Volkswagen Amarok Dark Label: Rival utes put in the shade
DARK LABEL’S UPHOLSTERY TAKES CABIN AMBIENCE TO NEW LEVEL
Dark Label? Was this because Black Label was already taken? And why dark, bearing in mind that many of the 100 for sale in New Zealand are silver?
Let’s not waste too much time trying to analyse why Volkswagen’s marketing department chose to tag its latest special-edition Amarok ute the Dark Label.
Let’s say instead that it’s a showcase model for the large and comfortable German-designed utility that has fairly quickly claimed a decent slice of this wickedly competitive market segment. They’re forecasting almost 1000 this year, up from the 800 in 2014.
Dark Labels have been shipped to a number of countries in various configurations but New Zealand takes just one model with the 4Motion four-wheel-drive system and eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 4Motion Amarok auto has full-time four-wheel drive.
This all puts it at $69,990, compared with $65,990 for the most expensive regular model, the 4Motion TDI Highline. True, 10 bucks change out of $70,000 is on the high side for a ute but that’s the way of things these days. For example, the new Ford Ranger Wildtrak auto, possibly the Dark Label’s closest rival, lists at $69,640.
Top Amaroks bring with them impressive ride and handling, occupant safety and comfort, along with overall refinement, a combo that has found favour with the urban and suburban ute owner and, out in the fleet market, the bosses.
The Dark Label just ices this cake, especially with the anthracite Alcantara upholstery, an artificial suede-leather material favoured by some luxury vehicle manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz. The upholstery takes cabin ambience to a different level; it’s the hero feature of the whole package. And the seats are very comfortable too, for the front occupants and the passengers on the rear bench.
Dark Labels on sale here include a mixture of factory-fitted and locally supplied components.
The factory adds seven items to the pack. In addition to the upholstery, these are the 18-inch black alloy wheels (shod with 255/60 Bridgestone Dueler ATs on the test vehicle); blackened tail lights and exterior elements; a front nudge bar in black; satellite navigation with reversing camera; the Climatronic two-zone air conditioning and the Dark Label signage. Local input comprises a black sports bar, side rails that are similar to the factory items and a non-slip tray liner.
The test vehicle also came with a well-engineered $2500 hard lid and an $820 drop-in tray liner.
Behind the Dark Label are other features that help Amarok stand out in the ute market. 4Motion versions offer full-time four-wheel drive, something rarely fitted to utes sold in this country.
Having all wheels driven on, say, wet pavement offers an extra margin of safety and surefootedness, beyond that supplied by electronic stability control.
Despite the electronic traction and stability controls that are widespread and work well, there’s still nothing quite like the surefootedness of drive to all wheels for adverse road conditions.
Unlike most 4WD utes, 4Motion Amarok auto lacks the low-range gearing that’s important for off-roading. It partly makes up for this by having a lower-than-normal first-gear ratio in its ZF eight-speed transmission, adapted from the Audi A8, and by using electronic hill descent control that allows it to descend steep slopes slowly, under full control, albeit with a bit of clatter.
It’s a no-fuss way to drive off-road. An eight-speed Amarok is great for routes that would otherwise require frequent swapping between high and low range.
This switchover typically involves stopping the vehicle, putting the transmission in neutral, then moving the range selector lever. With Amarok, it’s just point and go.
On the other hand, its appeal would almost certainly be wider if it had the low-range gearing and thus be better suited to some of the tracks and other bad surfaces often found in the country, where Volkswagen has been keen to make inroads.
Few drivers will have any gripes about the 2-litre common-rail direct-injection turbodiesel under the Dark Label’s bonnet. Although some rivals have a bigger engine and, in some cases, more power and/or torque, the Amarok’s powerplant punches above its weight. In conjunction with the eight-speed transmission, it’s quick off the line, quick when called on to overtake and can lug along nicely even though peak torque isn’t there until 1750rpm.
Overall fuel consumption is a fairly reasonable 8.3 litres per 100km.
Maybe the “dark” in its label is how drivers of some rival utes will be feeling when they see just how well this refined German latecomer performs.
PROS AND CONS VW AMAROK DARK LABEL
|ENGINE:||Four-cylinder 2-litre turbodiesel, 132kW/420Nm|
|PROS:||A tempting special edition of VW’s workhorse|
|CONS:||Really should have low-range gearing|