The tightly contested lifestyle bakkie market is set for a shake-up with the facelifted Volkswagen Amarok due for launch in South Africa soon. The flagship version will be powered by a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel motor and Volkswagen SA has confirmed that both the 165 kW and 150 kW versions will be offered locally.
By Shane O' Donoghue
The facelifted Volkswagen Amarok range is launching in South Africa soon and given the introductions of the all-new Toyota Hilux, updated Ford Ranger, Fiat Fullback, Isuzu KB facelift, new Mitsubishi Triton and the imminent arrival of the Nissan Navara, a refreshment of the Wolfsburg-based brand's bakkie seems quite timely.
In September 2016, it was confirmed to Cars.co.za that the 3.0-litre unit, which is also found in the Volkswagen Touareg (though tweaked for the Amarok) would be offered with outputs of 150 kW and 500 Nm of torque. Moreover, it's been reported (and confirmed) that the V6 motor will feature an overboost function, which will increase the power and torque outputs by 15 kW and 30 N.m respectively for bursts of up to 10 seconds at a time.
Now, Volkswagen SA has confirmed that the high-powered Amarok 3.0-litre V6 TDI with 165 kW and 550 Nm of torque will also make its way to the local market. The current 2.0-litre turbodiesel and 2.0-litre twin turbodiesel engines are expected to be offered as well.
What's the 165 kW 3.0-litre V6 Amarok like to drive? Take a look at our First Drive report below for all the details!
We were afforded an opportunity to test the more powerful 165 kW version of the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel derivative in Europe. Aesthetically, there are modest design changes on the outside, including a more stylised front grille and copious use of the new "V6" badge. New colour and wheel options are the biggest news, including 20-inch rims, though obviously you won't be going for those if you plan on using your bakkie off the beaten track.
Will the arrival of the V6-engined Amarok finally appease those who doubt the Volkswagen's off-road credentials?
They come as standard on the European launch model (yet to be confirmed for South Africa) called the Amarok Aventura, along with bi-Xenon headlights and LEDs for the daytime running lights, rear licence plate and side sills under the doors. It also features a body-coloured "sports bar" that visually extends the double-cab giving the Amarok an even more distinct look. Volkswagen has also unveiled a distinctive Amarok Canyon special edition, with more sensibly proportioned 17-inch alloy wheels and lots of distinctive black detailing inside and out.
It's inside the cabin where most of the changes for the 2017 model can be seen, as it's closer to the Volkswagen Touareg in design and execution than ever before, lifting the Amarok above the more workmanlike bakkies in the market. Obviously, it will depend on which spec level you opt for, but all versions feature a redesigned dashboard with upgraded infotainment. The highest spec versions even come with a colour 3D display between the speedo and the tacho, complementing a larger touchscreen system in the middle of the car with the latest satnav software. As expected, this system now comes with smartphone integration through a USB connection and enhanced voice activation.
A subtly reshaped fascia and application of metallic-look trim has given the Amarok's cabin quite a lift.
SUV-rivalling interior comfort and build quality
Those in the back are well-catered for, as ever, with plenty of space and wide opening doors to aid access when wearing bulky work clothes, for example. Not that you'll want dirty workmen soiling the Nappa leather upholstery of the top-spec Amaroks. That leather clothes a pair of new 'ergoComfort' seats up front that have 14-way electric adjustment. Apparently, they've been awarded the ‘AGR’ seal of approval by the Healthy Back Campaign (Aktion Gesunder Rücken e.V.) and we certainly found them comfortable in our time in the car. Adding further to comfort is a neat new system that uses the hands-free microphone to amplify the driver's voice through the speakers in the back of the Amarok's cabin so that rear passengers can hear them better at all speeds.
Theoretically, the driver should have less shouting to do in any case, as a V6 engine is always smoother and more refined than an inline-four.
Sourced from the Volkswagen Group, the tried-and-tested V6 turbodiesel is smoother than its inline-4 siblings.
In the case of the 165 kW version we drove, the peak power output is far above average in the bakkie segment, but it's the 550 Nm of torque that drivers will find most useful. That's some 130 Nm more than the previous 2.0-litre could muster and what's more, it's available from just 1 500 rpm. The delivery of that performance is far more satisfying than before as well, and while Volkswagen quotes a top speed of 193 kph and a useful 0-100kph time of 7.9 seconds, it's the increased towing capability that'll catch the eye of the lifestyle set (frequent towers) – it can haul up to 3 500 kg depending on specification.
The larger capacity and increased torque have also allowed Volkswagen to tweak the transmissions. A six-speed manual is standard, with regular rear-wheel drive or selectable four-wheel drive and there's a smooth 8-speed automatic on the options list with 4Motion permanent 4-wheel drive and a Torsen centre differential to apportion the engine output – with paddle shifts on the multifunction steering wheel if you're so inclined.
Volkswagen was eager to demonstrate that its V6 turbodiesel-engined Amarok sports good axle articulation.
Both transmissions have higher top gears to reduce fuel consumption and noise levels on the highway. The 165kW model, fitted with the automatic gearbox, emits 199g/km carbon dioxide and uses 7.6 litres/100 km on the combined cycle. We tested the auto and it's silky smooth, helping give the Amarok a grown up SUV feel rather than that of a working bakkie.
Nonetheless, it didn't shy away from a challenging off-road course, even on road-biased tyres. The bigger engine made meting out the power smoothly a cinch, which is further helped by the Amarok's off-road mode, as that alters the throttle calibration. The hill descent control function also kicks in automatically to control steep descents while you steer.
To that end, there's a new Servotronic power steering system too, which has just the right weighting and directness for the Amarok, making it feel wieldy despite the large dimensions. The only section we had to put effort into was that involving wet logs, as the road tyres were caked in mud at this stage and struggled to find purchase.
Back on the road, the new steering system helps the Amarok give the impression it's more of a family SUV than an off-roading bakkie.
The updated Amarok, especially in 3.0 V6 TDI guise, feels more like an SUV than a bakkie.
The Amarok remains one of the most refined vehicles in the class and, at least in Europe, Volkswagen admits that it's seeing growth from the leisure market rather than commercial buyers for its offering. Cleverly, that new V6 engine appeals to both sides and goes a long way in appeasing those who have believed (especially in the very traditionalist off-roading fraternity) that the 2.0-litre motor precludes the Volkswagen from being a robust lifestyle vehicle.
Nonetheless, until Mercedes-Benz avails its eagerly awaited double-cab offering, no other bakkie comes with such an alluring badge on the bonnet, but thankfully the Amarok does not only trade on its just image. The new engine is smoother, more powerful, torquier and more efficient more of the time than the plucky 4-cylinder turbodiesel. As we said at the start, bigger really is better. Unfortunately, the V6 TDI derivative(s) will only be added to the South African market later in 2017, in other words, after the facelifted range has been introduced. Will it be worth the wait? Depending on price (of course), we bet it will.
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