WHEN Volkswagen brought its Amarok light truck to Australia almost six years ago the launch was quickly followed by rave reviews.
Amarok was everything buyers in the class wanted: powerful, comfortable, capable, driveable and, most importantly, affordable.
There was one thing missing though - a beefy six-cylinder engine.
Volkswagen has addressed that particular issue for Australian buyers this month, lifting the bonnet on a facelifted Amarok duo that is the vanguard for a fully revamped four-cylinder model range that will arrive here in the first quarter of next year.
Two model grades - Highline and Ultimate - one mechanical package, Volkswagen Group's 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel, the same engine that has been doing sterling service in Audi's Q5 and Q7 SUV pair as well as Volkswagen's own Touareg SUV.
For Amarok it is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and drives all four wheels through a Torsen system running a default 40:60 front/rear torque split but can vary that through to a 60:40 split depending on track conditions.
The eight-speeder is familiar but for this application low gear is lower and top gear higher and the six in the middle spaced a little further apart, the whole thing taking advantage of the big (165 kilowatts) power output and much bigger (550 Newton metres) torque numbers.
As a bonus, the trannie for the V6 also gets a tiptronic manual shift position on the gear quadrant and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to boot.
The first Amarok had the comfort levels of a car both internally and dynamically and the V6 variants are no different.
Cabin comfort is impressive, not just for the way the supportive seats give you a big cuddle in the twists and turns but also for the way the dash and instrumentation has been laid out. Yes, it is all in the VW tradition and therefore all very familiar but it all makes sense.
Also impressive is the lack of transmitted road and engine noise and Amarok V6 can lay claim to having one of the quietest cabins in the business to the point where, at speeds in excess of 120kmh (oops, sorry officer!) conversations can be had without the need for raised voices.
The fly in the ointment? Rear seat legroom is not overly generous and has been traded-off to maximise tray length.
On the road
With its 165kW on song from 2500rpm through to 4500rpm, its 550Nm of torque kicking-in from 1500rpm and staying solid until 2500rpm and a 4.71:1 low gear ratio, Amarok V6 is never going to be a slouch and will leap from standstill to 100kmh in a hot hatch-like 7.9 seconds.
A 3000-kilogram payload (GCM 6000kg) might slow it down, but probably not by much.
Ride and handling is superb in relative terms and easily the best of the current crop of light trucks, Amarok standing as absolute proof that a suspension system using nothing more sophisticated than double front wishbones and a leaf-sprung, rigid rear axle can be made to work extremely well.
It completely lacks the ride lumpiness expected of its peers and its handling on both bitumen and gravel roads has to be experienced to be believed.
Impressive for a vehicle built using a separate body on a frame chassis, everything feels nicely tight and comfortably taut.
What you get?
Is there anything simpler than a light truck? Not really. A frame chassis with body on top, rudimentary suspension, everything nicely over-engineered for durability and a grunty engine to make it all happen.
In the case of Amarok V6, Volkswagen has finessed the hell out of it both mechanically and in terms of equipment.
The smooth and powerful V6 diesel donk, eight-speed auto trans (a six-speed manual will be available late next year for the harder-core enthusiasts) and four-wheel drive has already been explained but the standard equipment list is something else again.
A full suite of chassis electronics is standard on both grades and Highline buyers get stainless steel side steps, 18-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights and chrome sill bars with integrated LED lighting.
Inside there is chrome trim, multi-function steering wheel, six-speaker audio, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, App Connect, a rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors, climate control air-conditioning and heated front seats with fabric trim.
Ultimate stretches to 19-inch wheels, an extended sports bar behind the cabin, a protective cargo box coating, leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, 12-way electrically-adjustable driver's seat, upgraded audio and sat-nav, auto parking and stainless steel pedals.
Cargo bed liners, designer roll bars, bigger wheel and tyre packages, hardtop canopies are all available for Amarok V6.
Is there anything more practical than a four-door, five-seat light truck? Probably not although the option of rubberised flooring and vinyl seats would probably have a high take-up rate if it were offered.
The fact Amarok has one of the largest load beds in the class (the tray is 1555mm long, 1620mm wide tapering to 1222mm between the wheel arches and has 508mm-high sides) and can hold a standard Euro, Australian or CHEP pallet is a bonus, as is its low 708mm load height 911kg payload (for Highline. Ultimate holds 864kg).
Trucks are cool and Amarok V6 is, right now, the coolest of them all. It can be made even cooler just by ticking a few boxes on the accessories list. Maybe start with optional 18, 19 or (for Ultimate) 20-inch wheels and work upwards from there.
VW also has some sexy paint colours with three new ones added to the palette for the V6 variant.
Amarok 2.0 litre got it right, Amarok V6 gets it righter. Right?
Seriously, the fact VW's website got several thousand "interest' hits about the truck with 70 per cent-plus asking for a dealer introduction speaks volumes for the expectations placed in this vehicle.
It has a tough, workmanlike appearance courtesy of the bold grille restyle and the flared wheel arches enhance its masculinity, as do its slab sides and generally upright styling.
At its launch we tackled wet, gravel roads with seriously steep inclines and the trucks kept asking for more. Bitumen roads were a piece of cake and the hardest part was trying to work out why and how a light truck could do what Amarok V6 is so obviously capable of doing.
What matters most
What we liked: Smooth, quiet, capable.
What we'd like to see: More rear seat legroom.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Capped price servicing available for the first six services, with intervals every 15,000km/12 months. Expect average service prices to be in the vicinity of $720.
Model: Volkswagen Amarok V6
Details: Four-door, twin-cab light trucks in Highline and Ultimate specifications.
Engine: 3.0 litre V6 turbocharged diesel generating 165kW @ 2500-4500rpm and 550Nm @ 1500 -2500rpm.
Transmission: Eight-speed sport automatic with paddle shifters.
Consumption: 7.1 litres/100km (combined average).
Performance 0-100kmh: 7.9 seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: Highline $59,990; Ultimate $67,990.
Driving experience 18/20
Features and equipment 18/20
Functionality and comfort 17/20
Value for money 19/20
Style and design 18/20
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