The Volkswagen Amarok V6 is a case study in how an unavoidably compromised vehicle can nonetheless be an utterly beguiling companion; even though the Mercedes X-Class V6 is the more refined vehicle – and the Toyota Hilux AT37 would be the better buy if you need more off-road ability than most will ever use – the Amarok V6 is the pickup that would find garage space with me.
Why so? Well, while I’m not convinced that the engineers were aiming to create a fusion of a mid-noughties Polo TDI and a late sixties Jaguar MKII 3.8, that is exactly what they have achieved. My old Polo, equipped with 130bhp and decent tyres, had the best balance of power, handling and grip of anything I drove in a decade and I loved it to bits. It took me and three passengers across France in comfort yet remained unbeatable across the north Walian roads I called home when driven solo.
The Jaguar, in contrast, had more power than grip and was a complete delight around Leeds, especially just after it had stopped raining…
The Amarok combines the best of both; that wonderful, three-litre, 258PS V6 engine might run out of puff just after 4,000rpm but it still endows the pickup with slingshot acceleration and effortless, moderately illegal touring speeds. It has enough grip to be utterly foolproof and good enough handling to put a smile on even the most jaded driver’s face.
And, when you want to play on-the-run-from-the-Old-Bill hooligan the backend feels deliciously loose, even if it is harder to unstick than you might imagine thanks to its 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system. Ambling along, it’s as docile and faithful as a Labrador, albeit one that’ll streak to 62mph in 7.4 seconds. Yes, it’ll hit the industry benchmark faster than a Renault 5GT Turbo could, back-in-the-day.
The ride is pretty good too for something that’ll carry 1,112kgs and tow 3,100kgs. On smooth to moderately rough roads it’s reasonably settled and unfussed and only more pocked and damaged surfaces unsettle it badly enough to remind you that this is a genuine working tool at heart.
Or is it? The fact is that while some owner/operators do run them as works pickups, most are sold to middle-class men who want to take advantage of the tax breaks that come with running a pickup as a business vehicle. This explains the lack of a low-range gearbox, the road-biased tyres, and the better-than-average interior.
Ah, the interior. While the Mercedes X-Class is properly decadent, the Amarok is no better than middling-family-car luxurious. The dashboard might be very well fitted – and it does feature some very nice surfaces and textures – but it’s the sort of thing you’d see in a mid-range Volkswagen hatchback, designed more for durability than aesthetic appeal. This makes it better than the majority of pickups but lagging well behind the sort of fit and finish that an Audi or BMW driver has come to expect at this price point.
They’d be entitled to expect at least one USB point, too. That’s right; despite the VW’s head-unit asking you to connect your smartphone to it via one, there isn’t a single USB point in the cockpit. That really is unforgivable in a vehicle that costs £46,000 (albeit most buyers will be able to reclaim the VAT element of that).
And yet, I loved the Amarok despite its aging architecture. The interior is as well-finished as I needed it to be, and I came away thinking that it would probably look just as good in a decade’s time as it does now. The stereo – missing USB points aside – sounded fabulous, and all the secondary controls operated with the unconscious precision we’ve come to expect of VW Group cars.
Faults? Well, tyre noise and road rumble was ever-present thanks to the amplification effect that comes with just about every pickup bed, as was an occasional jerkiness to the drivetrain when you switched it into Sport mode. (But, by hell, it’s fast when you do, although I still got just over 32mpg over a week and 1,200+ miles.) The ride is, as I’ve mentioned, sometimes fussy, and it has unfeasibly large gaps ‘twixt tyres and wheelarches.
Perhaps the Amarok can best be summed up by the music choice it foisted on me. While I usually reach for the Brothers Osborne when I’m behind the wheel of a pickup, the Volkswagen led me to Bruce Springsteen and from there on to a selection from the eighties courtesy of Spotify. The Amarok is fun and sprightly, rather than stolid and staid. It encouraged me to sit up straight and drive it fast and precisely, rather than to slouch and amble. It made me feel young again.
It might lack a low-range ‘box, but if I were after a family adventure wagon, the Amarok would get my money – and the tax advantages would be a very nice bonus rather than the raison d’être. It is a pickup you buy with your heart rather than your accountant’s advice, and one that doesn’t constantly remind you that you’re a bit of a cheapskate on the side.
And that, I’m sure, is exactly what the engineers were aiming for.
Carlton Boyce @motoringjourno