VW Amarok | Make it a single, please


VW Amarok

Volkwagen’s Amarok single-cab is here. But how will it do in a market that is already flooded with bakkie brands, Jaco Kirsten wonders.

Did you know that South Africa is considered to be the world’s biggest and most important market for single-cab bakkies? It explains why Volkswagen’s recent launch of the Amarok single-cab in the Eastern Cape also happened to be the international launch.

What makes the Amarok single-cab unique?

For starters, it is VW’s first 1-tonne bakkie. Well, strictly speaking it’s a 1.25-tonne bakkie in the 90 kW version and 1.35 tonne in the 120 kW model, but you get the idea. This means it has the biggest load-carrying capacity and load-bay dimensions in the market. 

It is also mechanically identical to the Amarok double-cab – and that includes the 4×4 electronics of the range toppers. The range is available in 4×2 and 4×4 models, but we’ll only focus on the 4×4 models. 

The 4×4’s with the 90 kW engine are available in either the entry-level Basic model, or the more expensive Trendline, while the 120 kW bakkie is only available as a Trendline.

What goes on beneath the hood?

By now, most people know that the Amarok’s 2-litre twin-turbo diesel is available in two power outputs – 90 kW and 340 Nm or 120 kW and 400 Nm. Later this year a 2-litre turbocharged petrol engine will be added to the range, but for now the choice is limited to the two diesels.

The competitors of the Amarok single-cab 4×4 are the Toyota Hilux 2.5 D-4D SRX 4×4 single-cab (75 kW and 260 Nm) and the 3.0 D-4D Raider 4×4 single-cab (120 kW and 343 Nm); the Isuzu KB250 D-Teq 4×4 (85 kW and 280 Nm); the Ford Ranger 2.5TD Base 4×4 (80 kW and 257 Nm) and the Land Rover Defender High-Capacity Pickup (90 kW and 360 Nm).

The Amarok clearly develops enough power when compared to its competitors. Well, on paper at least. When driving, this has to be qualified, but more about that later. Moreover, VW “prefers” that you fill up with low-sulphur 50 ppm diesel with this advanced engine with its high-pressure piezo injectors. How will the engine do after 100 000km with our diesel?

How is it equipped inside and outside?

VW Amarok

Apart from the absence of rear seats, it’s identical to the double-cab with the same sedan-like equipment levels. The same sound system. In fact, unless you’re married to Imelda Marcos, there’s enough space behind the front seats to stow away two weekend bags and maybe two cases of non-alcoholic beer.

Now and then you have to remind yourself that you’re driving a bakkie. The switchgear are all standard VW fare and if you know a Polo, Golf or Jetta it would almost feel like a parallel universe – one with a huge load bay and four-wheel drive.

The switches – on both sides of the gear lever – that activate high- as well as low-range and the rear diff lock, took a short while to get used to for someone who’s used to other bakkies, but once you’ve twigged that some need to be depressed for a second or two before they obey a command, it’s actually pretty straight forward.

The other novelty for a bakkie is a steering column that is adjustable in height and reach. With the comfortable seats this means a bakkie that can comfortably devour long distances.

The huge load bay also impressed us. At the launch, the men of VW loaded a 700kg pallet of cement bags onto the back of our vehicles. The only problem I could see is that there aren’t any loops or hooks on the sides of the load bay. Yes, there are a few D-rings on the floor, but that isn’t really the same, is it?

VW Amarok

How does it go off-road?

The ride was quite comfortable, although the cement on the back made it hard to judge how it would feel with less weight. Given the load-carrying capacity we suspect that it wouldn’t be super plush. But harder than a Hilux? Probably not.

The more upmarket Amaroks also have electronic traction control – in addition to a rear diff lock. In low-range certain electronics come into play. For example, the engine management automatically adapts the idling speed so that the engine doesn’t stall over rough terrain, steep inclines included. It is also supposed to brake individual wheels that lose traction.

Well, that’s the theory. On an uphill section with loose rock here and there the Amarok at one stage stood still with wheels spinning slowly, but helplessly. The only solution was to stop, engage the rear diff (this also automatically disables the electronic nanny) so you can drive out yourself, using common sense.

One doesn’t want to split hairs, because the point remains that it has electronic aids its competitors can only dream about. What did bother was the 90 kW engine’s lack of low-down grunt. Combined with a clutch that grabbed very suddenly, similar to an “on/off” switch, it meant that a very experienced colleague and I often stalled the Amarok when pulling away.

Towards the end it did improve a bit, but the fact remains that a 2litre turbodiesel will behave differently at low engine speeds to a 3litre engine. The 120 kW version of the same engine was obviously a different kettle of fish, but its smaller displacement still remains a shortcoming.

Then there’s the ground clearance. Volkswagen claims 249mm for the 4Motion models. It looked suspicious, because the belly, between the front wheels, is obviously lower. So I perused the spec sheet and saw that it is “measured between the front and rear axle”. Hmm, jawellnofine.

VW Amarok

How does it go on-road?

The ride is so comfortable that I suspect many of these “workhorses” will be confiscated for exclusive use of the boss. The 90 kW version is honest, rather than spectacular, but in all fairness you need to add that it competes against the 2.5 D-4D Hilux and Isuzu KB 250 D-Teq. Then you realise that it actually offers a lot more than what you might have given it credit for. Yes, the 340 Nm torque is only available at high engine speeds, but if you use the gears it positively thumps its competitors.

The 120 kW version is very comfortable at 150 km/h – provided you are willing to play with the gear lever. Passing other vehicles sometimes required revving it past 4 000 r/min (where peak power is produced), but the 600kg on the back probably also played a part.

The handling was exceptional, whether you were doing 160 km/h in cross winds or entered a 80km/h sweep at 120 km/h. It also scores points for being the only single-cab on the market with ESP (electronic stability control) as optional extra. And that alone is quite something. The launch bakkies were all fitted with Goodyear Wrangler AT/SA 265/65/R16’s, so it’s hard to judge how they’ve improved handling over the standard 245/70 R16’s.


The Amarok is the hands-down winner in terms of luxury in the single-cab (and make that double-cab as well) market and will give the Hilux a run for its money in the recreational market. 

Look at the prices: The 90 kW Amarok 4×4 costs R257 400 (Basic) and R313 700 (Trendline) against the Hilux 2.5 D-4D SRX 4×4’s R287 900. Bear in mind how Spartan the SRX’s spec levels and performance (75 kW and 260 Nm) are. If you look at the range-topping Amarok, the 120 kW 2.0 BiTDI 4Motion’s price of R335 000 compares favourably with that of the Hilux D-4D 4×4 Raider’s R331 700. 

Moreover, the Amarok is rated to tow a braked 2.8 ton trailer, compared to the Hilux that is
rated to 1.5 ton. So is the Amarok better? Well, it is more luxurious and offers more equipment than the Hilux. So if you ignore the engine, it is indeed clearly a better proposition. But remember that the Hilux’s power and torque are available at lower engine speeds. And it’s here that the Amarok is found slightly wanting in off-road conditions.

VW Amarok

Key stats

2.0 TDI 90 kW 2.0 BiTDI 120 kW

Engine: 1968 cc; four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel with intercooler

Power: 90 kW @ 3 750 r/min 120 kW @ 4 000 r/min

Torque: 340 @ 1750 – 2250 r/min 400 @ 1500 – 2000 r/min

Top speed: 160 km/h 180 km/h

0-100 km/h: 13.4 sec 10.8 sec

Transmission: 6-speed manual, part-time 4×4, high and low-range, electronic traction control, rear diff lock

Suspension: Double wishbones front, solid axle with leaf springs rear

Brakes: Discs front, drums rear

Tyres: 245/70 R16C

Ground clearance: 249 mm

Approach angle: 28º

Departure angle: 23.6º

Wading depth: 500 mm 

Weight: 1805 kg 1815kg

Fuel tank: 80 litre

Fuel consumption: 7.6 litre/100km 7.9 litre/100km

Warranty/maintenance plan: 3 year or 100 000km/ 5 year or 90 000km

Service interval: 15 000 km

Price: R257 400 (Basic); R313 700 (Trendline) R335000

Drive Out says:

The Amarok double-cab sells very well locally and the single-cab will undoubtedly follow suit. If the engine of the Amarok fulfils the long-term expectations of its owners, it will turn out to be a very good vehicle.

VW Amarok