Volkswagen Amarok TDI: Practical over premium
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Despite evidence to the contrary in many an urban centre around New Zealand - where Volkswagen's Amarok is to be seen everywhere from outside the hardware store to the supermarket carpark sporting all manner of bolt-on accessories - the German manufacturer does still ensure serious tradies are also well catered for.
Volkswagen has built its reputation over the last 50-something years as a solid provider of utilitarian commercial vehicles, too. So while the excellent Amarok V6 steals plenty of headlines, the local distributor boasts a decent array of dedicated load-luggers, including Amarok utes in work clothes.
These include the Volkswagen Amarok 4WD Comfortline TDI, for example. This is your common or garden variety Amarok, boasting a more workmanlike mix of trade-specific specification and just enough in the way of modern convenience to ease you on to the worksite in comfort.
It's also $57,990, which is a not insubstantial $16,000 less than the Amarok V6. Yes, there's enough chrome on the V6 version to account for that extra spend, but this still looks good enough without all the sports bars and alloy wheels you'd be too nervous to take very far offroad.
The canopy on our test ute isn't a standard item (rather a bit of a distributor dress-up for the press evaluation vehicle), but with or without it, one of the Amarok's best features is its wellside tray, which boasts a decent 1041kg maximum payload, a 1555mm load length and 508mm in height to the top of the sill.
This makes for a 2.52m3 load area, including the rear wheel arches; on par with most other double cab utes of the Amarok's ilk, but Volkswagen claims the Amarok features the widest tray in class, at 1222mm across between those wheel arches.
Like the competition, the Amarok 4WD Comfortline TDI sits on a ladder-frame chassis. There is also the option of two suspension settings to help with heavier loads; a standard 2+1 leaf spring set-up, or a heavy-duty 3+2 leaf spring assembly.
The Comfortline part of this ute's nameplate gives you the main clue that it emphasises practicality over premium grade options. The other grade (aside from the top V6 Adventura spec) is the Highline, which gives you things like heated front seats, a beefier audio system, four 12V power outlets rather than the Comfortline's two, and colour-coded exterior panels.
You still get your fair share of comfort and convenience tech in the Comfortline ute. Items like a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone connectivity, a multi-function display screen, reversing camera, cruise control and all the safety equipment you'd hope for are present and correct.
It's also worth noting the rear bench is slightly elevated in a "cinema" style, meaning kids or colleagues stuffed into the back can still see ahead.
Volkswagen's big point-of-difference remains something you can't see though; its class-leading eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It's still the only ute on sale here to boast so many ratios and not even Euro competitors coming into the buoyant local ute market (more on them in a minute) will boast a similar number of cogs.
The eight-speeder is as smooth as you'd hope for and perfect for longer sprints, while you can shift gears manually with the gear lever if you want to hold a particular ratio for longer.
Combined average fuel economy for this flavour of Amarok is 8.0-litres/100km, although make the most of that 3000kg braked tow rating regularly and I can't imagine you'll be seeing anything south of 10.0-litres/100km.
That's still okay though, given that the Amarok Comfortline TDI features Volkswagen's gutsy twin-turbo diesel, which offers up 132kW peak power and 420Nm of torque.
No, it isn't as powerful (or as fast) as the 165kW 3.0-litre V6 range-topper. But then, that's not what you're buying this one for. And anyway, 177 horses are still enough to get you up and going, regardless of how gluggy, smooth or otherwise conditions are under the Amarok Comfortline TDI's tyres.
Speaking of traction on the tough stuff, permanent 4MOTION four-wheel drive is a feature here, just as it is in every Amarok on sale (no two-wheel drive bog-standard spec iterations for Volkswagen, thank you).
Because it's a permanent system with power divided between the front and rear axles in a 40:60 split, Volkswagen has managed to pare down the deployment of the Torsen 4x4 locking differential to its most simple form; there's a button alongside the gear lever marked "Off Road". Hit that and your diff is locked. Easy.
For the last five or six years, Volkswagen has had the Euro ute market all to itself, but that will change next year when Mercedes-Benz launches a ute range of its own; the X-Class.
Despite the Stuttgart manufacturer's habit of attaching sports packs and massive engines to everything it makes, intel received so far suggests it is showing a remarkably restrained side. With Nissan Navaras as bases (the X-Class is a joint venture programme between Mercedes-Benz and Nissan, despite the former's own commercial vehicle division), the X-Class will aim squarely for the same utilitarian market as the Amarok.
To that end, it will be specified very similarly, with Pure, Progressive and Power grades essentially mapping the Volkswagen Amarok's Core, Comfortline and Highline/Adventura states of dress.
And Renault, of all companies, is expanding its commercial line-up to include a ute, too. To be called the Alaskan, this offering will err more on the side of lifestyler appeal. There's no word on when a production version might be available to Kiwi buyers and I'm pretty confidently betting it won't prove a mass-market fave. But it will also erode some of the Vee Dub's "Euro alone" cred.
European ute competition aside, the Volkswagen Amarok 4WD Comfortline TDI has a "pros" column to match its lengthy name. It strips back the showy stuff by just the right amount to make it both a more practical option for the hard yards, as well as significantly cheaper out of the box.
Volkswagen Amarok TDI Comfortline
Engine: 1968cc four-cylinder twin turbo diesel (132kW/420Nm) / 2967cc V6 turbo diesel (165kW/550Nm)
Prices: $49,990 (Amarok 4WD Core six-speed manual), $53,990 (Amarok 4WD Core automatic), $57,990 (Amarok 4WD Comfortline), $64,990 (Amarok 4WD Highline), $73,990 (Amarok V6 Highline), $82,990 (Amarok V6 Adventura)
Pro: Mix of practical specification and comfort features, eight-speed automatic gearbox, decent-sized wellside tray
Con: We're tempted to wait until the Mercedes-Benz X-Class line-up arrives before crowning a Euro ute champion
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