Who remembers that back in 2010, four of the top six-selling vehicles in New Zealand were utes? Launched the same year as Instagram and One Direction, the Amarok landed here in 2010 and after 13 years the VW ute is well overdue for a complete overhaul – and that’s exactly what VW has done.

Volkswagen New Zealand invited DriveLife to the launch of the all-new model in a very wet Auckland. The launch would include some light off-roading in Woodhill Forest to see how capable the new Amarok is.

2023 Volkswagen Amarok – New Model

To date in New Zealand, the Amarok has sold a respectable 7,700 units. To keep the momentum up and to make sure it has the best possible product to compete, Volkswagen decided to co-develop the Amarok with Ford, so much of the new VW ute is based on the Ranger. We love the Ranger here at DriveLife, and having your own ute based on the world’s top-selling one can’t be a bad thing.

While the new Amarok is based on the Ranger, VW NZ made sure that we understand it’s not just a Ranger in new clothes, and the statement was made that it was “Essential that VW DNA was included in the car”. In fact, VW supplied 20 engineers for 4 years to the project during the development stages. It was also stated that “this is very much a VW, despite being part of a joint venture”. Obviously, VW is keen to dispel any thoughts about this car simply being a rebadged Ranger.

During co-development, there were some areas of non-negotiable requirements. These were:

  • A 3.5-ton tow rating
  • Must fit a euro-pallet between the wheel arches
  • Rear brake discs
  • A V6 option
  • Needed to handle at least as well as previous-gen
  • Above all else, “it must feel like a Volkswagen”

2023 Volkswagen Amarok – Identity

There are lines on the car that certainly resemble other VW models, and apparently, “Every styling feature is VW except exterior mirrors, door handles, and the glasshouse”.

The car has distinctive C-shaped LED daytime running lights and taillights, and the C-shaped theme continues within the car, such as the air vents and seats. The new Amarok has the same squared-off wheel arches as the previous gen to give it some sense of familiarity.

Another one of VW’s requirements was that the indicator stalk would be on the “correct” side of the car, i.e. the Euro side.

2023 Volkswagen Amarok – Fit, Feel, and Finish

There’s a new suite of 7 colours and new trim levels, including the all-new PanAmericana model.

Most models have a stitched leather-look dashboard, and the sears are made with VW seat foam, and a higher-grade leather is used.

2023 Volkswagen Amarok – Driving And Tech Characteristics, Models

To make for a better ride and better handling, the rear leaf springs are now located outside of the chassis rails, with the suspension tuned to be “distinctly Amarok” in the Aventura and PanAmericana models.

In New Zealand, you get to pick from four models;

  • Life $65,000
  • Style $75,000
  • PanAmericana $88,000
  • Aventura $90,000

The base model has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. This engine manages 125kW of power and a decent 405Nm of torque in the Life. The Style has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel motor with 154kW/500Nm and comes with a 10-speed automatic.

Base ‘Life’ model

Move up to the PanAmericana or the Aventura and your Amarok will now be powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel engine managing 184kW of power and 600Nm of torque. The V6-engined models have the same 10-speed automatic transmission as the Style.

VW suggests the PanAmericana is more suited to offroad use, with its smaller 18” wheels (20” in the Aventura) but larger all-terrain tyres.

Later this year will see a low-volume twin-turbo V6 petrol version of the Amarok come available. It will be around the same price as the V6 Aventura at $90,000.

2023 Volkswagen Amarok – Safety And Driver Assistance

One of the biggest changes in the new model is around the safety and assistance systems now available. Every model gets a large number of such systems as standard, with additional options as you move up the range.

Blind Spot Monitoring is standard and can allow for a trailer and varying trailer sizes/lengths so the Blind Spot Monitoring still works. Lane Keep Assist is also standard, as is Evasive Steering Assist, front and rear parking sensors, 9 airbags, a 5-star ANCAP rating, Junction Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition – the first VW to get this. With traffic sign recognition, VW finally joins the rest of the car brands out there with this feature.

Other standard equipment includes LED headlights, a 12.0” touchscreen centre display, a 12.3” dashboard, wireless phone charging, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Standard digital dashboard

To this list, the Style adds keyless entry and start, adaptive LED headlights, an electronic gearshift, ambient lighting, a power driver’s seat, SatNav, and front seat heating.

The PanAmericana adds Intelligent Adaptive Cruise, Park Assist and an area view camera. The Aventura adds Advanced Park Assist where the car does the steering, brake, and gears for you. The Aventura also gets a heated steering wheel, LED tail lights, a Harmon Kardon sound system, and both front seats are electrically adjusted.

Wheel sizes are 17” alloys on the Life, 18” on the Style, 18” black alloys on PanAmericana, and 20” on the Aventura.

Base model ‘Life’ interior

2023 Volkswagen Amarok – 4MOTION And Specs

The two lower models, the Life and Style, are both part-time 4WD so this means 2H, 4H, and 4L. Moving up to the PanAmericana or the Aventura and you will have access to Selectable 4WD which means 2H, 4H, 4L, and 4A. 4A is 4WD Automatic, where the Amarok will decide when you need high or low range in 4WD. In the Ranger, this works brilliantly and we don’t expect it to work any differently in the Amarok.

Drivers now get to pick from 6 drive modes depending on the model; As standard, there is Normal, Eco, Slippery, and Trailer. The V6-engined models add Mud/Track, and Snow/Sand. In the V6 models changing to one of these drive modes will automatically change the 4WD settings.

Definitely a need for Sand Mode here

The new car is just under 10cm longer than the last generation, the wheelbase is 17.5cm longer giving more space in the 2nd row (a decent 45cm extra). The approach angle is 30 degrees, which has increased by 0.5 degrees, while the departure angle is now 26 degrees – up by 8 degrees. Adding a tow ball will drop the departure angle to 23 degrees.

For the offroaders and people who like to tow trailers out there, the new Amarok will handle an 800mm wading depth, up a full 300mm over the outgoing model. There is a 3,500 Kg (braked) tow rating across all models and 750 kg unbraked.

All models have a full-size spare.

2023 Volkswagen Amarok – Drive Time

We jumped in a Style model for the first leg of the day, a drive to Woodhill Forest. First impressions are that the interior is fairly luxurious for a model that is only one up from the cheapest. The heated seats, electric gearshift, leather finish on the dash and fake wood on the console and dash look good.

The bi-turbo 2.0-litre is excellent as always – so quiet for a diesel. The whole drive out to Woodhill showed this new Amarok to be refined, quiet and smooth. Like the ute it’s based on, it rides very well when empty.

To get to Woodhill Forest took some careful driving

Once in the forest proper, we head off to do the first bit of offroading to test out Hill Descent Control (HDC). I must admit, the hill was a lot steeper than I thought it would be, and very deep sand is all you have to drive on. Regardless, all the Amaroks cruised down this slope far too easily, with HDC doing all the pedal work. The driver simply had to steer. You can adjust the speed of HDC using the +/- buttons of adaptive cruise control.

Once everyone was down safely, we drove along to the next part – more use of HDC. With me driving now and being pleased that the ride in these conditions isn’t that much different than on the sealed road. It really does ride brilliantly. We were in the (cheapest) Life model for this next leg, the inside is still nice with that same big screen, dual-zone AC, Qi wireless phone charging, and the digital dashboard display. The only real thing that showed this to be the base model was the physical key needed to start the Amarok.

A lot steeper than it looks, but HDC makes it easy
View before going down

We got to the next test of HDC and again, we all cruised down it quickly. The electronics managing 4WD systems these days are excellent.

Switching cars, we moved into the PanAmericana model, one made for more of these sorts of tracks. But instantly, it’s the V6 engine that impresses; it sounds so much quieter and smoother than the 4-cylinder bi-turbo model. I’d be saving the extra cash to get the V6, and I had the same feeling when I reviewed the Ranger Sport.

Some part of the track were particularly tricky

I must admit, the interior of the PanAmercana is pretty nice, with contrasting stitching everywhere and “Cricket” leather finish. If I’m being honest, the Cricket leather looks a lot like crocodile skin, so perhaps that’s a throwback to the name.

Our next test was axle articulation, but it wasn’t much of a test. Each Amarok in the group nailed it with ease.

All too quickly our day out in Woodhill Forest was over. We moved into a Life model again, so would be in the base model for the drive back to our starting point. The engine in this car is the least powerful of the group, but it still feels ok when offroading. A full-throttle test from a standing start showed it to be down on power some. It’s not lethargic, but this is not the model I would buy if I was going to be doing a lot of towing. At 2.2 tons, the Life model is still a heavy beast.

That 800mm wading depth coming into play

One revelation on the return trip was the handling of the new Amarok; even in the wet it grips better than it should, and corners are taken easily. It’s still a tall, heavy ute but it does seem to handle better than it should.

The day over, we now wait for a test car to be sent to us for our normal full review. First impressions are excellent: the 2023 VW Amarok is a worthy successor to the outgoing model.

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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


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