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Long-term review

Volkswagen Amarok - long-term review

£55,440 / as tested £57,231 / PCM £599
Published: 04 Apr 2024

Top Gear’s long-term VW Amarok tackles the snowy Alps, wins

Now that’s more like it. I’ll be honest, when hemmed into crowded south-east England, the Amarok can feel a little… over-specified for day-to-day pottering. Like using a Chiron to deliver takeaway pizza round a provincial town centre: sure, it’ll do it, but you’re not necessarily tapping into its reserves of talent.

But stick the big ‘Roc on the side of a snowy mountain, with the mercury touching -15*C, and it transforms from slightly ponderous SUV into Greatest Car In The Entire World. It’s a beast.

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This, you get the sense, is what the Amarok was born to do: chew its way along forest tracks, haul a job-lot of firewood down a snowy trail, drag a stricken bullock from an icy lake. (OK we didn’t drag a stricken bullock from an icy lake, but had we spotted one, the Amarok would’ve been right in there.)

It blended in with the local crowd, that’s for sure. The locals who work out here – clearing roads, managing forests – they’re not driving Land Cruisers or Defenders or even Panda 4x4s. They’re all in pick-ups.

OK, partly that’s a cost thing, and partly because they’re lugging around whatever it is burly mountain-folk lug around the mountains – chainsaws and St Bernards and barrels of brandy? – so a flatbed’s kinda useful. But it’s also because pick-ups are the right tool for the high-altitude job: built to uncomplainingly biff through bad terrain; wear an inch-thick layer of mud, salt and grime with pride; get a hose-down once a year if they’re lucky.

The worse the weather got, the better the Amarok got. One evening we were treated to an unexpected (though short-lived) six-inch dump of snow. As the valley ground to a standstill – SUVs sliding into ditches, vans broadsiding themselves across the road – the Amarok trucked happily on, its excellent drivetrain and excellent winter tyres finding grip where others failed. Not every 4WD system is born equal, and this Amarok’s – with low-ratio transfer case and locking centre and rear diffs – is the real deal.

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Getting from the UK to the Alps? Painless. Apart from the Eurotunnel booking system insisting the Amarok was definitely under 185cm tall (it isn’t) and would definitely fit in a standard carriage rather than the large vehicle compartment (it wouldn’t), necessitating an awkward and expensive last-minute switcheroo, the trip was as stress-free as it would have been in any modern SUV. Adaptive cruise control, good stereo, quiet on the autoroute, job done.

Not exactly economical, mind: we averaged around 25mpg. Comfy enough for the kids in the back, too, though I’ll concede rear legroom isn’t quite up there with a new Range Rover, despite the Amarok being significantly longer overall. If you’ve got six-foot-plus offspring, the Amarok might not be the ticket. Then again, a new Range Rover doesn’t have a massive flatbed to swallow all the mucky, snowy items you’d really prefer weren’t making a mess of your boot.

I’d guess, on the right tyres, that new Range Rover – or new G-Wagen, or Defender - could reach the same off-road spots as the Amarok. But in that new RR or G-Wagen or Defender, you’ll be worrying about scratching that expensive paintjob, or besmirching that expensive upholstery. I’m not saying you wouldn’t mind scuffing the Amarok, but it’s more clearly a tool of utility, wearing its patina of winter filth with pride.

I’ll concede the burly Amarok might not be the ultimate family SUV for everyone, especially not if they’re ever obliged to park in a regular UK parking space. But if that family that happens to live in Antarctica, or on top of a Himalaya, or the outer reaches of Pluto, trust me: this is the school-run vehicle of choice. Our future might be electric, but in apocalyptic conditions, you can’t beat an old-school diesel truck.

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