Tested: Volkswagen’s V6-powered Toyota HiLux rival
IF PERFORMANCE is your priority, one tonners are now divided into two classes: V6s and the rest. Volkswagen's Amarok and the Mercedes X-Class 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesels are in a completely different league to the 2.0 and 3.0-litre four-pot sluggers that move most of the field, and Ranger's 3.2-litre in-line five cylinder too.
For the Mercedes, X350d prices kick off at a rather astounding $73,270. Volkswagen, on the other hand, is on the attack with Amarok V6, with drive-away discount deals, until March 31, on 2018 plated models at similar prices to the top-selling Ranger and HiLux.
Starting money for the Amarok V6 is $49,990 drive-away on the base model Core. Its turbo diesel produces 165kW of power (up to 180kW on overboost for up to 10 seconds at full throttle in third and fourth gears) and 550Nm of torque.
The V6 turns an eight-speed automatic and VW's high-range only, permanent all-wheel drive, with a locking rear differential.
A no-frills proposition, the Amarok Core gets single-zone aircon, one USB and one 12V outlet, rear parking sensors, hose-out rubber floor and VW's basic infotainment package (minus stand alone navigation) with smartphone mirroring via App Connect. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and 17-inch alloys are also included.
The Sportline, at $52,990 drive-away, adds 18-inch wheels, front parking sensors, dual-zone aircon, extra 12V and USB sockets and dual device connectivity via Apple CarPlay.
Adding bling at $57,990 drive-away, the Highline, gets stainless steel side steps and tub bar, LED headlights, alarm, colour vehicle data display on the instrument panel and navigation.
Rake and reach adjustment for the wheel, plus a supportive, well padded seat, make Amarok's driving position more comfortable and spacious for tall occupants than most rivals with fixed-reach steering wheels.
Rear legroom can be tight, in part because the reach-adjustable wheel means the driver tends to use more front seat travel.
Amarok's tub, the widest in the class, will fit a standard Euro pallet between the wheel arches. A 12V socket is also provided.
On 17 and 18-inch wheels, Amarok's ride is quiet, controlled and compliant by ute standards. In the $50K zone, Amarok and Ranger are the most comfortable one-tonners.
As with the HiLux, the Amarok is hopelessly underdone here and long overdue for an update. Nearly a decade after launch, curtain airbags are still absent - so are autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning. ANCAP now has much tougher criteria and it's unlikely that Amarok would score five stars if crash-tested today.
The V6s in the Amarok and X Class are superior to their four and five-cylinder rivals yet differ, in part because the former has an extra ratio in its automatic.
VW's 3.0-litre pulls slightly more strongly off the bottom and below 2500rpm feels more responsive than the Mercedes.
En route to 4500rpm-5000rpm, the Merc really muscles up, using its 190kW to advantage, and the VW engine doesn't feel quite as strong. The Mercedes V6 is also smoother under acceleration.
Seat-of-the-pants says both claims of 7.9 seconds from rest to 100km/h are close to accurate. No four or five-cylinder rival will do the trip in less than 10 seconds.
VW's V6 is hardly thirsty, either, averaging 7L/100km on the highway and 11-12L in town - comparable with most fours, and with the Ranger.
Amarok's dynamics are as good as a ute gets while still being able to meet its load-carrying and towing brief.
Maximum payload is 951kg. Maximum towing weight is 3500kg; at 3080kg gross vehicle mass, this falls to 2920kg.
Light, precise hydraulic steering is complemented by decent brakes (with rear discs rather than the class standard drums) and a flat attitude in corners.
Permanent all-wheel drive, distributed 40-60 front to rear, gives the Amarok a significant grip and handling advantage over its part-time 4WD rivals on bitumen, especially when it's wet.
I pointed Amarok at a couple of tracks normally reserved for low-range 4WDs. The V6 has the grunt, first gear is effectively a low-range ratio - and traction control, in off-road mode, does the rest, using second and third gears as well.
Hill descent control is effective and the locking rear diff is your get-out-of-jail card. Relatively low (192mm) clearance, and bitumen biased tyres, are Amarok's only notable limitations off-road.
I'm sick of utes that can't get out of their own way. I want power. Nothing else at the price comes close.
I want something that drives more like an SUV than a truck, and there is no valid reason to spend an extra $20,000 or so on the Mercedes X-Class.
Ford Ranger XLT from $50,990
Drive-away price on 2018-plated Ranger XLT manual. Six-speed auto adds $2200. Ranger is the best of the rest - controlled, comfortable, and with easy, solid shove from its 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder. Dual-range 4WD.
Toyota HiLux SR5 from $56,440
This is plus-on-road-costs for the six-speed auto. Toyota regularly advertises the SR5 manual at $52,990 drive-away. Issues with the 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre four/dual-range drive don't seem to have hurt sales but the Ranger and Amarok are better utes.
The Mercedes X350d is$20,000 more but Amarok V6 is in some respects a better one-tonner, the pick of the class as a drive and great value. It's 10 years off the pace in safety, though.
VW Amarok V6
Price: From $49,990 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs/unlimited km; $3228 for 5 yrs/75,000km
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, 165kW/550Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 4 airbags, camera, post-collision braking
Thirst: 7.0L-12.0L /100km