Old School Rok - Volkswagen Amarok V6 Review


It’s been a long time coming, but the Amarok V6 manual – complete with dual-range gearing – is finally here

The Amarok V6 arrived here in December 2016, but only with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a single-range full-time 4x4 system.

At the time, Volkswagen Australia said a V6 with a manual gearbox and dual-range part-time 4x4 was just 12 months away. As it has turned out, the V6 manual took more than three years to arrive. And while the V6 automatic comes in everything from farm stripped to Toorak fleshed out, and with two different engine tunes (550Nm and 580Nm), the manual only comes in base spec with two same-price ($49,590 plus orc.) variants, the Core and the Core Enduro.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

The Australian Amarok V6 manual is unique as it gets its own engine tune not available elsewhere in the world, where the manual gearbox is mated at best to a 150kW variant of this now long-serving and widely used (inc. Porsche and Audi)VW-family 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6.

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Here, we get a 165kW version of the engine, complete with the over-boost function that bumps the power up to a very healthy 180kW. The overboost function comes into play between 50km/h and 120km/h but can extend to 140km/h and ramp-ups from 70 per cent throttle, and is fully available at 95 per cent throttle and beyond.

If all that sounds a bit erratic, it’s not, as this engine delivers seamless power regardless of gear or throttle openings and offers superb in-gear flexibility, where all 500Nm of torque is available from just 1,250rpm and remains undiminished until 3,000rpm, or 3,500rpm under overboost conditions. This flat torque line gives a perfectly linear power progression throughout the normal and commonly used operating speeds of the engine.

The six-speed manual is geared to give around 60km/h/1,000rpm top gear, which has the engine loping along under 1,700rpm at legal highway speeds. But such is the engine’s torque at low revs that it will comfortably carry top gear on highway hills, even if relatively steep.

At the same time this is also a fast ute – pedal to the metal – off the back of its 180kW, which is available when you want it most, namely when overtaking. All the while the engine is relatively smooth and refined, although not as quiet as some of the more recent-design diesels.

For its part, the gearbox has a light action but could be a slicker and quicker in the low-gear changes. Not a deal breaker, as the engine’s flexibility means less shifting anyway, but the box isn’t as sweet as it could be.

While top is tall and relaxed, first gear is sufficiency low to provide a nicely slow, idle-speed, no-throttle crawl with good stall resistance, which means you’re not looking for low-range as soon as you head off road. What the farmers might call "a good paddock gear".

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Interestingly, while the manual’s official ADR fuel consumption is notably poorer than the automatic, on the road the manual proved to be more economical than the automatic, which we have driven and tested on numerous occasions. For easy highway driving the manual uses less than 9L/100km while our overage test average of 10.3L/100km is 12 to 15 per cent better than what we have typically achieved with the automatic in the past.

ON-ROAD DYNAMICS

Compared to the automatic V6, the manual’s on-road dynamics are the same but also very different. You get the same agile and nippy feel through the wonderfully connected steering combined with stability and poise thanks to the well-sorted front to rear suspension match. Utes shouldn’t be this good.

But with the manual you also get part-time 4x4, which means rear-drive only on the road, so a significant downgrade from the automatic’s full-time 4x4 in terms of safety, driveability and convenience under more demanding driving conditions.

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Wet roads and constantly changing road surfaces is where the disadvantage is most felt, but for dry-weather bitumen and easier driving conditions the playing field levels out.

OFF ROAD

Given the manual comes with dual-range gearing and the automatic is single-range only, you would expect that off-road conditions would provide the manual with the knock-out blow against the automatic if this was a contest between the two. But the decision is not that clear cut.

While both the manual and the automatic Amarok V6s have driver-switched rear lockers, engaging the locker on the manual cancels the electronic traction control (ETC) on both axles. With the automatic, when the rear locker is engaged the ETC stays active on the front axle, which gives an advantage on gnarly climbs and the like, and something that we have previously found with the manual and automatic variants of the four-cylinder Amarok.

 

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That aside, all Amaroks do well off-road thanks to their generous wheel travel that puts them well ahead of most utes on the market and in the same league as the standard setting Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger when it comes to off-road performance. With good wheel travel there’s less reliance on ETC and diff locks, it’s as simple as that.

Where the manual Amarok V6 will shine compared to the automatic V6 off-road is for towing camper trailers and the like, especially in steep country, and or on sand or soft-surfaced tracks. With an excellent low-range reduction of 2.72:1, the V6 manual’s crawl ratio is also a class-leading 51:1.

Being a Core model also means the off-road practicality of 17-inch (43.2cm) wheels, the smallest wheel that the V6 will take given the V6 gets bigger brakes than four-cylinder Amaroks and won’t take 16s. The standard-fitment light-truck all-terrain Michelins are another practical touch for straight-out-of-the-showroom off-road use.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

The V6 manual only comes in base ‘Core’ specification, which means rubber floors rather than carpets and the deletion of two of the 12-volt outlets in the cabin, including the handy one on the dash shelf.

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There’s no smart-key entry either, nor is there any embed sat-nav (see ‘What You Get’ sidebar) but like all Amaroks you still get a big, well-finished and nicely detailed cabin. You also get tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment; a welcome but still uncommon ute feature. The Amarok’s seats are also notably comfortable and the driving position excellent while the rear seat is class-leading for width even if the combined front and rear legroom isn’t as good as Ranger or Mazda’s BT-50. The Amarok gained five stars under the ANCAP safety system when tested years back but wouldn’t get that in 2020 given it lacks rear cabin airbags and doesn’t have any high-end safety features such as automatic emergency braking.

PRACTICALITIES

The manual V6’s maximum tow rating is 3,000kg, which is 500kg less than the automatic. This is due to a reduction in the Gross Combined Mass (GCM) from 6,000kg for the automatic to 5,550kg for the manual.

This doesn’t affect the maximum payload rating, which remains at a tonne. As with all Amaroks you can fit a full-sized pallet between the wheel arches – a distinct advantage over all of the popular utes in this class. The location of the tub’s tie-downs on the load-bed floor is another Amarok ‘smart’ most other utes don’t get. The manual also gets a standard steel tub (no plastic) although a multi-piece plastic tub liner is offered as a factory accessory.

IN SUMMARY

The Amarok V6 manual might well be a last milestone in this generation Amarok’s evolution in Australia. The Amarok is 10 years old now (nine in Australia) and is the oldest of the current mainstream utes in terms of its generational positioning and is up for replacement. What’s kept it ‘new’ is, of course, the V6 engine, which only appeared here in late 2016.

Given the next generation Amarok looks to be a design shared with Ford, and more Ford than VW, will this make this generation Amarok unique and perhaps the best ever? As good as the current Ranger is, it still lags behind the Amarok in many ways.

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So has the manual Amarok been worth the wait? Well if you’re towing in difficult off-road conditions, most certainly it has been. If you like the control and driving pleasure that only a manual can bring, then most certainly again. But given the automatic doesn’t want for off-road ability even without low range, and brings the safety, convenience and ease-of-driving of full-time 4x4 complete with a self-locking centre diff, it’s still arguably the better all-rounder.

If God designed the Amarok it would have a full-time dual-range 4x4 system available with both automatic and manual gearboxes. But given VW designed the Amarok and its engineers have been no doubt shackled by the bean counters, you’re limited to an automatic with a full-time single-range 4x4 system or a manual with a part-time dual-range 4x4 system. Take your choice.

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