Volkswagen Amarok V6 Aventura: Heavy-hauling hill-climber
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I’m sitting at the start of a twisty, turny hill-climb road in the Victorian hinterland. The closed road snakes its way up to Lake Mountain, a cross-country ski resort in the hills behind Marysville, north of Melbourne.
The ski season has ended, although the gullies at the sides of the road’s upper reaches are still packed with dirty snow.
This area was, of course, devastated by wildfire nearly a decade ago with a shocking loss of life. Today, skeletal snow gums create an eerie but stunning vista across the hills. The area’s settlements look as tidy and prosperous as they did before the fires, with only the telltale predominance of new buildings letting slip on a horrendous chapter in the locale’s recent history.
The ski resort I’m aiming for at speed up at the top of this access road survived with only one of its many buildings intact.
In a strange way – and with rebuilding in mind – it’s kind of appropriate that I’m in a double-cab ute.
But wait a minute. A ute on a hill-climb road? Yes indeed. Because the new top-tier Volkswagen Amarok V6 Aventura is that kind of truck.
In the Southern Hemisphere at least, this is the new face of the horsepower race; a multitude of manufacturers are all-of-a-sudden presenting hi-po utes as genuine performance vehicles. But ones you can tow stuff with, too. The new currency in the mainstream premium segment of the market is the double-cab ute where performance figures — rather than payload — are presented as the raison d’être.
While Volkswagen’s new range-topper doesn’t double-down on the aggressive body kit stuff or outrageous alloys, it still presents plenty of potency. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will.
The headline act here is the Amarok’s impressive 580Nm torque figure; the full wallop of which is available from just 1250rpm. Handy for hauling and hill-climbing alike.
There are two other V6 Amaroks on offer in New Zealand (the $69,990 standard V6 and the $78,990 Highline), but these ‘only’ boast a 550Nm torque spread. If it’s class-leading you want, you’ll need the ute on this page, in its Aventura state-of-dress.
This turbo-diesel has done duty in other Volkswagen Group fare in the past, including the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne, as well as Volkswagen’s own Touareg SUV. With a distinct passenger vehicle past, it perhaps comes as little surprise that this is one refined diesel.
It’s never raucous – even when cold – and thrums away in the background at cruising speeds. Speaking of which, Volkswagen claims a zero to 100km/h sprint time of 7.3 seconds. Because it’s 2018 and zero-to-one hundred times are an important stat for a ute these days.
Well, it will come in handy for me today. As will that maximum torque figure.
The road to the Lake Mountain summit features 69 corners condensed into a 9km spread; the top couple of kilometres or so open out into fast, flowing straights, but for the most part this is second- and third-gear stuff all the way up.
Amazingly, the Amarok — an unladen ladder-chassis ute remember, boasting nothing more high-tech than heavy-duty leaf springs at the rear axle — is a fantastic thing to pilot up such a piece of tarmac.
There’s a nice linear feel to the way the power comes back on tap as you brake and then steer through the corner; powering out again, the Amarok doesn’t leave you in a hole waiting for the torque to catch up with what’s going on.
There’s little lag as the turbo spools up and, perhaps even more surprising, the ride is compliant and super-smooth over what is in some sections a rather serrated strip of back-country bush road.
I try one run using the steering column-mounted paddles and one letting the eight-speed auto ’box (in Sport mode, natch) do its own thing.
Both instances present the same conclusion, although if anything, leaving the Amarok to find the right ratios on its own results in a better run. Not that we are being timed today.
You never quite shake the feeling of sitting on top of the vehicle mass, as opposed to being a lower-slung part of it. But the body-roll I’m anticipating simply isn’t there. Volkswagen’s permanent 4MOTION all-wheel drive system presumably plays a part in the mountain goat performance, although it’s as unobtrusive as the ute’s entire demeanour.
Always erring on the side of conservative, Volkswagen continues to play it cool with the Amarok V6 Aventura. The one nod to its alpha-ute status is a bright red ‘580’ badge on the tail gate. But even this is small and not echoed anywhere else on the truck, inside or out.
The cabin looks like any other high-spec Amarok. It’s comfortable, spacious and straightforward. There are plenty of places to put stuff and the controls — including Volkswagen’s touchscreen-accessed infotainment system — are all logical to use. And speaking of uses, the Amarok V6 Aventura features a 3500kg braked tow rating ... because someone, somewhere will probably still care about that stat.
On the downside, rear legroom isn’t the best for those on the back bench (although headroom remains excellent) and the plastics used on the dashboard and inner door surfaces are hard and look like they could scratch up a bit.
This is a ute at the end of the day, though, so perhaps that’s just Volkswagen underlining the practical nature of the thing.
Still, for the not-insubstantial $89,900 asking price I would have thought some softer trimmed leather material (to match the seats) at certain touchpoints around the cabin would be a given. There’s nothing visually to remind the driver they have opted for the ultimate Amarok on the block.
But ‘ultimate’ the Amarok shall remain. Even when Mercedes-Benz (the only Euro rival for Volkswagen in this segment) launches its own take on the V6-powered utility in a couple of month, the X-Class 350d 4MATIC will suffer a 30Nm torque deficit over Wolfsburg’s biggest and baddest.
Pricing for the top-spec Mercedes-Benz will be on par with the Amarok though, at $88,325. And for anyone so inclined, it’ll probably come down to which badge you prefer on the nose anyway, rather than decimal point performance attributes.
But the latter is definitely now a ‘thing’ for light commercial manufacturers such as Volkswagen.
Although, when the outcome is as comprehensively good as it is here, who’s complaining?
Electricians and enthusiast drivers rejoice.
Volkswagen Amarok V6 580NM Aventura
Engines: 3.0-litre V6 (190kW/580Nm)
Pros: Huge reserves of power; settled and compliant ride; refined engine
Cons: Price tag; plain interior; this is one top-grade ute that doesn’t shout about it with badges and decals… which might not actually be a con