CALL OF THE WOLF: Dare to enter the lair of the Volkswagen Amarok

BY CHARL BOSCH - JULY 24, 2014

According to the folklores of the Inuit, the inhabitants of the Arctic regions surrounding Greenland, Canada and Alaska - more commonly known as Eskimos - any hunter, foolish enough to be hunting at night, would fall victim to a massive wolf-like creature known as an amaroq.

Much like its mythological namesake, Volkswagen’s Amarok attests to the company’s sole aim of taking a large bite out of the South African bakkie market and generally, hunt down the established players such as the Toyota Hilux, Isuzu KB and the Ford Ranger.

Launched in late 2009, the Amarok is Volkswagen’s first attempt at producing an in-house one-ton pick-up following an unsuccessful joint venture with Toyota, which resulted in the Taro, a rebadged left hand-drive Toyota Hilux sold in European countries from 1989 to 1997.

Styled by current Volkswagen lead designer, Walter de’Silva, whose credits include the Audi A5 and R8, Volkswagen Scirocco and current Polo to name but a few, the Amarok was previewed in 2008 as the robust pick-up concept to general positive reaction by the world’s motoring press.

Once in production, however, many an eyebrow was raised at Volkswagen’s decision to equip their new creation with a 2.0-litre single or bi-turbo diesel engine in a segment where most rivals sported 2.5-litre engines as a minimum. It triggered one of the biggest debates in the local bakkie market with many questioning Volkswagen’s decision and whether this was nothing more than a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

Yet, it also proved to be the Amarok’s main draw card with many sceptics lining up at dealerships to find out for themselves if a 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel double cab 4x4 could really work. Indeed, many sceptics returned from their test drives, clearly stunned and surprised as the number of Amarok sightings on the countries’ roads skyrocketed.

One of the first Amarok buyers turned out to be non-other than 11 times national rally champion and all round motorsport superstar, Sarel van der Merwe. Not only did SuperVan make the Amarok his personal vehicle of choice, but he also made it the mainstay in his self-created Spirit of Africa Trophy, a demanding off-road challenge designed to push the competitors and the Amarok to the limit.

Likewise, intrepid explorer, Johan Badenhorst, famous for his many trans-African treks as shown in the television series, Voetspore, opted for three Amaroks during his trek from Cape Agulhas to Alexandria, Egypt in 2011.

Apart from a single breakdown, caused by an oddly fitted aftermarket bumper, all three Amaroks ran smoothly and reached their objective. The ability and impression the Amarok made on him was such that for his most recent expedition, Voetspore Across The Equator, Badenhorst and crew once again opted for three Amaroks, two of which were fitted with Volkswagen’s brand new eight-speed automatic transmission.

Returning back to South Africa, Badenhorst commented that following the equator was one of his longest and most difficult expeditions yet, but it was also one of the most comfortable trips, thanks to the ease of drive in the Amarok auto. In fact such has been his confidence, that he plans to use the equator-conquering Amarok as-is, for his next adventure.

I also had my doubts as to whether a 2.0-litre engine would work in a bakkie, hence wasted little time when the moment arrived to get behind the wheel of the updated 2014 Amarok.

Although nothing has changed from a styling perspective, the biggest alteration has been the fitment of the aforementioned eight-speed automatic transmission, the first in a bakkie as well as a torque increase of 20 N.m. More controversially, however, has been the replacement of the traditional low range setup in favour of a very low first gear ratio.

Having been off-roading with my family since age nine, and knowing the importance of low range, I was most keen to find out how the Amarok fairs on the loose stuff.

What immediately stood out were the typical Volkswagen levels of refinement. Despite the fitment of optional 17-inch off-road tyres, the ride was extremely comfortable and the cabin free from any road or indeed engine noise. In fact, so quiet was the engine upfront that it reached ‘haunted house’ levels in the cabin.

As to be expected, build quality is typical Volkswagen with soft-touch plastics throughout as well as a high level of specification which included a six-speaker MP3 compatible radio / CD sound system, two-zone climate control, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, a large glovebox between the front seats, and on the safety side, ABS with EBD and ESP, four airbags and a four star EuroNCAP crash rating.

Where the Amarok really shines is in the drivetrain department. Here, the eight-speed box is the undoubted jewel in the crown as the shifts are not only silky smooth but matched perfectly with the engine’s torque delivery.

With its on-road prowess established, it was time to go off-road. With off-road mode engaged, the Amarok made light work of a soft dune and never once got stuck despite not having low range.

Also highlighted was the off-road ABS function which, when activated, reduces the braking distance on gravel roads.Does it work? How does braking from 100 km/h on loose gravel and keeping in a straight line sound?

My tenure over, I was left in total awe of a vehicle I once loathed. As many before me had found out, what the figures say on paper, doesn’t match the sensation and feel of getting behind the wheel and experiencing what Volkswagen’s wolf has to offer.

To book a test drive, visit Tavcor Commercial Vehicles at the bottom of Mount Road, Port Elizabeth or contact 041 404 4400.