VROOM WITH A VIEW
The Volkswagen Amarok: Power to the people’s car
Is the Amarok Extreme a truck? Is it an SUV? It’s a super van (or bakkie, to be precise).
First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
As regular readers will know, this column is where the really important stuff gets sorted out. Today, one of the big questions is: what is the correlation between doosheid and large SUVs equipped with bicycle racks? Circumstantially, certainly here in Cape Town, there appears to be a strong relationship between skinny, Salomon-clad middle-aged white dudes driving monster-truck Audis with bicycles worth more than a Suzuki Baleno strapped to their rumps, and moderately severe wankery.
I’m in a philosophical moment right now, and I’ve been pondering an automotive nature/nurture conundrum. Are certain types of drivers attracted to certain types of cars? Or do cars, through the way they’re engineered, morph us into a certain kind of driver? As somebody who drives a lot of different cars, I like to think I can shed some light on this profoundly unimportant topic.
I think it’s a bit of both. For example, there’s no way Captain A Type is going to choose to run a Volvo XC90 on his way to klapping his PB on the mountain, boet. It’s too considered, cerebral and non-aggressive for that kind of person. Volvos are all about environmental consideration, safety for all road users, well-being and the considerate occupation of (considerable) space. That’s why they’re so damn nice. But I think our boytjie needs something that expresses his character a little more strongly, a car with power and an aggressive presence – something like a BMW X5, or an Audi Q5.
The flipside of the same coin is the opposite, though. All but the most gentle soul will find the BMW’s talents nigh on irresistible. The sheer size, power and poise of the thing makes it an unmitigated joy to pilot, with the speed and accuracy that the engineering makes so easy. The BMW X5 is a damn fine car, and it can turn the meekest of souls into an impatient hooligan. And so, on their way to the silent yoga retreat, our driver will find the X5 so effortless to drive very fast they’ll be thinking: what the hell is everyone else waiting for? And will you just get a move on? and, while overtaking, suggesting that the drivers of lesser equipment “stick that in their chakras and smoke it, loser”.
Equally, were you to force at gunpoint our Lycra-clad, middle-aged mountain biker into the XC90, even he will calm down, lulled into a sense of calm by the pitch-perfect interior. The limited power of the four-cylinder, two-litre engine will encourage comfortable and efficient progress. “It’s all you need,” he will tell his uber-SUV-driving buddies. The power of Swedish design will make an evangelist for calm out of this man.
So, then, to my original question. The Q5 is an unmistakably fine motor car, much like the BMW X3 it competes with. It’s a joy to pilot quickly and, from within, the rest of the world could really do with getting a move on. The only conclusion, therefore, is that modern super-SUVs are too good; they overpower the better instincts of even the sweetest souls. There is no correlation between powerful German SUVs and the kind of people who drive them. Next time Captain Aggressive in his Q5 is setting off your rear parking sensors in the fast lane of the N1, remember that you’d be driving just as badly as him if you weren’t listening to Mozart in your XC90. It will be in your nature as a socially aware humanitarian to understand that the Oakley and Salomon boys are in thrall to something they cannot control – German engineering – and your first instinct needs to be one of compassion, and understanding. Let them go play on their bikes. They’ll be okay.
I don’t know where all of this leaves the Volkswagen Amarok, because the latest top-of-the-range version I drove almost defies categorisation. It’s a truck, a commercial vehicle, with a ladder-frame chassis and payload of more than a ton. It’s also a damn nice place to sit. From behind the wheel, it looks and feels like an SUV – a hardy and utilitarian SUV. But this is a high-quality interior, a real tour de force of how the size and scale of VW AG’s parts bin can lift the interior of a delivery vehicle to this level of discernment.
The Amarok Extreme edition I drove comes with a fine three-litre V6 turbodiesel that’s done hard yards in various Porsche Cayennes, Audi Q7s and so forth. This by no means diminishes those brands, but rather imagine what having a 190kW, 580Nm motor does to a bakkie? The Amarok is quick. Not “quick for a bakkie”, it’s just a straight-up fast car. Consider that the yet-to-be-launched (in SA) Golf 8 GTi will, in foreign markets, do a standing start from 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds. The Amarok, a body-on-frame pick-up, does the same in 7.6 seconds.
How can I describe this? I cannot tell you how much fun it is to drive a car that is so substantially faster than it looks. Of course, it’s a truck, so you need to watch that pace when the corners come.
So, who’s it for? Farmers who have families? Smart city families who also have farms? Cyclists? Accountants? Country squires who like Mozart? I think the only answer to all of this is “yes”. In the SA context – where bakkies are considered to be proper cars – the Amarok comes closest to being a car for everyone that I can think of. It’s utterly classless, a car that makes sense pretty much everywhere. And with that in mind, the R1-million price tag seems almost reasonable. Well done, Volkswagen, the Amarok is a bakkie for all kinds of people, and the proof of the pudding is that there is no “Amarok driver” archetype. Volks wagen indeed. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.