QUICK DRIVE: Volkswagen Amarok automatic

QUICK DRIVE: Volkswagen Amarok automatic

The Volkswagen Amarok has been around for a couple of years now, but that hasn’t dulled the impact of just how damn good it is. It came in to the ute segment with a bang and drastically shook up the concept of just what it was we expected from our workhorses. They no longer had to have harsh, unsettled rides and badly compromised handling just to carry a decent load and they also didn’t need large, lazy low-tech engines either.

Then along came the Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 twins and gave things a re-shake. They took everything that was good about the Amarok (almost car-like levels of handling, civilised ride quality, excellent build quality and LOTS OF TORQUE) and added things like a bigger, more powerful engine (because where the Amarok proved it didn’t necessarily NEED to be big, the Ranger proved it sure didn’t hurt to be big…), an automatic transmission and a nationwide service network.

VW Amarok (01)

But now the Amarok can fight back on at least one of those points with the addition of an automatic transmission. But as usual, VW has not just caught up with the pack by offering a five or six-speed auto, rather it has leapt ahead by offering an 8-speed self-shifter. Yes, that’s right; eight gears.

While this may seem a bit silly and unnecessary on a ute, VW has been rather clever with this one; it has used the 8-speed transmission in place of a low-ratio ‘box for off-load purposes. That’s right, again; eight gears, no low ratio.

VW Amarok (03)

While first and second are low, they are not (seemingly) as low as the low ratio of a conventional system. Instead a “low-ratio” of sorts is achieved by something known as the “torque multiplication” of the auto transmission. I am not going to pretend I know what all that means, but let’s just say that it gives the Amarok an effective low-ratio gearing of 43.6:1. Which in off-road terms, is okay, but not necessarily great.

While the torque multiplication of the transmission lowers the gears to an acceptable low, first still isn’t suitable for a downhill crawl, thus the Amarok continues to rely on its staggeringly clever electronics for a large part of its considerable off-road ability.

VW Amarok (04)

Hill descent control is cleverly engaged by tapping the brake pedal to set a crawl speed in “Off road mode” and the Big Electronic Brain does the rest.

Now all these clever electronics seem to upset older members of the off-road fraternity, but unfortunately blokes, this IS the way of the future, no matter how much moaning you do about it. The lack of a low-ratio transfer case saves significant weight and makes the VW less mechanically complex (electronically, of course, it is a different story) and it works remarkably well. The strangest part is to be crawling up and down steep, slippery hills with the engine sounding like it is barely trying – it simply uses its big torque, many gear ratios and clever electronics, rather than revving its nuts off in an ultra-low gear ratio…

VW Amarok (05)

On the road, the 8-speeder is a wonderfully slick performer that changes ratios smoothly and efficiently, and only serves to make the Volkswagen Amarok even more impressive. Big, handsome and remarkably capable both on and off the road, the Amarok is still one of the stronger competitors in the ute segment.

Price: $64,990

Engine: 1999cc 4-cylinder diesel

Power/torque: 120kW/400Nm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

0-100km/h: n/a

Fuel consumption: 8.3L/100km

CO2 emissions: 219g/km

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  • I am often asked what is the BEST car I have ever driven. Over all the years the lines blur and they tend to become tools of the trade. But the Amarok launch in Argentina was memorable. On the offroad section of the test drive the German engineer I was with told me to climb this 45 degree gradient — in low range, low gear and on idle. Now 45 degrees is so steep it’s almost vertical and you are looking at the sky. That in itself is pretty bloody impressive, crawling up the side of a house, slower than a snail and your feet off all pedals. But I had been through this party trick before at the Land Rover test track. I wasn’t prepared for the next trick though. Halfway up the hill I was to to stop, switch it off and let it roll back onto compression. Then, still keeping both feet away from all pedals, I was to twist the key and start it. I thought “this is bullshit” — but I did it. I was stunned when the starter motor inched the Amarok up the hill, then the motor fired and we went boomp, boomp, boomp, boomp up the hill so slowly you could hear each detonation. — Allan Dick