VW Amarok gets better!

HARARE - German car giant Volkswagen is poised to introduce what will be the most luxurious truck ever sold in Zimbabwe — complete with special seats designed to pamper drivers who have a bad back.

The new flagship of the Volkswagen Amarok fleet, which will be priced close to $75 000 when it goes on sale later this year, is part of a growing trend to transform workhorses into show ponies.

The latest version, compared with the inaugural 2009 model, comes with a new engine, and in a world of downsizing, it’s curious to note that it’s a bigger, more powerful one of 3,0 litres and six cylinders, making 221bhp, rather than the 161bhp four-pot unit of old.

Partly it’s because customers told VW they’d like more power; partly it’s because the new engine will give the Amarok a towing limit of up to 3,5 tonnes — partly it’s because customers have been asking for something more refined and classy.

Given that the Amarok was first in line when VW’s cheat-software emissions recalls began, perhaps partly the 2,0-litre engine was being asked to work harder than it was comfortable with in the first place, too.

Certainly, at what is likely to be 199g/km and 37,1mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle, the more capable 3,0 is claimed to be less thirsty than the old model.

At launch, the Amarok will offer only this top-spec 3,0-litre engine, driving through a permanent four-wheel drive system and eight-speed automatic gearbox. Later, 161bhp and 201bhp models, manual gearboxes and part-time four-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive will supplement that.

Other changes to the Amarok include a new dashboard, to improve interior ambience, and the fitment of more luxury car features. But on the outside, not so much is different — what was the most distinctive pick-up stays that way, with some bumper amendments.

Dimensions, then, are unchanged at 5,25m long and 2,23m wide, including mirrors.

Despite the fact that the Amarok — and rivals such as the latest, pretty classy Nissan Navara — are poaching sales from larger SUVs, it’s worth pointing out that you shouldn’t expect it to feel just as sophisticated to drive as one.

The Amarok has a separate body on a ladder chassis and leaf rear springs supporting a live rear axle — hence the 1000kg-plus payload and a load bay that’s wide enough for a pallet.  Inside, though, the latest cabin has a good driving position, and the switch gear is logically, clearly laid out. There’s a distinct VW feel to it, even if the hard-wearing materials, undamped glove box and so on feel more Polo than Passat in terms of ambience.

That’s to be expected. Highline trim will be the top and most popular specification, bringing a central touchscreen with sat-nav, as well as climate control.

Room in the rear of the cabin is less generous than in the front. Think Golf levels of seat space rather than Passat; tall adults behind will find knee room at a premium, but as a family utility vehicle, it’s okay. And the rear deck is massive.

Even without loaded goods, possibly cabbages form the farm, in the back, the Amarok feels comfortable enough — not too bouncy — and isolation from road and wind noise is good.

This is a long car, though, and a separate chassis never quite brings the rigid feel of a smaller car’s monocoque, so you can feel the front and rear working in different ways and the occasional shimmy through the steering wheel — although no more so than in rivals. The steering itself is well weighted, if occasionally sticky.

Volkswagen claims a 7,9sec 0-62mph time and a top speed of 120mph for this 221bhp diesel, but you have to work it to get that kind of performance.

If you do, you’ll not find it as refined as a V6 diesel in one of VW group’s family cars, either. But it’s smoother than a four, and the eight-speed automatic shifts really cleanly and intelligently.

The Amarok is good off road, too.

There’s a limited-slip differential between the axles that can be locked, while an off-road button as standard brings hill

descent control, modifies the way the ABS and stability control work, holds lower gears and dulls the throttle response.

As an option, you can get a limited-slip diff on the back axle, too.

On the right tyres, then, an Amarok will do what you need. Till next week, drive safely!

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