LIGHT COMMERCIAL TEST - DARK SIDE OF THE STREET

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Volkswagen’s limited edition Amarok Darkside adds a bad boy flavour to a ute that stands the test of time.

Reading freshly penned reviews of the latest and greatest new model launches might traditionally have featured near the top of any vehicle buyer’s to-do list, but it doesn’t help much if you’re interested in what will best do the job you want to cover. After all, reviewers tend to look only at the latest market entry, and take the stance of a fictional ‘average’ buyer, which generally means someone wanting the perfect compromise. And there is no such thing. Consider utes. A model that will tackle the roughest terrain will make compromises on road, and one that feels comfortable and refined on road will likely lose some off-road credentials. Not to mention that the latest launch vehicle isn’t necessarily the greatest on sale in its bracket on any given day. As ever, start by taking a detailed look at what you need to do. Spend most time in the rough? You might not choose this Amarok. But those who need to spend long hours on the road, yet will need off-seal grip and ground clearance often enough to choose a ‘proper’ 4WD, should read on. The Volkswagen Amarok Darkside Edition is a limited edition model variant. It tops the Amarok line-up at $79,000, and includes the same V6 turbo powerplant as the $75,000 Sportline, but with a package that includes the metallic paint, 20” alloy wheels, and blackout accessory kit.


Photos: Unlock tonneau and lift, hydraulic struts take the strain, lid lifts high to ease access, hanging strap makes closing a doddle.

Do without all that and opt for the entry-level 4-cylinder Comfortline, from $63,000. This 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel is a great engine. There’s almost no turbo lag, and if you ignore American offerings, it’s the strongest out there. Sure, it doesn’t have the high-speed punch of a performance petrol, but this is a truck. It gets along well at road speeds, and with sufficient refinement – both in terms of engine and suspension control – to make this one of the comfiest utes in which to travel any distance on seal. That’s impressive given leaf spring suspension out back – and there’s very little body roll too. The massive torque total – and the low rpm at which the maximum hit arrives – makes it feel all but unstoppable and is also a boon when there’s hard work to do, or slippery gunk to traverse. Given strong winds and rain during much of our test we didn’t head far off seal, but did enough manoeuvring around muddy paddock gates on rough hilly ground to know that even with road tyres, this Amarok will idle its way over muck with more aplomb than expected. Otherwise our test route largely involved multiple crossings of the Waitakere Hills and its winding, undulating roads, some steep gravel driveways and suburban traverses, and very little open-road highway. Overall fuel economy showed as 8.9l/100km, smack on the company claim.


Photo: Design and features match car range, typically large buttons and dials suit workaday focus. Plenty of storage includes dash-top tray with 12V socket, roof-mounted sunglasses holder, cup holders and nice deep centre cubby under armrest (shame cup holders are nearer driver while handbrake is nearer passenger);


Photo: Rear legroom always a tad tight in utes; bench seat lifts for more luggage space, or back folds.

The cabin may be strong on big switches and solidly practical horizontals in deference to the fact that beneath the dark executive palette it’s really a workhorse, but it’s definitely also aimed at a fair few road trips. The interior has a ‘large car’ ambience, with specifications to suit. That means as well as all the now-standard safety systems and cruise control, there’s park distance control with a reversing camera, front fog lights that also light the right or left verge on tighter corners, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, climate control air con, front door pockets that will hold a 1.5- litre bottle (and rears a 1-litre), storage compartments under the front seats, a touchscreen, voice control; we could go on. Tall folk will appreciate the front headroom, but as in all double cabs, might not squeeze lanky legs into the more limited rear, though that back seat is slightly elevated to help passengers see out. There’s also a one-third to two-thirds split fold, with the bases folding upwards if you need more luggage space, while the back folds down in one piece with a compartment for small items behind.

What you don’t get for all this money is a tow bar (though there is ‘tow bar prep’) or a tray liner – under that fancy lid is simply paint, and four rugged cargo loops. That lid is a cost option, but if you need one, this is a goody. It has a separate lock to the tailgate, and though the first centimetre or two of lift seemed a tad heavy to the lightweights on our staff, the hydraulics pick up after that, and closing it is a doddle. In between it lifts sufficiently high to give really good access for loading and unloading. If you want a ute with an upmarket feel, this is now your only option since Mercedes-Benz announced the end of its X-Class, unless you go for the luxury of size and choose an American model. Otherwise Amarok is the clear choice for anyone whose life includes long hours on seal, given its refined ride. That’s all the more impressive when you consider Amarok launched 10 years ago, and has had only relatively minor updates since. That’s right, no new design, and yet it still makes a strong case against the competition, especially for those who spend a lot of time on the road.


Photo: Darkside  comes with blacked-out details like side sills and alloy wheels, for a touch of menace.


Photo: Darkside badges blacked out; separate lock for tailgate and hard tonneau