May 12, 2021

Ultimate Drive

Your FREE Motoring Publication in the Western Cape

Wolf Talk

How VW’s V6 Amarok eats up inhospitable terrain

There can hardly be a person alive who is not aware that Wolfsburg (wolf’s castle) is the home of Volkswagen but how many know the origin of the model name Amarok? There’s some debate on the matter but it seems the name is derived from a gigantic grey wolf in Inuit (people indigenous to Alaska/Greenland) mythology, said to stalk and devour any person foolish enough to hunt alone at night!

I raise all these issues because I was recently part of a press contingent invited to take part in the Spirit of Amarok Media Challenge, a concentrated one-day event using much of a testing Mbombela off-road course devised by motorsport legend Sarel van der Merwe for the ongoing Spirit of Africa Trophy.

This off-roading event has been hosted by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles for many-a-year and as far as the SA market is concerned, it’s open to enthusiasts who have a desire to test and show-off their rough road driving skills over 21 elimination rounds. Some 420 teams are eventually whittled down to 20 hardy souls who compete in VW Amaroks for the Spirit of Africa Trophy.

The South African winners get to compete against top teams from southern Africa and from other parts of the globe in the quest to win the International Spirit of Amarok competition.

The venue for the preliminaries varies each time but the one constant up to now has been the weapon used to conquer the rough stuff, VW’s 2.0 litre Amarok. This year, a significant change has seen the much-acclaimed 3.0 V6 Amarok pressed into service and it was this version that us pen-pushers utilised in tackling a big part of the course that will be home to all those teams competing in the main competition.

Now I’ve set the scene, let me add a few words about the Amarok which in its early years on sale in Msanzi was the target of a lot of misdirected baloney coming from long-time (competitive) bakkie users who propagated the belief that there’s “no replacement for displacement.”

In the simplest of English, they were saying that there was no way a 2.0 bakkie could possibly compete on equal terms with bakkies sporting motors of 3.0 litres or more. They also said that without low ratio, the VW would stand no chance when the going got really tough.

Well I’m no mud-plugger myself because I’m not too partial to getting paintwork dirty but I’ve seen enough on-line video material to establish that the 2.0 TDI in the Amarok more often than not wins drag races and towing contests against more established, bigger-engined competition.

I’ve also established for myself, in the real world, that the relatively small engine, especially mated to an 8-speed gearbox, does a fine job of dismissing almost everything that stands before it, including the bucket-load of rumours articulated by non-believers.

But then came an additional weapon from the Wolf’s castle that really got tongues wagging in the outer reaches of Msanzi – the VW Amarok 3.0 V6 complete with up to 180kW and enough torque (up to 580Nm) to move mountains. Now, the once-maligned 2.0 versions had some serious support and big brother soon set about establishing its credentials by running (admittedly somewhat irrelevant) 0-100 km/h times some 3 seconds or more, faster than four-cylinder opposition of similar displacement. The factory claims 8 seconds FLAT but independent testers are regularly recording times in the mid-7s.

My own experiences reaffirmed the effortless thrust provided by a diesel-slurping motor that actually sounds rather pleasant while it goes about dismissing gradients and cruising like the best of the SUV brigade that are laden with much higher price tags.

So, shall we say that VW unquestionably took the high ground as far as on-road manners and pace are concerned and for now, let’s not get too worked up that the Amarok’s load box is wide enough to accommodate a Euro pallet. Rather, let’s get back to the matter of driving this machine on the nastiest surfaces Mbombela can muster and discover whether a V6 mated to an 8-speed auto driving all four wheels (dubbed 4MOTION) without the aid of low ratio can really come out smelling of pine cones.

We started on the Technical Section which is a euphemism for rocky tracks and washaways marked out by navigation posts set so close together that only millimetres of clearance existed either side of the large wing mirrors. Hitting the posts incurred penalty point deductions as did failure to exit each chosen course in a tight, specified time frame. I could sense Oom Sarel licking his lips as the less experienced off-roaders, of whom I am one, collectively looked a little daunted by what lay ahead.

In place of reduction gearing, the Amarok’s smooth 8-speed auto has a very low first gear. In combination with more closely stacked ratios further up the scale, and with rear diff-lock engaged, the torquey V6 was largely unperturbed by all the obstacles thrown at it and surmounted large rocks and loose gravel with surprising ease, albeit that my co-driver did get caught out through no fault of his own by a large rock displaced by the Amarok immediately in front of us.

Our collective lack of experience as off-road drivers meant we weren’t in line for any prizes, but the real point of the Technical Section exercise was to demonstrate that the V6 Amarok without reduction gearing will deal with obstacles beyond the bravery of most drivers. I also noted that despite the tortuous nature of the course that demanded speeds little higher than a crawl, the smooth V6 never showed any signs of getting hot around the collar.

Once we’d got past the loose and rocky ascent stages, we were unleashed on smoother but still narrow and mildly sinuous dirt road “Speed Sections” littered with closely-placed marker posts that had to be negotiated without clipping any part of the bodywork.

This was more my territory as the deliciously smooth and sonorous V6 could be given some welly and the tail could be hung out to a certain extent! Mild drifting and fairly heavy braking were the order of the day on these sections – together with precision placement, of course – and here the Amarok excelled. The slightly off-set positioning of the rear leaf springs confers advantages in terms of cushioning too much vertical movement, but in an unladen state even an Amarok will feel a touch wayward at the rear when pressed hard.

For an amateur off-roader like me – and my partner – the Technical Section in particular was something of a challenge but as they say in the classics, you never stop learning. I certainly learned that the V6 Amarok is not just an accomplished open road cruiser – something I experienced on the launch of this model – but also an amazingly effective off-road tool as well. In particular, the absence of reduction gearing was not noticed as my ability and my bravery levels are far exceeded by what this “Wolf of the Wilderness” can actually do.