VW Amarok: destiny is calling
Being a highly experienced VW connoisseur from way back (bought a Beetle, drove a Beetle, rolled a Beetle), it was a given that I was sent to the Flinders Ranges to drive the new Volkswagen Amarok models.
The German automotive giant has just released new auto-transmission versions of its giant-killing one-tonner and is making it clear that after making a big impact on the recreational double cab market, it's on the march for some big-volume fleet business.
That was evident when Phillip West, VW's boss of service and parts, announced the recommended retail prices for each of the first five services on the Amarok range. According to VW, the most expensive service will be the 60,000km job, which should total $794.15, including labour and parts.
With a 12-month/15,000km service interval, that gives some comfort to an owner with a potential five-year ownership plan.
Replacement parts costs are also under the microscope, as VW plans to target Australia's biggest mining and leasing companies operating in WA and Queensland.
The new Amaroks retain the features that have made it very popular in the one-tonne market: under 8.0-litre/100km fuel efficiency, five-star ANCAP safety, stability control, the road behaviour of a passenger car, and the biggest pick-up tray, with a full pallet width between the wheel arches.
Added to the range of new models is the biggest mechanical news - a tricky auto box that aims to displace the need for a transfer case and low range.
In itself that's a bonus from a simplicity and weight-saving point of view, but it's the way the transmission and traction options work together that firmly places the Amarok driveline in a class of its own.
This eight-speed ZF auto transmission is a special gem. First gear, which is usually ignored by the box, is an ultra-low ratio, and when combined with the torque multiplying effect of the torque converter, gets close to mimicking the low-range of other 4x4s.
Some very steep and broken tracks that forced the manual models to grab low range weren't a problem for the electronics.
Seventh and eighth are both overdrives. The result is that off-road and no matter what the surface, the VW will get enough power to all four wheels to keep you going. On the highway, when you reach a 110kmh cruise, the engine settles into a loping 1800rpm with absolutely zero engine noise.
It's a great way to stretch your fuel investment.
For a commercial vehicle in this class the new Amarok was pretty much unstoppable with the right drive selections.
We navigated a mix of mountain goat trails, saturated clay-pan tracks that had a 2-3 centimetre crust on top and deep mush underneath, and a session on sandhills.
But the Amarok never stopped, although neglecting to engage the off-road switch nearly had me grind to a halt in a mud pool.
In normal mode, the electronics read wheel slip as understeer or oversteer and try to compensate by slowing the wheels that are slipping.
It had the effect of reducing power so much thought we might disappear without trace. A click on the button and we had all 120kW and 400Nm of torque again.
Amarok brings a car-like feel and safety that recent el-cheapo imports are going to find impossible to match.
Time will tell if the bargain wins the day, as it often does, but if a prospective owner does a whole-of-life cost and accurately compares economy, reliability, service and parts costs and resale or residual value, I suspect Amarok will top the numbers chart as well as the performance tables.
And if you place a healthy dollar value on primary safety, and therefore your people, it's a no-brainer.