Overall rating: 4/5
The Amarok is Volkswagen's first foray into the utility pick-up market and already it's battling with the Toyota Hilux as the truck of choice, certainly amongst those that buy for use on the road rather than as a workhorse. Now there's an automatic version. We drove it on road and over a rather extreme off-road course.
In the Metal:
There's little to report in terms of appearance of the new automatic Amarok, as the only visible change is to the central console, where you'll find an automatic gear lever in place of the usual chunky manual stick. That means a thoroughly modern exterior with an expressive Volkswagen front end and a less distinctive rear, though that is as capacious as ever.
The automatic gearbox is only available on the Double Cab body style for now, reflecting the likelihood that it'll be bought by owners that use their cars to carry people more than big loads.
Volkswagen created an off-road course in dusty Spanish countryside for us to test the pick-up's mettle and it also gave us the opportunity to try the manual Amarok against the automatic in extreme conditions. This was no Mickey Mouse course either. I'd struggle to walk up or down some of the inclines. The Amarok had no issues. Admittedly we had to use its full array of off-road functions to keep going, including the centre locking differential and the highly effective hill descent system.
Both auto and manual trucks managed the course, but the former made the experience much easier, despite the lack of engine braking and a low transfer gearbox. Off-road enthusiasts may relish the challenge using the manual transmission brings, but most buyers will appreciate how easy the automatic makes things.
On the road, the automatic option makes even more sense. It's quick shifting and smooth, suiting the low-down performance of the bi-turbo TDI engine. If you really feel the need you can put it into Sport mode or take over changing gear for yourself by flicking the lever back and forth. Other than preparing to overtake slower traffic there's little use for this.
For the record, the Amarok's chassis shone on twisty mountain roads, with good body control and decent damping. It changes direction eagerly enough too. Only when we returned to choppier urban roads did the inherent weakness of the ladder frame construction rear its head in terms of a bouncy ride.
What you get for your Money:
Pricing has yet to be set for the automatic gearbox, but it's likely to be an option worth between €2,500 and €3,000. Unfortunately it won't be offered with all engine outputs, just the top 180hp biTDI unit as tested. Volkswagen Ireland is still negotiating with Germany on the price, but we reckon it'll have to start at less than €40,000.
Volkswagen is the first pick-up manufacturer to fit an eight-speed automatic to its truck. One of the most impressive aspects of it is that it makes the Amarok more fuel efficient. Eighth gear is referred to as an overdrive gear for cruising, while it also features a hydraulic reservoir to keep oil pressure stable while the stop-start system is deployed. A BlueMotion Technology version of the Amarok with the automatic gearbox will be offered boasting emissions of just 199g/km and even lower fuel consumption than the version tested.
First gear is especially low, and it is likely to be selected only while carrying out off-road manoeuvres or towing. Indeed, the towing capacity of the Amarok rises to 3,200kg when fitted with the automatic gearbox - up 200kg.
Volkswagen Ireland expects about a quarter of Amarok buyers to opt for the automatic transmission. Enhanced efficiency and increased towing capacity are major plus points of this gearbox, and it's also just as capable off-road. There's little reason not to go for the automatic if it's within budget.