IN THE normal course of events I would have no hesitation of endorsing the Volkswagen Amarok as being among the very best pick-up trucks we have encountered here at Examiner Motoring.
Indeed, down the years we have had a bit of fun with pick-ups — reflecting their largely American heritage — by comparing different vehicles to various defensive heroes who were legends of American football down the years.
Thus we aligned the great New York Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko with the indestructible Toyota HiLux.
Other legends such as the Steelers’ ‘Mean’ Joe Green, or the Lions’ Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane became the human emissaries for such as the Nissan Navarra and the Mitsubishi L200. All by way of an amusing subtext to a subject matter which, for most motorists, holds little or no interest, you understand.
Having driven — and loved — the Amarok a few weeks ago, just before the whole Volkswagen emissions scandal erupted, I had even picked the former NFL star who would embody this car, changing emphasis a bit by selecting a devastating running back rather than a defensive star to fit the bill.
Sadly all notions of whimsy and humour were shattered by the revelations surrounding the giant German car-maker and its subsidiaries.
Leaving all that aside for the moment, however, the Amarok has been with us since 2010 and is, largely, built for consumers outside VW’s typical milieu. It is manufactured in Argentina for sale mainly throughout South America, Central America, the USA, Russia, South Africa, and Oceania, with Europe tacked on as a sort of afterthought.
But there is a small yet active market for pick-ups in this part of the world and while the Japanese have dominated the segment for many years, the likes of Ford (unsurprisingly, given the pick-up’s place in American motoring lore) has also pedalled a number of these things reasonably successfully here in Ireland.
I’ve never driven the Amarok (it means “wolf” in Inuit, apparently) here before and I have to say it was something of a shock to see it in the flesh.
For a start it is absolutely huge, monstrous even. The double cab layout with the flat back rear end has been seen in relatively compact formats elsewhere, but definitely not here. I’m not sure whether VW has tuned in to the American “big is best” zeitgeist in its thinking, but if they haven’t, then they’ve not left much to chance and the result will certainly please any yee-haws this side of Monument Valley.
In one way the Amarok — the one we drove was badged in Atacama trim, but I’m not sure exactly what that is — is a very traditional body-on-frame 4x4 truck. This fact, along with stuff like the solid leaf-spring rear axle make the thing something of an engineering neanderthal.
However, aside perhaps from some of the latest things from Land Rover, it is entirely typical of the breed and will not, therefore, displease many of the punters who might buy it.
So it is big, rugged and entirely old-fashioned as an engineering project, but that is good, because you’d have to expect that in a dozen or so years it will still be doing exactly the things it was designed to do — like fording rivers, climbing mountains, traversing marshes, and so forth.
Its hairy-chestedness is very much a badge of pride and will appeal very much to that coterie of owners who aspire to such things.
On the technical side, there is in place mechanical locks on the centre and rear differentials, a low range gearbox (which can be easily chosen thanks to a simple switch on the centre console) and these things, allied to the standard traction control system, means that it will handle pretty much anything you can throw at it.
While making the Amarok as robust as possible, VW has, in fairness, upped the ante in terms of the interior of this beast, which is far from the utilitarian norm for the segment.
Indeed there is far more of a road car feel to this machine than can be seen in any of its rivals and the manner in which the cockpit is laid out will feel very familiar to pretty much any driver, rather than simply a pick-up driver. Some of the plastics are of a more rugged variety, but not to the extent that they yell “building site” or “farmyard” at you.
On the engine front, the VW has one of the smaller units available in this class — it is only a two litre turbodiesel — but it is fitted with twin turbos which boost output to 132kW (180bhp) and provides a massive 420Nm of torque, which is just the trick for hauling, say, a felled oak around the place.
That said — and despite the relatively ancient suspension configuration — the Amarok drives really well on the road and it is far from the roly-poly experience some of these things deliver. Sure, it is designed primarily to take on stuff a bit more challenging than the M8, but on-road it delivers a perfectly acceptable feel without leaving you feeling in need of specialist training.
Further comfort can be derived from the standard kit which includes such non-4x4 stuff such as sat nav, cruise control, air con, automatic lights and wipers and front and rear parking sensors.
Of course you do get practical things like the massive mud flaps, huge side bars, heated washer nozzles, but by and large the VW is a lot more sophisticated than you’d think.
Thing is though — and this goes for every single VW on sale right now — how many people will actually want to buy one now that the company’s duplicity has been fully exposed and the bond of trust with buyers shattered, is a very open question. Only time will tell on that front.
What I can tell you is that this is most certainly as good if not better than anything else out there in this segment and demonstrated to me the sort of characteristics necessary to appeal to the lumberjack/farmer/builder that will want one.
And so, which NFL great does it bring to mind? Pittsburgh Steelers’ legendary running back Jerome Bettis.
Bettis was not nicknamed ‘The Bus’ for nothing, as anyone who got in his way usually got trampled and mauled in short order. You would not have wanted to stand in front of ‘The Bus’ at full tilt. The same applies to the Amarok.
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