When the Volkswagen Amarok burst on to the 4x4 truck scene back in 2011, it moved the goalposts in terms of on-road smoothness and drivability, leaving the other contenders with a great deal of catching up to do.
Manufacturers such as Ford, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan have been busy improving their off-roaders since then and most of these new models are almost car-like to drive on road, while still being capable of mud-plugging past the capabilities of most fleet drivers.
Volkswagen has replied with an upgraded Amarok which, while not a quantum leap forward, does offer nice touches to keep things fresh and exciting for potential fleet buyers.
We say exciting because the biggest change is the addition of a stonking 3.0-litre turbodiesel powerplant which offers a gut-wrenching 224PS and 405lb-ft of torque via an eight-speed auto box, making it by far the most powerful 4x4 on sale in the UK at present.
For fleets wanting a workaday off-roader, this vehicle probably won’t fit the bill – but it may well be of interest to company car drivers looking for a way to cut down on their benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bills or high-end fleets that want to impress customers with a stylish pick-up.
For slightly more utilitarian work, the Amarok also comes with a power output of 204PS and later in the year there will be a base 163PS manual offering, although even this model comes at a rather hefty £26,225 ex-VAT. Three spec levels will be available – Startline, Trendline and Highline, plus there will be a special limited-run Aventura model offering various items of extra spec.
While the new engine is the biggest change, there are several other upgrades and improvements. Outside there is a new front bumper and radiator grille, new alloy wheels – a choice of 17-, 18- or 19-inch – while the cab features a new dashboard and a fresh touchscreen unit which incorporates all kinds of hi-tech functionality such as app connect which mirrors the driver’s mobile phone.
On the safety front the new model has four airbags, Volks-wagen’s automatic post-collision braking system which reduces the severity of an accident, Park Pilot which parallel parks the vehicle and a rear-view camera.
The Amarok is a head-turner which will give the fleet that uses it an upmarket, stylish appearance.
We tested the 224PS Aventura version (priced at £31,995 ex-VAT) both on smooth A roads, bumpy back lanes and on a challenging off-road course and the Amarok proved exactly what we expected from this premium manufacturer – i.e. superb build quality, every aspect of the vehicle weighted just right, car-like on-road drivability and the ability to handle even the toughest terrain.
The eight-speed gearbox provides seamless changes and with such a lot of power on offer this pick-up is never going to struggle. Once while off-road we felt the vehicle might succumb but our instructor urged us to keep the right foot down and, in the end, the sheer amount of torque on offer saw us through the obstacle and on our way again.
The Amarok is loaded with safety devices too numerous to mention so we really didn’t have to do a lot to get it round what was a pretty tough course.
Our only problem with a vehicle like this is that is it looks too good to take into the mud.
The Amarok won’t suit some fleet tastes as it is a definite top-end contender with a premium price to match. But for those wanting something a bit special, they don’t come much more special than this.