Test Drive: Five minutes with Volkswagen Amarok Aventura

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What is it?

Volkswagen’s big, appealing pick-up truck, the Amarok, facelifted for the 2017 model year.

Truth be told, Wolfsburg hasn’t done a huge amount to it visually, tidying up light clusters and bumpers here and there on the outside, and giving the interior a light sprucing with new air vents, some higher-quality materials and better infotainment.

But there’s a big change here that we’re absolutely delighted with, as fans of a good pick-up, which we’ll come onto in a moment.

Why are you driving it?

These ‘one-tonne’ trucks are becoming hugely popular in the UK, given they offer real workhorse ability plus many of the luxuries you’d find in an SUV.

To that end, although they are primarily aimed at commercial users first and foremost (bringing with them benefits in terms of VAT off the purchase price and fixed-rate road tax), more and more private buyers are opting to buy these flatbed-equipped 4x4s.

That means the manufacturers are making their pick-ups ever more ‘lifestyle’ and plush in terms of equipment levels… and the market is also preparing for the appearance of the most premium model yet: Mercedes-Benz’s forthcoming X-Class. It’s the impending arrival of that Merc which has spurred Volkswagen into action – the facelift of the Amarok, currently the undisputed premium king of pick-ups, might be mild, but slotting a massive V6 TDI under the bonnet is a stroke of genius and one that clearly pre-empts the Benz, which will undoubtedly use a V6 turbodiesel of some description.

From this point on, all Amaroks will be powered by this 3.0-litre engine and, apart from the 3.2-litre, five-cylinder Ford Ranger diesel, the VW is the only truck sold in the UK that has more than four cylinders. This V6 will come in a variety of states of tune, down to as low as around 160hp, but in the Aventura launch edition it runs in its most powerful guise of 224hp with a colossal 550Nm of torque, those numbers hiked to 245hp and 580Nm during a time-limited overboost phase that makes A-road overtakes even swifter than they already are.

What do you like about it?

Well, the engine is the shining star. The Amarok is now the quickest UK pick-up by some margin and, not only that, it has a great, gruff V6 soundtrack to go with the performance, the engine note being really appealing and well-matched to the truck’s rugged character.

Coupled to the marvellous, if slightly long-geared eight-speed transmission (you’ll find it wants to slot into seventh at just 40mph), the performance of the Volkswagen is incredible. It feels bonkers quick for a vehicle of its gargantuan physical size and yet there’s a level of refinement to the drivetrain that’s extremely SUV-esque, rather than being somewhat agricultural in character like the four-cylinder motors in many rivals.

The ride quality is excellent too, despite the Amarok still sitting on primitive leaf springs at the rear. There is an odd shimmy that manifests in the rear of the car at very low speeds, but once up to cruising pace that disappears and, in essence, an unladen Amarok Aventura is perfectly pleasant for its passengers. It also has noise suppression above any of its rivals and a cabin that’s of the highest standards possible in the class, making it genuinely feel like the premium product it is.

Any issues?

The Aventura was a launch model that’s no longer for sale, but even so the Volkswagen is not cheap in any of its current guises, being priced above most of the competition – and if you do want this 224hp version of the V6, it will cost you the best part of £40,000 with VAT.

Even without it, for commercial purchasers, all the current trim grades render the Amarok around £30,000 without VAT. And while the cabin is certainly very good, the 6.33-inch touchscreen – the biggest you can have on the German pick-up – is a lot smaller than you’ll find on any of Volkswagen’s range of regular road cars.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

There are the obvious benefits in terms of its CV status, so company buyers won’t pay VAT on the Amarok and they get a fixed rate of VED road tax. And don’t be fooled by the increase in capacity and cylinders: the V6 TDI with 224hp is said to be more economical and cleaner (36.2mpg and 204g/km) than the biggest 180hp four-cylinder engine in the pre-facelift Amarok (34.4mpg and 215g/km).

Admittedly, we only saw 26.8mpg during 150 miles of local roads driving, but more A-roads and dual carriageway work would increase that. So, like any pick-up truck, the Amarok should be cheaper to buy and run than comparatively specified SUVs.

Where does it rank in class right now?

The Volkswagen Amarok has always been the best pick-up truck anyway, if you’re a private buyer or even a business owner who wants one vehicle which can do work chores and family tasks equally well, but adding the V6 to it and refining the package further has only cemented its place at the top of the class.

The main challenge the VW faces will be the Mercedes X-Class, which is bound to prioritise comfort over outright lugging ability. It will be an intriguing battle to see these two Teutonic heavyweights slugging it out with their pick-ups, but one thing is for certain – the X-Class will have to be pretty special in all departments to get the better of the brilliant Amarok V6.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Volkswagen Amarok Aventura
  • Price: Amarok starts from £36,144 including VAT; Aventura as tested £39,381 including VAT (deduct 20 per cent VAT for commercial versions, so £31,504.80 for CV Aventura)
  • Drivetrain: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel, eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
  • Economy: 36.2mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 204g/km – £240 VED for commercial vehicles; £3,230 Benefit in Kind tax
  • Top speed: 119mph
  • 0-62mph: 8.0 seconds
  • Power: 224hp at 4,500rpm
  • Torque: 550Nm at 1,400- to 2,750rpm