New car review: Volkswagen Amarok Canyon V6
'Muscular' German ute impresses in tough category.
Anyone who tracks new vehicle sales in this country will know that dual cab utes have been one of the key drivers of new car sales for the past decade or more.
In a sense, they have become a de facto economic indicator; if tradies and other small businesses are buying plenty of dual cabs, things are generally tickety-boo with the country as a whole.
While the dual cab’s first and most obvious line of appeal is its ability to lug a load and get its wheels dirty, they have also become a popular substitute for the family wagon, given their five-seat capacity, enhanced safety features and increasingly upmarket specification.
With the prices of some well-specified variants now pushing into the high-$60k and early-$70k mark, there are solid profits to be made, leading car makers to pile into the category en masse in recent years.
Two notable inclusions are German brands Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, neither of which could be regarded as long-term ute players in this market.
Of the two, Volkswagen’s Amarok has been established the longest, having launched here in 2011, versus the Johnny-come-lately Mercedes, which arrived with a flourish in 2018, only to be unceremoniously axed in May this year.
While competition in the 18-strong category was clearly too much for the luxury three-pointed star brand, Volkswagen has gritted its teeth and hung in there for almost a decade now, building a loyal following that sees its snare about 5% of annual category sales.
As a result, the Amarok is now somewhat long in the tooth, despite having benefited from a number of upgrades since launch, and an all-new model that will be built on a shared platform with the wildly successful Ford Ranger due here in 2022.
Until then, Volkswagen will no doubt continue to trade heavily on one of the key advantages the Amarok has over the rest of the pack – namely a gutsy turbo-diesel V6 that gives it a clear power and torque advantage in a category where that still counts for plenty.
Not every Amarok is a V6, though, with the range starting with several price-leading four-cylinder turbo-diesel powered variants.
Things quickly steps up to a range of V6-powered variants, though, including the Core, Canyon, Sportline, Highline, Highline Black 580, Ultimate 580 and finally the Highline Black 580S.
It’s with these pricier and better-equipped V6 variants that the Amarok sales action is at, with almost 90% of the 1229 Amaroks sold in June 2020 being V6s, of which the Highline is the strongest seller.
On most of these V6 models, including the Canyon tested here, the 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 pumps out a healthy 165kW/500Nm (or 180kW on over boost), whereas the Highline Black 580, Ultimate 580 and Highline Black 580S all boast improved outputs of 190kW/580Nm (or 200kW on over boost).
Compare that with the 130kW/450Nm outputs of the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel of the market-leading Toyota HiLux – or even the punchier 157kW/500Nm of the Ford Ranger Wildtrack’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel – and it’s clear that Volkswagen has its rivals covered in both the cubic capacity and power/torque stakes.
The Canyon variant launched in September 2019 and sits towards the top end of an Amarok line-up that starts with the aforementioned four-cylinder turbo-diesel powered Core at $42,990 and goes all the way to the Amarok Highline Black Edition at $65,990.
With drive-away pricing of $58,990 the Canyon is hardly what you would call cheap, but it’s designed to hit the sweet spot for buyers who want something that’s comfortably mid-spec; meaning not too “poverty pack” and without all the costly bells and whistles that come with the top-spec editions.
As a result, the Canyon is comfortably although not luxuriously appointed, with standard features including 17-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, dark tinted tail lights, front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera, black headlining and pillar trims. It misses out, however, on features like keyless entry, push-button start, blind-spot monitoring and digital radio.
On the road, the Canyon is immediately distinguishable from the rest of the Amarok pack courtesy of bespoke logos on the doors, tailgate and seat trim, and its black rear bumper.
The manually adjusted seats are covered in a combination of durable-looking fabric and imitation leather, with chunky orange stitching that’s matched by orange highlights on the seatbelts.
The steering wheel and auto shift lever are both leather-clad, while the interior plastics are good quality, durable looking and with a high standard of overall fit and finish.
The infotainment system is on the small side by the standards of today, but does feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. There’s plenty of oddment storage with a small centre console, flat storage area atop the dash and flock-lined door pockets front and rear.
There are no sidesteps but it’s easy enough to climb up into the Canyon’s cabin, where the rear seats have a fixed back with the rigidly upright seating position that’s fairly standard for the category.
The seat base folds up when not in use to provide additional storage, which is a handy feature, but there are no rear air vents.
Like others in the class, the Amarok is built on a sturdy ladder frame chassis with a leaf spring rear end and a double wishbone independent front suspension.
The combination endows the Canyon with a payload of up to 911kg and a braked towing capacity of 3500kg, meaning it’s well-equipped to handle hard labour.
There’s no cargo liner for the deep and sturdy-looking tray, which at 1222mm wide is one of the widest in the class and capable of accommodating a full size “Euro” pallet.
Four sturdy tie-down eyelets, a 12-volt power outlet and a light above the rear window to illuminate the tray at night round out the cargo story.
The unladen ride quality is typically firm for this style of vehicle but it’s not brutish and there’s decent weighting and refinement to the steering. The eight-speed ZF automatic is a beauty, smoothly and effortlessly harnessing the V6’s grunt which it sends to all four wheels via a Torsen-type limited-slip centre differential.
There’s no low-range gearing per se, but a selectable off-road mode and rear diff lock that should ensure a high level of off-road ability.
The V6 is impressively smooth and quiet, going about its business at fairly relaxed revs most of the time but happy to spin up and respond in an instant if required.
Despite its age this is still arguably the best powertrain available in the category.
The Amarok’s on-road prowess is aided by the assured stopping power of four-wheel disc brakes, in a category where rear drum brakes are still more common.
Elsewhere on the safety front the Amarok Canyon lacks some of the best in class features of newer rivals.
Including adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and rear curtain airbags, meaning its five-star ANCAP rating awarded in 2011 would not be achieved if tested today.
No doubt this will be addressed when the new model arrives, but until then it’s one of the few chinks in the muscular German ute’s impressive armour.
MLP: $58,990 (driveaway)
ENGINE: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 turbo-diesel
ANCAP SAFETY RATING: 5-star (2011)
TAILPIPE CO2 (g/km): 227g/km (8.7L/100km)
Performance, towing capacity, refinement
Relatively expensive, lacking some convenience features, no rear seat airbags.