Volkswagen's impressive Amarok bakkie has steadily been silencing the pessimistic noises from the doomsday prophets and the blue-bearded 4x4 'manne' who initially scathingly predicted all sorts of performance failures and possibly even the early demise of this classy German 2-litre, twin-turbo one-ton bakkie.
The Amarok is the first bakkie on the South African market to come to the party with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Not that there were no rough patches on the Amarok's journey to market acceptance. The first model did draw flak for its over-sensitive clutch and power-lacking 120kW engine which made for tricky take-off as some drivers struggled to find the perfect power balance between embarrassing off-road choke-offs or wheel-spin.
However, Volkswagen heeded the criticism and fixed the problem when they launched the upgraded version equipped with a more powerful 132kW engine and improvements to the clutch-transmission set-up. Then there was a growing market demand for a Double Cab option and the manufacturer again delivered. Next up was "why no automatic option" - and Volkswagen has just pulled that rabbit out of the hat as well.
What's more, it's an impressive rabbit because all of a sudden the Amarok is the first bakkie on the South African market to come to the party with an 8-speed automatic transmission. This, combined with car-like comfort, excellent fuel efficiency, strong towing muscle and serious rock-rabbit off-road abilities, have turned the German pick-up into an even more attractive workhorse and recreational vehicle.
To illustrate the refinement of the new auto shift VW flew a group of South African motoring scribes to Namibia on a "trail" led by motor racing and rallying legend and one of the toughest task masters in the off-road business, Sarel van der Merwe.
Just in case you didn't believe the writer...
Our two-day return journey of over 500km took us from Oranjemund through 166km of the renowned no-go sperrgebiet diamond mining territory, into the Ais-Ais Cross-Frontier Park, up and over mountainous dunes and high-rising rocky outcrops, along the winding loops of the Orange River and through thick sand and dust with the outside temperature gauges in our Amaroks hitting an all-time high of 55ºC en route!
Other than a double tyre blow-out on a particularly challenging mountainside littered with inhospitable chunks of sharp shale, the 10 vehicles in our convoy completed the trip without a stutter or a mutter.
I have to confess that when Amarok was first introduced in South Africa I, too, had reservations about its long-term survival and ability to cope with the harsh terrain and the tough tasks local bakkie owners demand from their vehicles, particularly as it was powered by a small, turbo-charged engine and at the same time offered the best load-hauling ability in its class. But by the first model upgrade I was already convinced that the Germans have come up with a winner. And this recent trip confirmed that yet again.
Just for openers, VW claims a combined fuel consumption of just 8.3 litres per 100km and although we didn't do accurate juice measurements on our Namibian trip, we did the entire journey on a single tank of fuel - and there was plenty left over when we pulled up at Oranjemund Airport to commence our charter flight home.
Because the auto version has permanent 4-wheel drive it makes it highly capable in seriously challenging terrain.
But consumption aside it was the Amarok's specially developed new 8-speed auto box which impressed. It was as smooth as a sporty DSG transmission, quick and seemed able to "read" the engine and to match a cog to its demands.
VW says the transmission uses a torque converter to give better response at low speeds and less resistance to slip, both of which are key factors during off road driving and towing.
The eight-cog set-up provides a wider ratio spread between 1st and 8th gear than a conventional auto shift which means it tends to work in the optimum torque band most of the time. With the 8th gear being an overdrive it also reduces engine speed and cuts fuel usage.
The first gear is configured as a low range gear that can be used for starting off on steep inclines or when towing. It is also a perfect gear for locking into when descending sharp descends because it minimises the use of brakes and the risks of losing traction.
Because the auto version has permanent 4-wheel drive it makes it highly capable in seriously challenging terrain such as we experienced on the Namibian trip. The permanent 4-wheel drive in the Amarok with automatic transmission offers better ride and greater handling capabilities both on and off road. Its Torsen differential, which is also new to the bakkie class, distributes the drive power variably between front and rear axle. The basic setting produces a 40:60 split which improves traction on the road. To lock the diff requires only the press of a button.
Towing capacity has been increased to 3 metric tonnes.
The auto transmission version is linked to a robust 132kW 2.0-litre Bi-turbo TDI engine which churns out a healthy 420Nm from as low as 1,750rpm.
VW claims a top speed in 7th gear of 179km/h and says the auto Amarok will do the 0-100km/h dash in less than 11 seconds.
Besides its amazing abilities to cope with the harsh demands of the Namibian terrain it is a classy, quiet cruiser on the tar and it gallops across sand and gravel with confidence and without skittishness, even without a load on the back to plant it down.
Good news for tow-bar drivers is that the with the auto box the Amarok's towing capacity has also been increased to 3 metric tonnes.
All the kit
The Amarok with automatic transmission is offered in flagship Double Cab Highline configuration and standard safety and comfort kit include ESP (Electronic stabilisation control) with brake assist and Hill Start/Hill Descent assist, ABS including off-road ABS, driver and front passenger airbag, daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, Radio/CD (MP3 capable) with 6 speakers, Climatronic 2-zone air conditioning system, storage drawers under front seats, cruise control and 12-volt socket in centre console, dashboard and load box.
Customers can further individualise their vehicles with fancies such as a Communication package which includes multi-function steering, Bluetooth cell phone preparation, Front and Rear Park Distance Control and Vienna leather seats.
You have a range of options when it comes to the living quarters.
Volkswagen South Africa sold more than 7,200 Amaroks within the first two years of being launched in this country and it is a tad unfair for a few critics (and even a leading motoring publication) proclaiming the Amarok's is "as yet unproven".
By now it has done enough to prove itself for even before the arrival of the Auto shift models Amarok was already setting the class standards for comfort, looks, driving pleasure and load-hauling ability and with the addition of automatic transmission that bar has just been hoiked another good few notches.
The new Amarok Double Cab 2.0 BiTDI 132kW 4Motion Auto Highline retails for R461,100 which includes a three-year/100,000km warranty and a five-year/90,000km service plan.
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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