When Volkswagen’s Amarok launched in March 2011 the rest of the ute market was put on notice.
After years of manufacturers telling us its utes had “car-like characteristics” (they really didn’t), the Amarok finally lived up to the claim. The design was stylish, cabins weren’t far off a Golf hatchback for quality and comfort, ride proved reasonably comfortable and it could actually go around corners without leaning like the town drunk in a side wind.
Buyers haven’t flocked to the Argentine-built ute as they have the Toyota HiLux or Ford Ranger but VW has sold tens of thousands here. There are hundreds of used examples in the classifieds and many sing the model’s praises — so should you consider a pre-loved Amarok?
The 2011-12 diesel versions in some instances needed engines rebuilt or replaced at huge cost due to failure of the serpentine (drive) belt. In isolation this failure isn’t too problematic but in the diesel it can tangle with the timing belt, causing it to break or jump so that valves hit pistons — and boom, the engine’s cactus.
The drive belt was sometimes failing before its 75,000km replacement recommendation, and the timing belt’s cover wasn’t effective in stopping the snapped troublemaker. In May 2012 Volkswagen fitted a new timing belt guard to remedy the problem.
Another black mark against 2011-12 diesels is the emissions defeat device at the root of VW’s Dieselgate scandal. Amaroks were the first VWs recalled for a software fix and any of this vintage should have been remedied (later models didn’t have the cheat devices).
Budget will play a huge part in your choice of Amarok. The cheapest will be these earliest versions, which are not only well out of warranty but also burdened by the above negatives.
Dual-cab utes have been the major sellers so for this review we’ll exclude workhorse cab chassis and single cab. Petrol engines, fitted for a short while, are as rare as unicorns and very few are rear-drive rather than AWD.
The range is vast — some 30 grades over the years packed turbo diesels of varied torque outputs.
Up to July 2012 you could buy only a 120kW TDI400 diesel with manual gearbox.
Then came the 132kW TDI420 with desirable eight-speed auto gearbox. Rear-drivers used the less powerful TDI340 diesels (or a TSI300 petrol).
Specification varies too — if the grade is simply Amarok, Core or Trendline, don’t expect too much equipment, Highlines are typically well-packed and Ultimates are top of the heap.
From launch, even the base spec had power windows, aircon and remote central locking. Trendlines added body coloured bumpers, alloy wheels, cruise control and carpet rather than rubber on the floor. Highlines had 18-inch alloys, chrome body trim and higher quality cabins and Ultimates got leather, 19-inch alloys and side steps. Bluetooth arrived in July 2012.
A first among utes, all versions had five ANCAP safety stars. But Amaroks still lack side curtain airbags, which are standard on practically all rivals.
VW’s four-wheel drive, dubbed 4Motion, endows decent off-road ability. It’s selectable 4WD if there’s a red “4” on the badge and if there’s a black “4” it’s permanent AWD; an electronic differential lock is common to both.
Check whether Comfort suspension springs were optioned rather than the standard heavy-duty set-up. For those driving mainly on the bitumen (most do), Comfort suspension removed a leaf, making it a more settled ride.
This also dropped payload by about 200kg — range-topping dual-cabs are down to 769kg, for example.
Facelifted Series II Amaroks landed in November 2016, shaking up the ute market once more with a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel with 165kW/550Nm and later 190kW/580Nm.
These were the pick for outright performance, doing the 0-100kmh sprint in 7.3-seconds, and for heavy towing. Initially, the rating was 3000kg, the same as the four-cylinders, and from October 2017 this increased to 3500kg.
The Series IIs also added the desirable smartphone mirroring and the rear camera image showed on the a 6.33-inch colour touchscreen.
Showing how far utes have come in recent years, the flagship V6 Ultimate 580 — with heated, power seats trimmed in Nappa leather — was $71,990 before on-roads. Proper cashed-up tradie stuff.
What to look for
As with all utes, many have been used as urban transport and lived a far easier life than work, towing and lifestyle vehicles. Target the city slickers.
Those that have done things tough — having circumnavigated Australia with 3000kg-plus in tow; covered in dents and bashes underneath, or with lots of damage in the tray — may still have plenty of life left in them but expect to pay far less.
The drama with the belts makes 2011 and some 2012 Amaroks hard to recommend. Make sure the timing belt cover has been upgraded and that belts are all in sound condition and have been changed on time — every 60,000km is now the recommendation.
Symptoms of a failing belt include squealing from the front end and failing power steering or aircon.
Ensure the engine temperature doesn’t creep up on test drive, and look under the oil filler cap for mayonnaise-type gunk, indicating water in the oil from a cracked cylinder head. Check for coolant and radiator leaks, and for oil leaking from the engine, differential or transmission.
Some owners say brake pads and rotors wear out quickly, so check when these were last replaced.
There have been occasional failures of the exhaust gas recirculation, diesel particulate filter and turbochargers, meaning hugely expensive fixes and highlighting the importance of having a pre-purchase inspection by an expert.
Check rear lights for any water trapped in there. This can cause damage to the wiring loom and mean hefty bills.
There have been six recalls — for details, view productsafety.gov.au. For exhaustive information on problems and advice, the forum at ausamarok.com.au is an excellent Australian-based resource.
Best to avoid early versions and those with high kilometres as they’re not cheap to maintain or fix. Cabins are class-leading and, for a ute, these VWs are superb on-road and capable on the rough stuff. Get one with Comfort suspension fitted if you’re an urbanite. A grunty V6 with remaining warranty is a great all-round pick but will be priced accordingly.
Pete Toy: We’ve owned a 2011 manual for five years. In its favour, fuel economy and ease of driving are great for a 4WD, I use it on the motorways all the time. It feels solid at speed and round corners. There’s huge rear space for our three kids, and the door compartments are cavernous. On the down side, I’ve had to replace the clutch, the passenger window malfunctions, some of the plastic’s become brittle and the paint’s bubbled in one rear corner. Gears can be clunky and the brake pads wear early and leave lots of brown muck on the wheels. I’m not sure I’d buy another. It bothers me there are no rear curtain airbags.
Col: I’ve got 230,000km on my 2013 Amarok, a good ute bar a couple of things, especially the stupid sensors. I don’t know why they need all that on a ute — not everyone lives in Toorak. The price would curl your toes too. I’d be happier if it was easier to fix.
The expert says
To the end of last year, Volkswagen sold nearly 57,000 Amaroks, peaking at well over 9000 annually. Among the hundreds in used listings, rear-wheel drives account for just a fraction and petrol versions even fewer. There is an almost even divide between four and six-cylinders.
The entry-level TDI340 dual-cab rear-drive from 2011 ($31,990 new) is still valued at $13,300. The range-topping TDI400 4WD ($58,490 new) is $22,450 used.
For 2018, the base TDI420 rear-drive ($39,990 new) is worth $36,500 and the TDI580 Ultimate 4WD V6 auto ($71,990 new) fetches $64,250.
Rivals include Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara. Only the HiLux for 2011-18 retains value better than the Amarok.
For 2011, the Amarok’s resale value is marginally ahead of the Triton and for last year it is very close to the HiLux.
Originally published as Huge issue with this used dual cab ute