A shed-load of new utes will hit the Australian market over the next couple of years, from the forthcoming Mitsubishi Triton early in 2024 to a fresh Toyota HiLux in 2025, when an all-new contender, the Kia Tasman, is also due.
Chinese makers will have upgraded offerings over the next few years while India’s Mahindra, recognising the strength of the market, looks to completely overhaul their cheap and cheerful workhorse ute.
For now, Ford’s Ranger and its step-brother, the VW Amarok lead the pack for well-sorted combinations of on and off-road abilities.
The South African-built VW sits on the same chassis with similar mechanicals to the Australian-designed Ford – differences can be found in some tuning, bodywork and interior fit-out.
Aside from the bodywork, where the Amarok’s imposing front end takes on a VW family look, it’s up in that big cabin of the Style version – the middle of the Amarok’s five-model range – where this ute takes on a European influence.
It is premium fit and finish all-round with welcome touches including a leather-wrapped steering wheel that feels right, and excellent seats up front.
To underline the German tuning and detailing, the indicator stalk is switched to the left of the steering column and, as with other European machines, can be left on as a left or right parking light in narrow streets.
It’s a pity VW couldn’t have also swapped out that stubby automatic transmission lever with its fiddly buttons for manually changing gears, which remains a handy option on or off the road. In rough stuff, the Amarok Style is well equipped to tackle medium to heavy duty off-roading.
There’s reasonable ground clearance, a low range transfer case and driving modes to suit different terrain although the standard Goodyear tyres are biased toward highway work.
Like the Ford Ranger, the VW Amarok is a composed and confident tourer out on the highway. It is quiet and comfortable for a ute, albiet a plush and expensive ute.
It turns into corners well and sits flat with the rear end when unladen, under more control than most rivals.
The Amarok arrives with the ability to switch into auto all-wheel drive if needed, allowing for more assured traction down a dirt road.
Style versions arrive with the choice of 2.2 litre, twin turbocharged diesel or turbocharged three litre V6 diesel, with 184kW of power and 600Nm of torque, that returned just over 9 litres per 100km through a mixed bag of work. Worth every litre.
Naturally enough the VW Amarok arrives with all manner of convenience and safety aids. Monitors for parking assistance and steering clear of other vehicles are much appreciated around the town where the VW’s bulk may need some extra driving care and attention.
And while this $71,000 Amarok Style is aimed more at family travellers than trades folk, the tub out back is a generous size – with central locking tailgate even.
Here that shiny sports bar, which restricts access to the floor of the tub, furthers the thought that it’s the lifestylers dictating ute fashions right now.