's established, market-leading legend, the HiLux, takes on Volkswagen
's Amarok. Is the king about to be dethroned?
It doesn't get much more significant in off-road or worksite circles than the legendary Toyota HiLux. Not when it comes to utility vehicles anyway… but, new kid on the block, Volkswagen, has plenty of pedigree when it comes to building utes.
See, way back in 1952, you could buy a single-cab Split Screen Kombi. A dual-cab followed not long after, so the Amarok isn't VW's first effort by any means. It's fitting then that the manufacturer of the original 'people's car' should contest the space occupied by the current 'people's utility'.
We're testing a top-spec HiLux SR5 dual cab with turbo-diesel and manual transmission. Similarly, we have a top-spec Amarok Ultimate (a Highline, which is cheaper than the HiLux by a few hundred dollars, and features selectable four-wheel drive, wasn't available at the time of our test) with twin-turbo diesel and manual gearbox. The HiLux rings the register at $55,690 and the Amarok at $58,490. The only differences between the two vehicles are the leather trim in Amarok – HiLux has cloth – and the low-range system in HiLux – Amarok Ultimate runs permanent four-wheel drive rather than selectable four-wheel drive (this is available in other model Amaroks).
The Toyota has a certain rugged beauty about it; purposeful, rugged and with no unnecessary embellishments or accoutrements, there's nothing there from a styling perspective that doesn't need to be there.
From a functionality perspective, the air-intake is up nice and high in the engine bay making water crossings and dusty roads a breeze, the side steps are tough and positioned so that you can actually use them, and there are four sturdy tie downs in the load tray. Our test model had the optional plastic tray liner, which is a smart choice for dirty weekends, and there are genuine recovery points front and rear.
Like the HiLux, the Amarok is well served with recovery points that actually work, decent side steps and an air-intake that is up out of the way of water. No matter how you approach it, the Amarok is a good-looking beast and it's big too.
From mirror-to-mirror, the Amarok is 120mm wider than the HiLux, which makes for a much roomier cabin. And that's mirrored in the back of the car; between the wheel wells in the tray the Amarok is nearly 200mm wider, which is seriously impressive when you're lugging awkwardly sized loads.
VW's Amarok makes up for its small capacity with an impossible amount of flexible torque that is delivered right when you need it. The engine is a 2.0-litre inline twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel, developing 120kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm from just off idle at 1500rpm – 2500rpm. Thanks to two turbochargers working in sequence there's almost no let-up in power, and virtually no lag either.
Mated to the back of the engine is an excellent six-speed manual (no auto available yet and this could hinder the initial take-up of the model). It offers a short throw and is nicely weighted so that you never get tangled up on gates as you do with some other manual transmissions in utes (and we're talking about Holden's agricultural manual).
The HiLux goes with a tried and true formula that was perfected in Prado and transplanted into HiLux. That is, a large capacity four-cylinder and five-speed manual gearbox. We specified a manual in this test vehicle given the Amarok is currently only available with a manual - most owners these days would opt for an auto.
And it's easy to see why, the five-speed 'box in the HiLux does the job, but it's nowhere near as refined or easy to use as the Amarok's manual.
The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine is, like the Amarok, also an inline four-cylinder, but is significantly larger in capacity and quite a bit less refined. Electronic Direct Injection helps to deliver 126kW at 3600rpm and only 343Nm between 1400 – 3400rpm. It's a marginal difference in torque and thanks to the grunt coming in a little earlier you don't ever feel like the HiLux is left wanting.
In terms of fuel consumption the Amarok, which is quite a bit bigger than the HiLux, returned 8.5L/100km on the combined cycle, but it was just pipped by the HiLux, which returned 8.4L/100km – not bad, given the Amarok is 200kg heavier. The fuel tank capacities are close too, 76L for HiLux, and 80L for Amarok.
Behind the wheel
The HiLux gets steering wheel-mounted controls, the Amarok does not. And at the better part of $55k, we reckon steering wheel controls are a must.
Where the Amarok is lavished with luxurious, but sturdy leather, the HiLux gets hard-wearing cloth. Where the Amarok gets more exclusive looking gauges and switchgear, the HiLux gets a basic arrangement that looks very plain and dated. The HiLux also misses out on the soft-touch finishes and leather wrap steering wheel.
And speaking of the steering wheel, taller drivers will find the too-low mounted steering wheel that seems to sit right in your lap, annoying. Not so the Amarok, which feels more car-like in the driving position it offers.
Vision on both vehicles is excellent, although the bigger windows on the Amarok provide slightly better vision for shoulder checks, important in such a big vehicle.