Volkswagen has taken a different path from its rivals with the new range-topping Amarok W580S. Rather than developing a rugged ute with more off-road ability, the brand offers a new machine that plays to Amarok’s strengths.
It has teamed up with Australian tuning firm Walkinshaw to produce a tough-looking ute with superior driving characteristics to regular models. Walkinshaw engineer Dave Kermond helped create some of Australia’s best V8 muscle cars for HSV and was tasked with refining the Amarok’s manners on tarmac.
“We really focused on those on-road characteristics,” he says. “It really ticks that GT-style box more so than any of the competitors in its class.” Priced from $79,990 plus on-road costs (about $89,000 drive-away), the fully-loaded W580S costs $7500 more than a high-grade Amarok V6, or about $30,000 more than a basic V6 Core model.
Fundamental changes include wider 20-inch wheels with Pirelli tires and firmer suspension with an improved front-to-rear weight balance. Cosmetic changes include eye-catching graphics, a chunky body kit, louder side-exit exhausts and tray-mounted “sail” plastics similar to the cult-favourite HSV Maloo. It looks tough, sitting 65mm wider and 50mm higher than regular models.
The cabin gets a limited-edition build plaque and Walkinshaw-branded headrests, along with two-tone leather trim and a sports steering wheel with shift paddles. As with Ford’s Ranger Raptor or Nissan’s Navara Warrior, the W580S has the same engine as cheaper versions. Modern emissions and homologation requirements make it prohibitively expensive to eke a few extra kilowatts out of vehicles sold in small numbers.
That said, the Amarok already has the most powerful engine in its class — a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 190kW of power (and up to 200kW for full-throttle periods of overboost) plus 580Nm of torque.
It’s a smooth and strong unit that makes most four-cylinder rivals feel weedy by comparison. Versions of the motor were previously found in Porsche’s Cayenne, along with prestige cars such as the Audi Q7. The big V6 is the best motor you can find in a dual-cab ute today. Volkswagen’s eight-speed automatic is also a key asset, serving up swift shifts to keep the big diesel in its sweet spot.
The reworked suspension delivers sharper steering responses with meatier weight at the helm. There’s less body roll and better control than the regular Amarok or its rivals, and the fat new Pirellis have far better purchase on wet roads than the skatey off-road rubber of some rivals. Full-time all-wheel-drive also helps the Amarok get all that grunt to the ground.
Four-wheel disc brakes are another key advantage, as is a 3500 kilogram towing capacity that outstrips the Ranger Raptor by a whole tonne. The W580S would outrun rivals on a twisty road, but it can’t disguise its age.
While the cabin is comfortable enough, the Amarok’s tiny 6.5-inch touchscreen and conventional dash don’t cut it in 2021 — not when the cheapest VW Tiguan has a digital life and the luxurious Touareg features a 15-inch central display.
The Amarok’s safety and convenience features are also sub-par for a near-$90,000 car. You don’t get auto emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring or active cruise control found in more modern alternatives. Rear airbags are missing in action — a serious consideration if you plan to use it as a dual-purpose family vehicle — and the four-cylinder Amarok’s decade-old five-star safety rating does not apply to the latest V6 variants.