Though its products wear the familiar VW emblem, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles stands essentially as another brand within Europe's largest and most successful auto group. It mostly produces vans like the Caddy, Transporter, Crafter and Caravelle, but is also responsible for the only pickup truck built in Germany: the Volkswagen Amarok. Like its van stablemates, the Amarok isn't offered in North America, so we crossed the pond to drive it for ourselves (and, of course, for you) to see what we were missing out on.
- Previewed by the Robust concept back in 2008, the Amarok has been on the market (certain markets, anyway) since 2010. Assembled both in Argentina and in Hannover, Germany, the Amarok is similar in form to other short-bed, four-door pickups like the Mitsubishi Triton (similarly not available in America) and the Honda Ridgeline.
- The version we drove on both paved and off-road sections of the Millbrook Proving Ground in the UK was the Amarok Canyon, a special edition that's based on the mid-spec Trendline (not on the base Startline or top-spec Highline) but upgrades with more bells and whistles, from 19-inch alloys and running boards (which are mounted too close to the body to actually use as a step) to tinted glass and two-tone upholstery. As a result of all the extra equipment, the relatively reasonable 20,000-pound UK starting price (before tax) balloons to a comparatively enormous as-tested price of 37,841 pounds (including VAT). That makes this fully-loaded pickup about the same price in the UK as an entry-level Touareg, which starts at nearly $45k in the US. Significantly more, for comparison's sake, than the Honda Ridgeline that starts here at just under $30k and tops out at $37,505.
- Powering the Amarok Canyon – an interesting trim name considering the GMC pickup of similar size and nameplate – is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder TDI packing 178 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. (A scrawnier 138hp version available on base models.) It's mated to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission, and drives through VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive system. We drove both versions, and found ourselves wondering why more pickups aren't available with stick-shifts back in America, because the combination of rough-and-tumble truck with manual transmission, quite frankly, proved intoxicating. (Last we checked, for reference, you could still get three pedals on the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, Ram HD, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, but that's about it.)
- With the six-speed manual, the Amarok Canyon will run from 0-62 miles per hour in 11.0 seconds and top out at 110 mph. (Add another 0.3 seconds and cut two mph for the automatic.) In other words, the Amarok is not one of Volkswagen's more performance-oriented models, but then it's not designed to be.
- Driving the Amarok on a variety of surfaces, we were, however, impressed with the combination of truck attributes and German engineering – a rare combination considering that every pickup available Stateside is a product of either an American automaker or a Japanese one. Their trucks may be able to haul more than VW's, but if you've ever stepped into a pickup and felt a bit of a disconnect between the ruggedness of its construction and that of its fit-and-finish, the Amarok would likely surprise you with its German build quality. The overall feeling is of a truck – inside, out and underneath, right down to the knobs and interior trim – that has been hewn from sturdy materials.
- What you shouldn't expect, however, is for the Amarok to drive like a Touareg with a pickup bed at the back. It's not a crossover – it's a truck, and it drives that way (even if it exhibits more car-like refinement than most). But after a day of piloting nimble hot hatches and cossetting diesel luxury sedans (more on those to follow if you watch this space), the Amarok proved a breath of fresh, earnest air and left us with a big smile across our faces. This writer never considered himself much of a truck guy, and in truth has not driven many pickups; it took the Amarok's unique combination of go-anywhere capability coupled with German engineering to really see the attraction (especially where necessity doesn't dictate the form).
- Which only raises the question: should Volkswagen bring the Amarok to North America? We don't doubt that it would find a fair few customers in American dealerships (and maybe a few more in Canada, where European tastes often prevail), but the Amarok was never designed with the US market in mind. And four years since its introduction overseas, the opportunity may have passed VW as the Amarok soldiers along. But sooner or later, Volkswagen will have to replace the Amarok with a new model. When it does, we hope it at least takes American tastes and potential demand into account. Because as it stands, we're missing out.