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New range-topping 258hp VW Amarok driven – review of the most powerful pickup you can buy

  • More powerful 3.0-litre V6 with 272hp overboost mode
  • Maximum muscle: delivers class-leading 580Nm of torque
  • Verdict after hundreds of miles of on and off-road driving

VW Amarok 3.0-litre V6 TDI 258 review on Parkers Vans.

Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz are engaged in a power war for premium pickup supremacy. We’ve had the first skirmishes – VW upgraded every Amarok to 3.0-litre V6 power in 2016, Mercedes launched the pricier X-Class with four-cylinder Nissan engines in late 2017 – but 2018 is when the real battle is set to begin.

And VW has fired the first salvo with this new top-spec 258hp Amarok V6, which we’ve already driven extensively during a three-day expedition in Oman.

Whoa – a 258hp VW Amarok? When was that announced?

VW’s response to the X-Class does seem to have happened rather quietly, but it was clear from the outset that the firm was determined to defend its position – even if it also candidly acknowledges that it’s really the likes of the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux that represent the Amarok’s closest rivals.

The cost of the X-Class is so much higher that it’s almost competing in its own market segment.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - mountain corner

Still, when this more powerful Amarok model appeared as the Aventura Exclusive ‘concept’ at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2017, it was clearly a direct riposte to Mercedes’ promised 3.0-litre V6 X-Class, which has been loudly shouting about its 258hp power output since it was announced.

At the time VW casually commented that the concept previewed ‘the future range-topping 3.0-litre TDI engine’, but it wasn’t until we were handed the keys that we were absolutely sure – this driving event coinciding with the first official announcement of the production version’s final specification.

You call this Amarok ‘the most powerful pickup you can buy’, yet the X-Class matches its 258hp – what gives?

Both models go on sale in 2018 (though we’re yet to drive the X-Class V6 at the time of writing), and of course 258hp is only setting the bar for production pickups officially sold in the UK – there are American imports and aftermarket upgrades available that offer more.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - rear driving view with camels

The VW’s secret, however, is that 258hp is only the nominal level of power output; the engine – which is the same as that available in a number of Audis, incidentally – also has an overboost function…

How does the 258hp VW Amarok’s overboost function work?

Overboost basically means that for short periods the 3.0-litre V6 TDI can serve up even more power – a lot of performance cars use similar technology.

In the Amarok’s case it means that if you mash your right foot you get a pickup that peaks at 272hp. As far as we’re aware at this stage, the X-Class has no such similar function.

What about torque?

That’s the other thing. The X-Class is restricted to 550Nm (by the strength of its driveshafts, apparently) – a figure that the existing 224hp V6 Amarok already meets.

The 258hp Amarok produces 580Nm.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - driving on a sand dune

That’s best-in-class, by some margin. VW is yet to release any official performance figures, but together with the additional horsepower, this extra torque should easily improve on the 224hp version’s 8.0-second 0-62mph time (the X-Class V6 claims 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds).

Is the 258hp VW Amarok four-wheel drive?

Continuing the trend among higher-specification Amaroks, this one comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission and permanent four-wheel drive as standard. Both features work very well.

The gearbox means the engine is barely revving at all when cruising in higher gears, yet can quickly deliver decisive acceleration thanks to its speedy shifting and closer spread of lower ratios.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - driving on road

There was some abruptness about the downchanges on the test vehicles, but these pre-production engineering prototypes weren’t fitted with the correct, harder engine mounts this torque-heavy motor demands. So this should improve by the time they hit dealerships; the mounts and some interior trimmings are the only differences between these Amaroks and the final version.

That said, the examples we were driving were also upgraded with all-terrain tyres and an optional rear limited-slip differential, adding extra traction capability to the already impressive permanent four-wheel drive system. Handy given we were testing them in the mountains and deserts of Oman.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - rear view on sand dune

Full disclosure: the trucks did get stuck tackling some of the more extreme sand dunes we came across. But in general desert driving, and certainly climbing and descending the heavily sloped, gravel-finished mountain roads, the Amaroks proved absolutely faultless.

Just beware the relatively limited ground clearance if considering one of these for more serious off-road work.

What’s the 258hp VW Amarok like to drive?

Mighty. The engine was already a peach – now it’s an even stronger one. Comfort and refinement are exceptional for a pickup, the latter only disturbed in this instance by the snorkel-style air intakes bolted onto all of the expedition vehicles, which create amusing slurping and gurgling noises under heavy acceleration.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - side view on sand dune

The snorkels were fitted largely due to the dust, though we were told that if it rains in the Omani mountains, fast and violent flash-flooding on the plains below often follows. For this reason many of the road are built up above the wadis (the local term for dry river beds) and have marker posts like those you’d find in countries that experience heavy snow fall.

As for comfort, the Amarok remains remarkable in this regard given its reliance on basic but strong rear leaf springs (versus the more sophisticated coil springs favoured by the X-Class and Nissan Navara).

The ErgoComfort seats of higher-spec models like this certainly help, too – and it’s perhaps important to note the off-road tyres used in Oman were fitted to 17-inch wheels; production versions of the 258hp model will come with massive 20-inch alloys as standard, so may be more sensitive to bad roads.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - surrounded by rocks

The steering is light, but accurate – which makes the Amarok relaxing to drive over both long distances and tricky surfaces, such as desert sand, which feels very similar to ice in its constantly shifting quality.

This Amarok isn’t as sharp in the corners as the four-cylinder X-Classes we’ve driven – but the Mercedes also suffer from a very hard ride in UK conditions, and we’d gladly take the VW’s additional comfort in exchange for having to work the steering wheel a little more when turning. We never found this a chore in Oman, anyway, even on the twisting hairpin bends of the mountains.

Should I arrange to part-exchange my 224hp Amarok immediately?

Don’t be too hasty – you’ve still got a good truck, and we’re still waiting on the UK pricing for the 258hp model, so it’s hard to say how much value the extra performance adds for the money at this stage.

Especially since although the 258hp Amarok certainly is punchier, it’s not night and day versus the 224hp variant. Every V6 configuration was present in Oman alongside the new engine, and even the entry-level 163hp Amarok V6 gives a good account of itself when it comes to performance.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - badge with camels

That said, if the German pricing is anything to go by, the difference in list price between 224 and 258 will be surprisingly small.

What’s the mpg of the 258hp VW Amarok?

Similarly, while we don’t have the UK mpg figure just yet, conversion from the European fuel consumption rating suggests the 258hp Amarok will claim around 33.6mpg. That’s 2.6mpg less than the 224hp Amarok.

In reality we suspect both will deliver pretty similar economy unless you’re nailing it everywhere.

What’s the interior like in the 258hp VW Amarok?

The ones we’ve driven so far had standard Amarok interiors, but VW says the production versions will feature dark headlining for sportier look and a higher quality of dashboard finish, also in a dark colour.

Whether this will be enough to stop some people whining about the harder-than-usual VW plastics remains to be seen. The Amarok is a working vehicle, not a Golf, so it makes sense that it has a tougher interior finish, after all.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - with goat

For what it’s worth, we still like the practical cabin design and – as we’ve already mentioned – the excellent seats. The X-Class does take things to another level, but lifestyle buyers shouldn’t have any fear. The Amarok is still a cut above all other pickups.

UK standard equipment is still to be confirmed at this stage, but expect only fully-loaded Highline and Aventura specifications.

What are the load area dimensions, payload and towing capability of the 258hp VW Amarok?

We’re still waiting on full UK spec, but suffice to say the load area offers the same generous dimensions as every other Amarok. At 2.52 metres square, it remains the largest load bed in the double cab pickup segment – though some rivals have space for longer items.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - market at night

Don’t expect it to meet the legal requirements for the 3.5-tonne towing maximum that’s rapidly becoming the class standard, however, as no other Amarok does either; with so much torque, it should make an easy job of anything you do attach to the tow hitch, regardless.

We’ll update this review with exact payload and towing ratings as soon as we have them.

Verdict

When the X-Class arrived in a brilliant blaze of glory in 2017 we were very impressed with its interior design and finish, its close to car-like handling, and its refinement. But with those four-cylinder Nissan engines it feels significantly under-powered, and the more we drive the Mercedes in the UK, the more we’re horrified by the (lack of) ride comfort.

For Volkswagen to perform such an effective pre-emptive strike on the X-Class V6 with this new higher-output Amarok is in many ways a very pleasing balm to the Mercedes’ aggressive driving experience.

Ok, so the steering isn’t as sharp, the image isn’t as fancy and it likely won’t haul 3.5 tonnes; this 258hp Amarok is comfortable, easy to drive, feels exceptionally solid (as they all do), and effortlessly muscular. It’s also almost certainly going to be several thousand pounds cheaper than the 3.0-litre X-Class, making it comparatively superb value.

The Ford Ranger offers greater working adaptability but needs a better interior, the Toyota Hilux counters with unflinching reliability but suffers with a pathetically weak (by comparison) engine. So if you’re considering one of these big-engined Volkswagens we wouldn’t hesitate. It’s a really, really nice pickup truck.

VW Amarok V6 TDI 258hp review - urban

Rivals to consider:

Mercedes-Benz X-Class – read the full review on Parkers Vans

Ford Ranger – read the full review on Parkers Vans

Toyota Hilux – read the full review on Parkers Vans

Also read:

New pickups coming soon – and recent launch round up

What’s the difference between the Mercedes X-Class and the Nissan Navara?