REVIEW | Is the 2020 VW Amarok Double Cab Dark Label SA’s best premium pick-up?

30 January 2020 - 15:50 By Brenwin Naidu
The Volkswagen Amarok Double Cab Dark Label.
The Volkswagen Amarok Double Cab Dark Label.
Image: Supplied

Hard to believe that the Volkswagen Amarok is nearly a whole decade old. In September, 2010, the German pick-up was launched in our country to rapturous applause.

The model even earned a spot in the South African Car of the Year competition that year – back before reputational damage had besmirched the credibility of the pursuit. It was a first time a vehicle of this type had been included in proceedings. Lofty levels of refinement boasted by the Volkswagen offering arguably prompted competitors to strive for similar heights in their subsequent iterations.

Newer entrants have joined the fray, while existing players have upped their sophistication ratings – but many still regard the Amarok as the bona fide, upmarket truck. That plaudit was cemented further when the 3.0 V6 TDI 4MOTION was launched in 2017. Its mighty 2,967cc turbocharged-diesel unit delivered a kick that left us thinking GTI badges should have come standard.

In fact, we deemed it the top pick in our 2019, tar-biased comparative against the Ford Ranger Raptor and Mercedes-Benz X350d 4Matic Power. That was despite falling short in our rough Belgian paving assessment. The heavy-duty shocks of the blue oval contender and multi-link suspension set-up of the three-pointed star rival outshone it. But in the performance-for-price metric, the Volkswagen was peerless.

As is customary throughout product life-cycles, special edition versions served to sustain interest in the offering. In 2016 the Amarok Ultimate arrived. What was its trump card? According to Volkswagen, it was the first of its kind in the local market to feature bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime-running lights as standard. Then there was the Dark Label package launched in 2018, followed by the citrusy-themed Canyon last year. Last week I had a turn in the former flavour.

When they received the note from Wolfsburg about the creation of this Dark Label, local Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles representatives must have grimaced: at the prospect of unsavoury associations with a certain, top-selling beverage. To be clear, there is no relation between this and Black Label beer. We at Arena Media reiterate our firm endorsement of correct, legal driving practices. Now back to that Dark Label. It’s available with one derivative, which is the 2.0BiTDI 4MOTION (132kW and 420Nm) mated to an eight-speed automatic. While the Dark Label in 3.0 V6 TDI format is available abroad, that isn’t the case here.

On the exterior, they’ve gone wild with the matte black finishes, peppered over the rear styling bar, door handles, mirrors, grille, b-pillars and side sills. It’s garnished with 18-inch alloys in what Volkswagen calls its “Rawson” design style. Inside, not much has changed. Our Dark Label was optioned-up with heated seats, a reverse camera and climate control.

It was an agreeable weeklong companion, though the four-cylinder is a stark reminder of how much more desirable its beefy six-cylinder counterpart is. That brought to mind the whole “milk-comes-in-two-litres” narrative that was levelled at the vehicle before the introduction of the 3.0 TDI engine choice ... After easing the Volkswagen into a basement parking bay at the office, I took some time to bask in what is still a classy lounge area.

And some reflection on my own Amarok memories happened. Like the time I slept in one for two nights, in dusty Limpopo, because a spider hijacked my tent at the 2013 Spirit of Africa event. Or when we got to tag along behind the scenes of an anti-poaching effort in 2019, where an Amarok fleet served dutifully.

By now, we’ve all read about the imminent Ford-Volkswagen joint-venture that will see collaboration on the next breed of Ranger and Amarok. It’s going to be an interesting partnership to observe.

PRICING: From R695,800