Volkswagen is the third-largest car manufacturer on earth, producing well over six million cars annually. The brand has expanded its product portfolio and today, it is represented in all market segments except motorcycles. In 2011, you can buy VW-badged buses, trucks, light commercial vehicles, MPVs, SUVs, cars and even bakkies.
VW is new to the bakkie market and its first try is the Amarok, which has already caused a big upheaval in the double cab bakkie market. In the first six months it had been on sale in South Africa, over 2,500 Amaroks were sold – and you have to take into account that it was achieved with and extremely limited range: the 2.0 TDI Trendline Double Cab in 4×2 and 4Motion and the 2.0 BiTDI Highline Double Cab in 4×2 and 4Motion.
Click Here to check out the video of the new Amarok’s performance and capabilities.
From the middle of 2011, many more Amarok models are being added to the range, starting with the single cab models in both workhorse and Comforline guises. Petrol engines will also follow soon and the real sales capability of VW’s first bakkie will become evident once the entire range has been fleshed out to compete with its rivals on equal footing.
The thing that has probably raised the most eyebrows was the small 2-litre twin-turbo diesel engine in the top-of-the-range Amarok models. A small, low-enertia turbocharger spools up very quickly from very low engine speeds and a larger one takes over shortly thereafter to maintain the power curve. This setup ensures 120 kW, which is fully in step with most of its rivals like the Hilux 3.0 D-4D (120 kW), Isuzu KB300 D-TEQ (120 kW), Mitsubishi Triton 3.2 TDD (118 kW) and Ford/Mazda 3.0 TDCi (115 kW) but slightly adrift of the competing 2.5-litre dCi Nissan Navara (140 kW).
In terms of torque output, it beats most comers with a very stout 400 N.m, which is available at a very low 1,500 r/min. This compares to the Toyota’s 343 N.m, the Isuzu’s 360 N.m, the Mitsubishi’s 343 N.m and the Ford/Mazda figure of 380 N.m. Once again, the Navara is ahead with 450 N.m.
Naysayers have expressed reservations about the potential reliability of the apparently complex VW engine and the fact that the high-boost, small-capacity route may not be the way to go to ensure trouble-free service in a harsh climate where most rivals employ large-capacity, understressed engines to achieve the same power levels.
However, VW claims to have completed millions of test kilometres with the BiTDI engine in the harshest climates on earth. The Amarok was also the official support vehicle for the VW team that competed (and won) in the last Dakar race and during that event, the bakkies were pelted over unforgiving dirt tracks in sandy conditions in the baking Atacama Desert at altitudes exceeding 4,000 metres above sea level.
On the face of it, first indications are that VW has indeed done its homework and that the Amarok will be reliable. It desperately needs to be, for several reasons:
- The Japanese have made this market segment their own and has proven many years ago already beyond the shadow of a doubt that their bakkies are tough enough to work in Africa over many years without giving in. In the very least, VW would have to emulate this record of accomplishment if it is to stand a chance of winning over Japanese loyalists’ favour.
- VW has hit a rough spot with the recall of several of its 1.9-litre turbodiesel engines in recent years for failing turbochargers. The problems appeared to have been isolated to the 1.9 (which is no longer made anyway), and few such reports have been forthcoming from the midst of the owners of other diesel VWs. Still, the recall of nearly 5,000 cars has damaged VW’s reputation and dented their reputation and apparent ability to produce reliable small-capacity turbodiesel engines, which is exactly what the new 2.0 BiTDI engine is…
- Traditionalists are of the opinion that there is no substitute for cubic inches and swear by their large capacity Japanese bakkies. VW has been brave by bringing the downsizing trend to the bakkie market, but even if the idea is good – and the trend will continue – it is a difficult market to convince.
The downsizing philosophy is an all-encompassing one at VW and will not be confined to the diesel Amaroks; the forthcoming petrol version that will compete with the 2.4-2.7-litre competition will be a 2-litre petrol turbo (a derivative of the Golf GTI engine), detuned to 118 kW – similar to the Hilux 2.7 petrol – but with a handy 300 N.m, which is far more than any rival.
Of course, VW will not be able to rest on their laurels and they will have to improve the Amarok offering as they go along, because the competition is not sleeping. The Nissan Navara is already leading the entire field on power output in both their petrol and diesel versions and the rest is trying to play catch-up in vain. How do you compete with 140 kW and 170 kW diesel engines if your best effort puts out 120 kW? There is no doubt that Navara has moved the goalposts on how much power can be had in a bakkie. Even the petrol Navara packs nearly 200 kW.
And the Navara is not the Amarok’s only headache. Near the end of 2011, the new Ford Ranger will be here and besides stunning styling and a really beautiful interior (areas the Amarok has to itself for now), it will also offer a diesel engine with 147 kW and 470 N.m. VW would certainly have to do something to compete with these offerings and it does not appear that they will be able to hold out for too long with their 120 kW 2-litre.
However, these things are all in the future and for now the Amarok matches its typical competitor on power and beats them handsomely on quality levels, car-like ride comfort, luxury features and even – surprisingly for a VW – on value for money. Indeed, the top Amarok is R5,000 cheaper than the equivalent Hilux, yet has features like stability control that is not even available as an extra in any other bakkie. Other features include front fog lights, cruise control, 17-inch alloys, traction control and a load bay light, all standard on the Highline.
Amarok is already the best or joint leader on many key points like spaciousness, interior design and quality, luxury features, safety features and comfort. All that remains now is for it to prove that it is tough enough to survive in Africa and to dispel any lingering misgivings the doubting Thomases had about the small capacity engines.
Buyers have already voted with their wallets and the Amarok has exceeded VW’s sales expectations, especially considering the limited launch range. Shortly, the workhorses will be here and then the Amarok will have no lifestyle image to hide behind anymore. Then, it will be expected to perform in uncompromising situations the way Hilux and Isuzu bakkies have for years on end. If the Germans can pull this off first time out, the Amarok’s success is surely guaranteed.
- Cobus Potgieter
Contact your nearest Volkswagen dealer on simply browse through their meticulous website: www.vw.co.za
Or contact the customer interaction centre:
South African Residnets: 0860 434 737
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