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Volkswagen Amarok long-term test

  • Daily life with the Volkswagen Amarok pickup truck
  • Can it combine family life with rural toughness?
  • Clever tech, space aplenty and a rugged image

Written by Tom Webster Published: 8 July 2024 Updated: 16 July 2024

Daily life with one of the best pickup trucks on the market, as the Volkswagen Amarok joins Tom Webster’s household.

Update 1: Introduction to family life

On the spectrum of workhorse to lifestyle pickup, it’s fair to say that the Volkswagen Amarok largely sits at the latter end of things.

It’s one of the best pickups you can buy, too, which is why we have chosen to live with one to see how it slots into daily life. We’re throwing as many things at it as possible, but its day-to-day duties will see it act as a dad wagon first and foremost.

My kids are spoilt. Certainly as far as the vehicles I bring home are concerned, that is, as they get to ride in a variety of different cars. The fact that I have to shoehorn in their chunky car seats means I don’t bring home anything without Isofix or generous rear-seat space these days, but the turnover is fun if you are of primary school age.

Pickup trucks are a favourite in the Webster household.
Pickup trucks are a favourite in the Webster household.

But if you were to ask them what their favourite vehicle is they’d both respond in unison and in a heartbeat. Pickups are by far and away the only way to travel as far as they are concerned, and they are always sad when one goes back.

Needless to say, I’m in their good books at the moment and have been ever since the VW Amarok arrived. The ability to turn every journey into a climbing-frame style adventure makes the nursery run that bit easier.

On-road introduction

As you might have gathered, I’ve mainly been using the Amarok on road and for familial duties so far, but I won’t be alone among the VW’s buyers in doing so. This might well be the Panamerica version, complete with extra under-body protection and an easily operated 4WD system, but it is also equipped with an opulent and well-specified cabin.

This means that I have got plenty of kit that is more lifestyle than workhorse, including powered leather seats and a premium Hardon Kardon sound system. These are the only interior additions over the Style, which brings plenty of other interior treats, like the dual-zone climate control and the inductive phone charging slot. It also brings an around-view parking camera, which is strictly speaking an assist system, but it feels like a treat whenever you are parking something this big.

Most of the Panamerica-specific features are the stylistic flourishes on the outside, which is why this truck has a massive matt black styling bar around the loading bed, a pair of silver roof rails and black 18-inch alloy wheels. I know plenty of my colleagues are ambivalent about black alloys, but I think they suit a truck like this far better than a gaudy set of bright silver rims that you are doubly worried about scraping.

Those are the obvious features, but there are a few hidden away as well, such as a rear differential lock, LED lighting in the load bed and the aforementioned underbody protection.

There are extra off-roading features on our Amarok, both visible and hidden.
There are extra off-roading features on our Amarok, both visible and hidden.

One thing I have very much appreciated so far is the comfort suspension. My small passengers are two of the harshest critics when it comes to a vehicle’s ride, and pickups are often a real pain on this front. The Amarok isn’t perfect, as there is still some bumping around on rougher rural roads, but it is one of the best of its kind when fitted with this suspension setup.

Rear space challenges

There is a real balancing act to be had when it comes to the rear passenger space in a pickup truck. There is little point in taking loads of room from the loading bay and using it to create a huge and luxurious cabin, but you do need room for adults or a family in the back.

My youngest travels in one of the largest swivelling car seats known to man, which means it is a real test for any rear bench. I have managed to squeeze it in, but only just and only thanks to the supremely long Isofix arms on the seat. The challenges are the very upright seat back, which means that the seat can’t get as close to the Isofix loops as it does in a car, and the fact that the points themselves are set very far back.

I’ve found a bit of space by pushing the headrest up, but it is a tight fit nonetheless. I just wish that all Isofix points were surrounded by a little plastic frame that guides the arms in. I’ve had to do it blind every time so far.

We’ve managed to cover around a thousand miles in the VW already, courtesy of a couple of trips down to Dorset to visit family. That there is proper pickup country, and the Amarok has felt right at home, if sometimes a little large down the country lanes. On the rare bits of motorway or faster A-roads that sit between me and my family, the VW has been comfortably at home sitting at higher speeds. So much so that it is double frustrating that it is heavy enough to qualify for the lower commercial vehicle speed limits.

What is great to see is that the Amarok is able to interpret the UK speed signs and tell you the correct limit. So, if you are on a dual-carriageway national-speed-limit road where a car can do 70, the instrument display will tell you that you are only allowed to do 60mph. No excuses should you ever get pulled over.

Update 2: The Ford factor

The VW Amarok and the Ford Ranger will have always been compared to one another. If you have considered one of these in the last decade or so then there is a high chance you will have looked at the other one too.

The decision has been made easier/harder depending on your view on the matter now that the two vehicles are much the same vehicle having been codeveloped.

Lots of the Amarok's interior bits are reskinned Ford pieces.
Lots of the Amarok's interior bits are reskinned Ford pieces.

On the surface of things, though, my Amarok doesn’t feel like a Ford in disguise, even if that is what it is in many ways. The exterior body panels are almost all changed, so the two look different. Sure, the fundamental shape is the same but then what more can you do with a pickup that needs a big and strong loading bay out the back?

The interior has a real VW tinge to it, too, although it is more of a flavour than a total restyle in here. The central screen is the same portrait layout as the Ranger, and it works in much the same way too. Given VW’s preference for touch sensitive controls in recent years, though, this is very much a good thing.

The Ford elements that are obvious are the gear lever and the key. The only way that any of this is an issue is if you own one of each and are bothered by such things. After the relatively short period of time that we have been living with the Amarok they just become part of the vehicle.

Unexpected noise

I’ve noticed a slight oddity with the Amarok around town, at roundabouts in particular. Even at comparatively low speeds, the front tyres tend to squeal slightly. It sounds and feels like the vehicle is understeering, with the rear wheels pushing it around.

Low-speed cornering can result in a bit of tyre squeal.
Low-speed cornering can result in a bit of tyre squeal.

Colleague Tim Pollard has confirmed that I am not imagining things, and has diagnosed a tight differential. It’s not caused any actual issues yet, but I wonder if it might scrub a bit of time from the overall life of the tyres. The fact that those tyres are all-terrains, with big chunky tread, might also be a contributing factor.