered some 900km and returned an average consumption figure of 9.6L/100km, which is nearly 2-litres above the claimed combined diesel consumption figure of 7.9-litres for every 100km travelled. It should be stated that the majority of testing was done without weight in the back.
Ownership costs are reasonable for this type of vehicle. The Amarok V6 is covered by the Volkswagen assured service pricing for the first five years or 75,000km. The Amarok V6 requires visits to the workshop every 12 months or 15,000km at an average of $596 a throw.
Like the majority of other high spec utes, Volkswagen provides a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty along with three years of roadside assistance. Warranties of this length are no longer good enough, even in a model like this.
In the current market, this is easily the most car-like ute to drive. But potential buyers need to consider exactly what tasks the Amarok V6 will be required to undertake. It provides a driving experience that can offer an alternative to the traditional family SUV if there is weight in the back. At highway speeds, with an unladen tray, the bounce reduces its appeal as a daily driver.
The package is let down by the lack of rear airbags, though this may not be an issue for those who don’t carry rear passengers. If you fall into this category and are going to regularly carry some mass in the back, the power, comfort and refinement offered by the Amarok V6 Highline are very hard to ignore.
Volkswagen Amarok V6 Highline Specifications
Price from $59,990, plus on-road costs Engine 3.0L 6 cylinder V6 turbo diesel Power 165kW @ 2500-4500 Torque 550Nm @ 1500-2500 Transmission 8 Speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 7.8L/100km Tank Capacity 80L Performance 0-100km 7.9 seconds Length 5254mm Width 2228mm Height 1878 Wheelbase 3095 Weight Unladen 2169kg Ground Clearance 192mm Turning circle 12.95m Service Intervals 12-months or 15,000km Warranty three year/unlimited kilometre
Let’s start a Car Conversation, is the Amarok V6 the new premium ute? How do you feel about the concept of a ute as a lifestyle vehicle? What’s your take on the lack of rear airbags?
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