If you have bad memories of driving pickups round about, say, the turn of the century, and fear that things have become no better since, five minutes behind the wheel of the Volkswagen Amarok will persuade you otherwise. Even after an early 2017 facelift it still doesn’t look particularly aggressive as pickups go, yet it is enormously capable in difficult situations, and at the same time beautifully composed in easier ones.
No other Amarok is as fast or expensive as the Aventura. Along with one version of the cheaper Highline, it has a three-litre V6 diesel engine producing 221bhp (you can have it with 20bhp less in more humble models but not this one) and driving all four wheels all the time through one of the world’s finest gearboxes, the ZF eight-speed automatic also found in such diverse vehicles as the BMW 1-Series, the Jaguar F-Type, the Rolls-Royce Ghost and the Iveco Daily van.
The only snag with the ZF in this application is that it keeps wanting to drive you forward while you’re braking to a standstill. Perhaps that was nothing more than an easily fixable flaw in the test car.
A vehicle like the Amarok has to work well off-road. I didn’t have the opportunity to investigate in this test, but I did at the press launch back in 2011, and I still remember being mightily impressed at how capable it was.
Part of the reason for its ability on rough ground is that it has a ladderframe chassis with a separate body on top and a leaf-spring rear suspension arrangement. This is archaic stuff for a modern car, but somehow Volkswagen has managed (as Ford has done with the Ranger) to make the Amarok very well-behaved on tarmac.
Even if you hoof it away from a T-junction without the calming effects of a heavy load in the back, you’re not likely to get much more than a warning flash of the traction control indicator on the dashboard. There is certainly no sign of the tail skip which used to make driving even moderately powerful pickups so thought-provoking in the past.
With its chunky diesel engine and a kerbweight of over two tonnes, the Amarok can’t be expected to be economical. In two days I travelled each way between Helensburgh, where John Logie Baird was born, and Hastings, where he built the world’s first working television set, a round trip of over 1000 miles. Unladen all the way except for light luggage and a supply of bananas, the Amarok averaged 32mpg in poor weather conditions and 34mpg in better ones. Not much wrong with that, I thought, wincing all the same at the size of the diesel bill.
In terms of practicality, the Amarok is in a close battle with both the Ranger and the Toyota Hilux. The Amarok is slightly ahead on load length (1555mm) and more so for load width (1620mm) though its towing limit is the lowest of the three at 3100kg. Its 1114kg maximum payload almost exactly matches that of the Hilux, with the Ranger third on 1002kg.
Available only as a Double Cab, the Amarok has a comfortable and spacious interior, with instruments immediately recognisable to any Golf driver. Only some slightly cheap plastics and a lack of rear legroom spoil the party.
If you plan to use the Amarok as an everyday car as well as a workhorse, you’ll have to do something about the fact that there’s nowhere to hide away luggage, and that means spending money. An aluminium tonneau cover costs £1550 including VAT, or you can have a more practical hardtop priced between £1902 and £2352.
Elsewhere in the Amarok range, there’s further expense if you don’t like the standard Candy White paintwork. The metallic beige, blue, brown, grey and silver options all cost £630, while Indium Grey Matt will set you back £3594 (better not scratch that, then). The Aventura, however, is supplied with Ravenna Blue metallic paintwork not available on other versions.
Options aside, the Aventura is quite well-equipped, as you’d hope for a vehicle costing just short of £40,000. Cruise control, air-conditioning, side bars, satellite navigation, DAB digital radio, park distance control, a rear-view camera, trailer stabilisation and four 12v sockets, one of them in the cargo area, are all included in the price.
There’s also enough safety equipment to merit a four-star Euro NCAP rating, at least according to the protocols that applied when it was tested in 2010. This was a record for a pickup at the time, though the Ranger and Hilux have since been given five stars.
Price £39,318 including VAT
Engine size 2967cc
Top speed 119mph
0-62mph 8.0 seconds
Fuel economy 36.2mpg combined
CO2 emissions 204g/km
Towing capacity 3100kg (braked)
Euro NCAP (2010) Overall 4 stars Adult occupant 86% Child occupant 64% Pedestrian 47% Safety assist 57%
Information correct at publication date