Does flagship Aventura step up to lead the bakkie way?

There seems to be a bit of a fight between bakkie makers nowadays. It’s been going on since bakkies slipped over the million rand mark a few months ago. Now it seems they see value in the struggle to have the most expensive pickup truck on the South African market on their price list.

Look at it like this: there’s even a million rand Hilux these days. You part with R1.003M to own a top of the range Legend. Ford wants a reasonable R1.02 mil for the V6 Ranger Wildtrak and Isuzu has the Arctic AT35 up at R1.12-million. This Volkswagen Amarok Aventura stops the till at 1.16 bar, and that’s still two hundred grand cheaper than the Ford Ranger Raptor. Which still isn’t the most expensive bakkie. That accolade belongs to the oddball R1.3-odd million Jeep Wrangler Gladiator.

So if you take the speciality bakkies, the Gladiator, the Raptor and even the Arctic out of it, it makes this Volkswagen Amarok the most expensive conventional double-cab bakkie on the market. And now we must put it to the test.

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Amarok is chasing the luxury bakkie market

One of two flagship Amaroks alongside the apparently more ruggedly off-road positioned Panamericana, Volkswagen makes no bones that its new Amarok flagship is chasing the top-end luxury bakkie market. On the face of it, it’s doing a pretty solod job. Our splendid blue version certainly looks the part.

Volkswagen promises this styling to be exclusive. We can’t argue with that. For starters, the new Ford Ranger-based Amarok is bigger than the more exclusive VW-only old bakkie. 96 mm longer at 5.35 metres, it rides on the Ranger’s far longer 173 mm longer 3.27 metre wheelbase. So not only is the double cab now far roomier, but it also means shorter overhangs front and rear. For a more purposeful and results in crisper stance. Never mind improved off-road ability.

Getting back to those looks, this office is for once united on how well Volkswagen’s latest bakkie DNA has worked out. We all concur that this Aventura is plausibly among the best looking bakkies out there right now. A more expressive Volkswagen utility vehicle grille merges into interactive illumination IQ.Light LED headlights, under a straight, upright hood. An Amarok embossed X­design bumper and LED fog lights complete a charismatic, modern feel.


Face polished black 12-spoke 21-inch alloys

Moving on around, bold, flared half-round wheel arches frame a handsome set of face polished black 12-spoke 21-inch alloys. Looking at the back, a VW badge atop another bold ‘Amarok’ embossed across the tailgate is framed by angular LED tail lights. The bak is topped by a stylish sports bar and a neat roll-up hardtop cover that albeit steals a fair bit of the load bay to stow its mechanism.

It certainly makes up for that in style and rolls up to reveal the 1,6 m long and 21 mm taller 529 mm high 1.19 tonne payload cargo box. Like the old Amarok, it has enough room for a Euro pallet in there and features a multi-functional carrier system comprising robust lashing rings in the cargo bed and side walls. If that’s not enough, Amarok now has Improved 350 kg roof load capacity to easily tote a roof tent. The plastic bed liner has some cool aspects like cup holders. But it falls short on build quality and fit.

Stepping aboard, you’re greeted by a high quality luxury feel cabin. Flush with premium VW SUV materials, the dash certainly looks the part topped by an elegant high-quality contrast stitched leather-look panel. Robust chrome look switches and quality buttons and finishes further step this Volkswagen bakkie up over its Ford cousin. That’s complemented by elegant and hard-wearing leather trimmed ergonomically design 10 position power driver and front-seat passenger seats. And there’s now ample rear space and comfort, even for three reasonably sized adult passengers in the rear cab.


Amarok has a neat multifunction steering wheel

The driver is confronted by a neat multifunction steering wheel. Thank goodness this one has good old tactile and easy to understand and use buttons rather than those horrible new-fangled sliders that so tragically found their way into some other VW products of late. The steering buttons control elements of Amarok’s clear, well structured, and ergonomic 8-inch Digital Cockpit driver’s instrumentation, as well as the fully digital central 12.3-inch portrait infotainment system.

Volkswagen claims to use an intuitive mix of digital and buttons and knobs to run Amarok’s infotainment. True, it is bright, attractive, and easy to read. Volume is indeed controlled via a rotary switch. And all-wheel drive, parking, climate and driving modes are activated by via those lovely chrome-tipped buttons. But once you’ve taken the shortcut, you must still work way deep into the touchscreen to complete too many too basic functions. And why a portrait when a landscape screen always works better? So close. But still, no cigar.

This Aventura also has a fine 640-watt Harman Kardon sound, but some aspects, like the dodgy gear shifter and even cheesier squeeze door handles make us wonder. As do those same build quality issues that blighted Cousin Ranger Wildtrak. The VW does overcome some of those concerns via better quality materials, trim and switchgear. But like the slap shod finish of the bin liner, several little cabin nuances make us wonder if this fine pickup was not too quickly rushed through its final product development phases. Time will tell.


Aventura steps a couple of rungs above

From there on, however, this Volkswagen Amarok Aventura steps a couple of rungs above the rest. It’s monumental to drive. Yes, its Land-Rover-Jaguar-Ford-etcetera-derived 184 kW 600 Nm 3-litre turbodiesel V6 is not as lusty as the old bakkie’s Volkswagen-Audi based lump. It was a fair bit slower in our tests. But who cares? Creamy and full, it thrusts the bakkie along with aplomb. Ride is fantastic, its super-quiet in there, on and off the beaten track. And Amarok certainly moves the game along in so many quality and dynamic respects.

Driving the Ford-derived 10-speed automatic versus the old bakkie’s 8-speed transmission, some may question the need for the extra two ratios. But you never notice as the box busies itself with always delivering the correct cog for what you’re up to. Amarok’s 4Motion all-wheel drive furthermore automatically farms that output between the front and rear axles via a multi-plate clutch. And brings four intelligent drive modes.

Talking all-wheel drive, new Amarok is even better well off the road too. Thanks to enhanced 30 degree front and 26 degree rear ramp angles. Never mind 3.5-tonne braked towing and 1.2-tonne payload capacities mean that combination mass is up by 500 kilograms to 6.5 tonnes.


Brings 25 assistance systems to the party

Amarok also brings 25 assistance systems to the party, from intelligent automatic cruise control to lane change and parking assistants. Bolstered by 360-degree all-round Area View, and road sign recognition. Those clever headlamps are bright enough, but their IQ tech has fallen a little behind some more recent intelligent car illumination. We found it better to use them manually, more often than not. Still, it’s top end for a bakkie.

So yes, there are a few little aspects that made us wonder why this premium bakkie was perhaps not a little more diligently developed. So, like a good blue cheese, maybe this blue car will still mature a bit over time.

And we continue to fight with the entire car industry about their stupid infotainment solutions, some of which this bakkie certainly suffers. Besides that however, this new Volkswagen Amarok has turned out superior in so many ways.


Is Amarok really worth R1.16-million?

Is it worth R1.16-million? Well that’s not Volkswagen’s problem, it’s our poor old rand’s fault. With that elephant out the room, we’d say it certainly is worth the money. If anything, the new Amarok is far better than its predecessor at most of the things that matter most.

Volkswagen likens this new Amarok to a really smart multi-tool. Which is a pretty cool analogy. So yes, the new Volkswagen Amarok Aventura certainly moves the luxury bakkie game on. In our opinion. And that makes it a winner, no matter what the cost. – Michele Lupini

Road testing: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: VW Amarok Aventura V6 DC 4Motion
Engine: 184 kW 600 Nm 3-litre turbodiesel V6
Drive: 10-speed automatic 4x4
Load Capacity: 1,190 kg
Max Braked Trailer 3,500 kg
0-60 km/h:        3.78 sec
0-100 km/h:       8.54 sec
0-120 km/h:       11.96 sec
0-160 km/h:       22.19 sec
400m:             16.1 sec @ 140 km/h
80-120 km/h:      6.13 sec
120-160 km/h:     10.23 sec
VMax:             190 km/h
Fuel:             8.4 l/100 km
CO2:              222 g/km
Range:            950 km
Warranty/Service: 4y 120K/5y 100K km
LIST PRICE:       R1.16M
RATED:            9
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