Light on the dark side
With a brand new Amarok co-developed with Ford on the horizon for 2022, or thereabouts, VW is rolling out a few special editions based on the existing technology. It’s a sure way to ensure consumer appeal against some of the contemporary rivals who are now into the next phase of their development cycle.
That said, getting acquainted with the Amarok Dark Label Special Edition underlined that the Amarok is still a top-notch product with arguably the best build quality and most impressive attention to detail of any bakkie in the sector. The tried and tested 132kW BiTDI engine works best with the slick-shifting 8-speed automatic, returning almost unbelievable fuel consumption of 7.4l/100km on our 100km test route, which included a mild off-road foray at Grabouw 4×4. This was a largely ‘unloaded’ result, combined with frugal driving, and would likely climb closer to the theoretical 9.0 l/100km heavily loaded and in town traffic.
The latest Dark Label (not Black Label) includes a number of external features which set it apart from the standard Highline. These include a locally-made MAXE sports bar, along with matte-finish headlight shrouds, exterior mirrors and door handles. The grille features a dark lacquered chrome. Rear windows are tinted for better privacy and the stealth look continues with those blacked-out B-pillars. ‘Dark Label’ lettering features prominently on the sills above 18-inch alloy wheels. Though not part of the Dark Label package, the Amarok in this spec does come with a permanent grippy bed liner, which is rare in the segment.
Interior spec includes full ‘Vienna’ leather trim, black headlining, and floor mats with ‘Dark Label’ lettering. You’ll also get a voice-controlled media system including a smallish 6.33-inch capacity touchscreen (which works exceptionally well), along with optional navigation and front and rear PDC with a reversing camera.
This high-spec Amarok already comes standard with the highest level of safety equipment available, featuring a well-judged traction control system which has a push-button Off-Road button that recalibrates the ABS system to make it more effective when braking at higher speeds on gravel, plus recalibrates throttle sensitivity and gearbox programming. This version of VW’s 4Motion system, linked to the 8-speed auto, offers permanent 4WD with a centre clutch to link the axles, a more sophisticated system that eliminates inter-axle wind-up found on less sophisticated systems. In addition, the safety packages include a post-collision braking system, automatically stopping the vehicle in the event of an accident. Daytime running lights and a tyre pressure monitor complete the safety package.
The VW website shows the Amarok double cab Highline pricing starts from R640 400 (incl. VAT), but the Highline Plus comes in at R718 200 (incl. VAT) – so the Dark Label at R695 800 (incl. VAT) represents a clever price mid-point.
On the road, the Amarok impressed with its frugal engine and slick-shifting gearbox – surely the best gearbox in the segment by a long shot. The ride is particularly plush with low NVH levels and a cosseting, if familiar, interior. We were never wanting for more power out of the 2.0-litre mill, apart from a slight flat spot in the rev mid-range when going up long but not steep hills, for example, so knowing that an additional R100k would be needed to have the V6 option in the driveway had us only slightly green.
On our off-road test, we still felt the transmission could have done with a low range box. It is plenty capable without, though the Ranger scores here in having a broad auto box ratio spread while retaining the transfer case. Truth is, for most overlanding purposes, the simplicity can be an advantage.
While the traction control system handled axle twisters and steep slippery slopes with loose rocks with confidence, the lock-up on the same axles and between axles via the centre diff was slightly slower than optimal. To get through some sections, more revs needed to be dialled in, which is not always ideal when rock crawling. Yes, there is a proper rear locking diff, but the systems now available on rival Toyota and Ford products are slightly quicker-acting. There’s not much in it though, as the Amarok always felt very much in control.
What kept being driven home, as it were, was how good this product from VW is. Though one expects quality at this price point, the impression is of a well-resolved product, replete with finely-crafted design and excellent finishes. It offers topline SUV-like driving characteristics across a range of terrains, and overall is effortless to use. Perhaps it is not the most hardcore off-roader, but it is an eminently capable bakkie with the ability to take a load while delivering a safe and comfortable ride on most surfaces – whether it is corrugated gravel or fast highway.
VW Amarok Dark Label 2.0 BiTDI
Price: R695 800
Engine: 2.0-litre twin turbo
Power: 132kW @ 4 000rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 1 500-2 000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic (DSG) with manual mode
Fuel consumption claimed: 9.0 litres/100km
Fuel consumption tested: 7.4 litres/100km (including off-road test)
Payload: 838kg (or 1 041kg with optional heavy-duty springs)
Tyres: 255/60 R18 112T
Warranty: 3 years/100 000km
Service plan: 5 years/90 000km