► All-new version of Volkswagen’s posh pickup
► Shares much with latest Ford Ranger
► V6 diesel engine and five trims, pricing TBC
There was no seamless transition from the last version of Volkswagen Amarok to this all-new model – a pause between the two generations meant that pickup buyers had a notably reduced set of options to choose from.
The return of the Amarok is a welcome thing therefore, but don’t think that this automatically means you have the same wide range of options on the menu. The Amarok is the one of the first products of VW’s partnership with Ford, which will see the two companies share responsibility for the development of several commercial vehicles.
This means that the latest Volkswagen Amarok is essentially a Ford Ranger when you dig deep. And it really is a Ranger, as Ford was the lead partner in this project, which means that factors such as engines, gearboxes and the like are ones that are shared with the likes of the Transit van.
So is the 2023 VW Amarok just a rebadged Ford Ranger then?
The Amarok is a big deal to VW – it sold more than 800,000 of the first generation, so just slapping its badge onto a rival truck would be a silly approach, and thankfully there is much more to define the Ford and the VW from one another. There is only so much you can do with the three-box design of a pickup truck but put the Amarok and the Ranger next to each other and you’ll be able to tell the difference. Remove the respective branding and you would be able to identify which is which, too.
VW designers have been keen to retain what makes the Amarok a Volkswagen and have been given licence to do so. Of the external parts, only the door mirrors and handle and the roof panel are the same between the two. Everything other piece of sheet metal and the moulded features such as bumpers and grille are bespoke. This includes the chunky, squared-off wheel surrounds that identified the previous generation.
The changes continue inside, too, with the roof lining the only part that is identical in the two trucks. VW has been able to make the Amarok its own, inside and out, right from the start and it shows.
This doesn’t mean it is a totally different proposition – some elements such as the selector for the 4WD modes and the internal door handles might have been made of different materials, but the fundamental placement and movement of the features feel familiar. The key is recognisably a Ford one too, as is the central screen.
What is the 2023 Amarok like in the cabin?
The Amarok has always been a relatively posh affair by pickup standards, and the latest version continues this tradition.
There are five trims to choose from – which seems quite excessive given the comparatively small nature of the pickup market – and we tried the two that will sit at the top of the range. The Aventura is the one more geared towards on-road users that might have been used to a posher SUV, while the PanAmericana is the version aimed at those that want to go off road but still want a touch of luxury from their truck. Lower down the range you can choose from the Aventura, Life and Style models.
Both Aventura and PanAmericana feature a large amount of leather covering in the cabin – it’s on the steering wheel, seats, dashboard top and the door panel – the major elements that you look at and touch on a regular basis basically. It’s all geared towards the front of the cabin, though – rear-seat passengers get a more basic and rubbery finish to their door panels.
The other stand out features up front are the multi-function steering wheel and the 12-inch portrait screen. The latter is a Ford system that is powered by the latest Sync 4A operating system so it shouldn’t be as frustrating to use as the systems that have made many modern VWs frustrating to live with.
It might look like a VW system though – the company has been allowed to reskin the front end so that the apps and fonts are all Volkswagen’s. There are also, praise be, a selection of physical buttons below the screen so you don’t have to do everything with the fiddly touchscreen.
These buttons are shortcuts to the different elements of the system, though – the climate button takes you to the screen to adjust the temperature and air conditioning for example, so you will still have to remove your gloves to warm the cabin. Thankfully there is a physical volume dial, though, so no sliding of your finger along the bottom of the screen as you have to on other VWs. More of this please.
How much space does the VW Amarok have?
The Amarok has lengthened by 96mm compared to its predecessor, while the wheelbase has increased by 173mm to be a hefty 3270mm. This translates to more space inside, and most of this has been given over to the rear-seat passengers. The result is a really decent amount of legroom for adults – something that pickups don’t always get. The rear seat backs are still quite upright though, which might feel a little formal if you are used to a more relaxed posture.
Storage up front is adequate rather than great. The cupholders in the central console are not that deep and quite far set back. There is a relatively small glovebox, some quite narrow door pockets and a small section at the bottom of the central panel for storing phones and gubbins. On higher versions it offers wireless charging, too, although you have to plug your phone in for Apple Carplay and Android Auto, and there are both USB-C and USB-A sockets to do so.
Other high-end features include dual-zone climate control and a wide range of safety and driver assistance tech including a 360-degree camera – those used to a plush SUV will be relatively pleased with all that is on offer.
Practicality out back it is excellent. You can carry up to 1.19 tonnes, tow up to the maximum legal limit of 3.5 tonnes and you can even carry 85 kg on the roof while you are on the move. Park up and you can get put 350kg on the roof, which means you can pop a tent up there. Not got one that is designed to strap to the top of a pickup? Never fear, VW will sell you one…
All this bulk means that the Amarok tips the scales over the 2040kg weight that means it has to adhere to the commercial vehicle speed limits – 10mph slower on single carriageways and dual carriageways where the national speed limit applies.
But a V6 engine means the Amarok is fast, right?
Again, not so fast with the assumptions. We’ve tried the 240hp V6 diesel engine with the 10-speed automatic gearbox so far, and the emphasis is more on strength than blistering pace. If you floor it from stationary then it will give you a burst of speed, but the gearbox isn’t the swiftest so it takes a moment if you plant the accelerator in search of an overtake. You can manually change the ratios, but there are no paddles behind the steering wheel and you have to use a fiddly rocker switch on the side of the gear selector, so you’re better off letting it do its thing and not rushing too much.
There are multiple driving modes to choose from, but only two that are geared towards on-road use – Normal and Eco, with the latter dialling back the acceleration a little more. The rest are aimed at off road use, with settings for Mud/Ruts, Sand, Slippery and Load/trailer. You can also manually tweak things to get about off road, with hill-decent control, a locking rear differential and four modes for the all-wheel drive system, including a low-ratio setting. The wading depth is now 800mm, too.
The off-roading we did was lightly testing, and was dispatched with supreme ease, leaving us suspecting that the Amarok is capable of much more. Its sheer size is likely to be a factor when it comes to really testing off-road conditions, but on this evidence it will have little trouble tackling the sort of off-roading that most will ask of it.
Back on road, the suspension is traditional pickup, with conventional springs and dampers up front and leaf springs at the rear. This means there is no avoiding a degree of bumpiness, but this was another area that VW was allowed to specifically tune for the Amarok. The engineers went for a comfier set up, and the result is impressive, for a truck that is. The steering has been calibrated to be more instantly responsive, too, although it does feel as though it has lost a little of the car-like characteristics of the previous generation.
New VW Amarok: the initial verdict
The 2023 Amarok is undeniably an upgrade on the outgoing model in several key areas. It is a practical, spacious, comparatively comfortable and well-specced truck with a classy interior. There remain a few unknowns at this stage, though, with VW not having confirmed pricing or final UK specifications at the time of writing.
VW has admitted that the Amarok will be priced slightly higher than the Ranger, though, which presents a slight challenge for buyers. Everything the VW can do, the Ford will be able to do as well, and the new Platinum trim on the Ranger means that it can even offer a highly equipped model too.
In isolation, the Amarok is an excellent and improved machine, but it is very much not in isolation these days. Those setting prices and trims will have to work hard to tempt buyers in the direction of the VW.
Estimated pricing below excludes VAT