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VW Amarok BiTDI single-cab

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Words and photography Mark Samuel

VW Amarok BiTDI single-cab 4Motion 120 kW Trendline.

It’s a workhorse at heart, but one with some serious road presence and a greatlooking profile. It can take a mountain of stuff in its load bay, but how does it tow?

We tow-tested the double-cab sibling of this bakkie back in April 2011, and the results were good. But the heavy-hauling two-seater version arrived at our offices recently, which necessitated a fresh tow test to evaluate the differences between the two models, and any standout – or stand-down – features.
What was immediately evident? Well, the load bay on the single-cab Amarok is massive. It’s long, really long – 2.205 metres to be precise. That’s long enough to accommodate Andries Bekker, Victor Matfield or Bakkies Botha, lying down … just not together, because that would be awkward.
VW Amarok BiTDI single-cab
This Amarok also looks heavy on the road, and by that I mean it’s got an imposing presence. But it’s not exceptionally heavy: the tare is 1815 kg and the GVM is 3040 kg, which leaves a significant payload (or loading capacity) of 1225 kg – but the official payload for this model is listed as 1150 kg, which allows for a 75 kg driver. (Okay, we’re no longer talking about Springbok locks.)
VW’s maximum towing capacity is 2800 kg, for braked caravans or trailers, up a maximum gradient of 12 degrees. But in South Africa that figure is incidental if you’re towing normal overrun-braked caravans or trailers, because the GVM of your braked towable may not exceed the tare of your towcar, which, as we’ve mentioned, is 1815 kg.
Still, that’s a high enough figure to tow a Jurgens Exclusive or a Jurgens Safari Xplorer off-roader, just perhaps not high enough to tow the heaviest imported caravans.

The drive

For the daily commute, the bakkie served its purpose, and grew on me as the days passed. But it’s not smooth: every time my wife was alongside me in the passenger seat she grumbled about the firm, bumpy ride, which jarred her back. I consoled her by saying this bakkie is designed as a workhorse, albeit a somewhat pricey one: yes, this range-topping model, the Amarok single-cab 2.0 BiTDI 4Motion 120 kW Trendline, retails for R310 175. The lowest of the low models, the singlecab 2.0 TDI 90 kW Basic, starts at R191 140. She’s right, the ride is firm, but that can be attributed to the fact that it’s designed to take more than a ton in the bak – a noteworthy payload. But what I found unpleasant was the clunky gearchange action, particularly between first and second, and, to a degree, throughout the range up to sixth.

Comparing the manual change action to a Ford Ranger bakkie I drove recently, I found it notchy and not very satisfying, and the Ranger certainly wasn’t the best I’ve experienced. Because of this, driving in stop-start traffic with the Amarok wasn’t very relaxing.

Fuel consumption without anything in tow averaged around 9.0 l/100 km, which is pretty good. The 2.0-litre bi-turbo-diesel engine sips fuel relatively frugally, all the while delivering healthy acceleration performance.

But the bakkie’s prowess came to the fore when I needed to collect building materials for my home deck DIY project. It was just so handy having all that space at the back and strong tie-down points – although the negative here is that the tiedowns are positioned near the base of the load bay, and not on the outside or around the top. That means it can be difficult to locate them if your load’s in place, and you’ve forgotten to thread your rope beforehand. In my opinion the channel and bracket tie-down system on the Nissan Navara is far superior. While the bags of stone were being loaded I was grateful for the ‘optional extra’ rubberised bin liner that had been fitted to the test car.

I must’ve piled in 900 kg of sand, stone and cement, and other odds and ends, and although the suspension dropped a bit under the weight, the bakkie took it all in its stride. The resulting ride was also a lot softer, although, naturally, my wife didn’t get to experience it because she wasn’t keen to join me for the excursion to the hardware store. The interior of the cab is more utilitarian in its design than the five-seater: rubber floors replace the carpets found in the double-cab, there’s no extra 12 V power outlet on the tray on top of the dash, and overall it’s somewhat down-specced. But the manual aircon is capable, the sound system – with Bluetooth integration – decent, and the seating position comfortable for both occupants.

There’s also the usual list of VW onboard computer readouts, like average speed and fuel consumption, instantaneous fuel consumption, range and trip duration. The bakkie is also big, very big. With the mountains of stuff stacked along the walls of my garage, there was simply no way this bakkie was going to fit inside at night. This might be a problem for you, but I must admit my personal preference is for a big vehicle.

Towing

For our towing test we hitched up a Jurgens Safari Xplorer offroad caravan with an overrun-braked GVM of 1650 kg. So, by all accounts, we were legal and above-board. The Xplorer has always been a stable caravan to tow, and behind the Amarok it was no different. However, with an unladen bak, and because of the firm suspension, some pitching and light bouncing was evident on the towbar. But that’s easily improved by loading some extra weight into the loadbay of the bakkie. The top models in the range, our test car being one of them, boast traction control and rear diff-lock, and the 4Motion is a fancy way of saying it’s a 4×4. For off-road or slippery road conditions, these features will certainly assist those of us who tow. Hmmm, the awkward clutch and gear change action had some members of our team – no names mentioned – stalling the bakkie a few times before they got the hang of it. The clutch takes very early. The torque for towing is most definitely there, and it’s more than adequate, but the torque band is somewhat narrow. This means a bit of juggling through the gears is required to stay within the optimal band, when you need it – like on those long, long hill climbs. That said, on the flat the combination was very happy, even in sixth! Up our hill climb we achieved 85 km/h, which is above average for a 2.0-litre, while sitting at 2200 rpm in fourth gear.

I found on the 0-60, 0-80 and 0-100 km/h acceleration runs the bakkie ran out of some puff: the figures we achieved don’t really attest to this, but that’s what it felt like underfoot. Steering was fantastically light, and stability through sweeping corners, even with a lightweight tail, was good. Top towing speed won’t challenge the Range Rover Sports of this world: on our regular flat run we got the speedo to hit just over 130 km/h.

So the caravan we towed with the single-cab was a tad heavier than the one we used in our double-cab test; this revealed itself in the hill climb test result, which was a number of seconds slower. But, perhaps due to the bulky dimensions of the Jurgens Classique towed in the double-cab’s test, our acceleration results this time around were a bit quicker.

This single-cab bakkie is great, although I have the same reservation – or perhaps I should term my concern a ‘disclaimer’ – as I did in my conclusion to the April 2011 review: I can’t comment on the longevity of this hard-working engine block. Sure, VW have rated it to tow a sizeable 2.8 tons, and it has the maximum torque and power credentials to do this, but can such a small-capacity engine be forced to work so hard for an extended period?

Would I consider this vehicle if I was hunting for a single-cab? Yes, but although Amarok was the first of the contemporary, great-looking bakkies to hit the showroom floors, a few others have now become available, not least of which is the fantastic-looking Ford Ranger. So the purchase decision has perhaps become a little trickier.

 

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