The Grand Canyon: Volkswagen's new Amarok ute tested
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Why would you need a ute in the city?
It’s impossible to park in any space. They are meant for farms or towing, not for plonking your supermarket shopping in the tray, that’s where stroppy ewes and bales of hay go.
That’s what I used to think but now I’m a convert. I now understand why utes, technically known as mid-size pick-up trucks, are regularly in the top 10 list for new vehicle sales and why the Ford Ranger has been the best selling vehicle for three consecutive years.
Until recently, my ute reviewing had been restricted to using it over the weekend for trips to the tip, or when I moved house and bought some flatpack furniture.
But one full week in Volkswagen’s Amarok Canyon — including a daily commute into work — has me now agreeing that a ute makes a damn fine city vehicle.
Priced from $69,990, the special edition Canyon is a 2-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-injected diesel engine producing 132kW of power and 420Nm of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission plus VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
The Canyon has been introduced as the ute market goes mainstream and takes over the role of a large SUV. It’s a vehicle that will be found in a business car park or suburban mall.
During my seven days with the Canyon, I made a conscious decision to count the utes in supermarket carparks and at malls — and even though I failed School Cert maths, I estimated 15 per cent of the vehicles were medium pick-up trucks-turned family wagons.
The Canyon is based on the Amarok highline model with the addition of 19-inch alloys, the new Honey Orange metallic paint, Bi-Xenon headlights and matte black styling features. There’s also the handy feature of cargo area lighting — all the better for finding that can that rolled out of your supermarket shopping at night. Or even a stroppy ewe.
Auckland | Auckland City
$1,244.30 p/w $4,977.21 p/m
Auckland | Auckland City
$1,076.52 p/w $4,306.06 p/m
Inside, the Canyon has special Alcantara upholstery and it’s the interior that transitions the Amarok from farm life to city life. The cabin is the same as any Volkswagen passenger car so it feels familiar, rather than the commercial vehicle it is labelled as.
Driving it you could mistake it for a Touareg due to its great turning ability and comfortable ride.
Then there’s the engine. I had poo-pooed the Ford Ranger Raptor’s 2-litre diesel paired with a 10-speed transmission at the global reveal in Bangkok recently, but VW pulls it off with the Amarok.
It goes from zero to 100km/h in 11.3 seconds — and that torque bonus pays off at the traffic lights and in city driving. It was a revelation in such a big vehicle. I’d pick one as my work wagon. On the motorway, the diesel engine was at its peak and would be an excellent tow vehicle.
So why yes to utes in the city?
First, no one, not even other ute drivers, cut in ahead of me on the cramped motorway or in stop-start city traffic. It was handy during the weekend with my quarterly reluctant gardening weekend — the rolltop cover contained the branches.
I used it to pick up dinner on Ponsonby Rd, slipping in to a tight parallel parking spot thanks to reversing camera and sensors — much to the chagrin of a hatchback driver waiting for me to fail. But in supermarkets and malls, I struggled to fit in the tiny spots so had to search for more isolated spaces.
Volkswagen Amarok Canyon
Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder, diesel engine (132kW/420Nm)
Pros: Great torque, family friendly
Cons: Fitting in car park spots