Good: seamless shifting auto, interior fitment comparable to posh off-roader, hugely spacious interior
Not so good: leaf spring suspension not the most comfortable, engine obviously from the commercial division, it is 17-foot long!
As a team, CompleteCar.ie spends an inordinate amount of time driving energy efficient, low cost diesel powered cars and SUVs. We are not complaining; it is what the market dictates and we are only too happy to oblige in that regards, but every once in a while you need to get you Bear Grylls on and feel a little more rugged, a little more manly.
We could all grow beards and not shower for a week but our better halves would not allow that so we have to find our manliness in the world of automotive and for the Irish market there is little more rugged and manly than the Volkswagen Amarok. Even its name is manly (meaning wolf in Inuit) and frankly nothing says "I could drink my own urine if I wanted to" than a vehicle that is 17-foot long, over six-foot tall and has a payload of 1,141kg. Yeah we have no idea whether that is good or not but it certainly sounds impressive, as too does a towing capacity of 3,200kg.
That towing capacity is only available with the eight-speed automatic version of the Amarok; its six-speed manual brother can 'only' manage 3,000kg, but any loss of testosterone resulting from not shifting your own gears is made up for by the fact that the auto box is only available with the higher powered version of the 2.0-litre bi-turbo TDI engine, meaning 180- rather than 163hp. Seems Volkswagen's commercial division subscribes to the Tim 'The Toolman' Taylor ideal of "more power".
The engine itself is from Volkswagen's commercial rather than passenger division and feels a little agricultural on the move; rattling and not offering the low down torque one expects of Volkswagen's diesel units. This is despite the fact that the engine packs a pair of turbochargers to counteract just this problem - the first smaller turbo taking its time in spooling up. The problem is exacerbated by the first of the eight gears being designed for towing and being particularly low. Thankfully the brains for the transmission have been tuned to account for this so you do not hang around in first gear for too long. The box shifts seamlessly through the rest of the ratios too making for a relaxing drive. Eighth speed is an overdrive gear specifically designed for cruising and goes some way to accounting for the Amarok's 7.6 litres/100km (37.2mpg) fuel consumption, which is better than the lower powered version fitted with a manual six-shifter.
If it sounds like I am unfavourably comparing the Amarok pick-up truck - a no nonsense commercial vehicle - to a passenger SUV then it is Volkswagen's fault. For all its rugged appeal, versatility and off road ability (as Shane discovered when he tested it) the Amarok features a cabin so well put together and laid out that it is almost comparable to a mid-spec Touareg. Sure, some of the niceties like leather seats and parking sensors are missing from the specification sheet of this Highline test model, but other than that it may as well be a slightly less-well equipped posh off-roader. This is underlined by the fact that the eight-speed auto box is only available with the double-cab body; Volkswagen is clearly planning on selling more to buyers who need to transport people rather than stuff. In fact, order your Amarok with a hard top canopy and you have a capable five-seater (and that is five full-sized adults) with a huge boot. The leaf-spring suspension (created just after Adam and Eve) does mean that the big wolf does not ride as well as a Touareg, but the passenger SUV is not as capable off-road as the Amarok, which features selectable four-wheel drive along with mechanical locks on the centre and rear differentials. It certainly made short work of my Bog of Allen off-road course.