Online forums were set ablaze in 2020 when the news broke that Ford would be building not only its next-generation Ranger at the Blue Oval’s Silverton plant but also the next Volkswagen Amarok. Memes, some of which were, erm, typically South African, nearly broke the internet. The bakkie world went mad.
But in case you didn’t know, badge engineering is nothing new. The biggest local exponent of this is undoubtedly Toyota, with its fondness for Suzuki’s designs. In the bakkie world, though? Well, it’s pretty much sacrilegious. The only thing worse is a “jou ma” joke.
The thing is, this collaboration works… Sure, the world was waiting with bated breath on the second act of the overall brilliant but dated (original) VW Amarok 3.0-litre V6. And yes, the VW purists have raised their eyebrows and given their ten cents at the notion that it’s no more a VW than Eskom is a functional entity. And yet, on the exterior detail front, which for many bakkie pundits is a deciding factor, it’s largely VW. Those IQ.Light LEDs up front, the horizontally-focussed lines… You get the idea.
Then there’s the interior trim – plenty of Ford to be found here, but also with VW’s unique approach. Front and centre in the PanAmericana trim we had on test is an identical tablet-style 12-inch infotainment screen as found in the Ranger Wildtrak and Raptor, which, unfortunately, also inherited the same annoyances.
The layered interface and tiny integrated click points for external functions like Android Auto for one. It’s not bad when parked, but interacting with it on the move is like threading a needle on a rollercoaster. Or the near-Easter Egg Hunt commencement to find and optimise the Climate options. That latter one definitely reminds me of VW products like the Golf R – it’s clearly meant for sophisticated, tech-savvy individuals, not some flip-flops and sweatpants-wearing oke from the East Rand.
As for the 12-inch digital instrument cluster layout, well, that’s more VW than many VWs. Driving info is readily available, it’s easy to configure, and the graphics are crisp. What’s more? There are buttons on the steering wheel to control functions like volume – no digital sliders to be found here.
And the overall fit and finish? The PanAmericana derivative boasts a sophisticated-first approach. This is in contrast to the slightly more utilitarian-with-niceties approach as found on its American cousin, the Ranger Wildtrak. In fact, I’m trying to think of a plush interior execution from VW Commercial Vehicles, and I’m coming up seriously short. Yes, yes, it’s a Ford, I know. But it’s also VW at its very best. The black leather upholstery with brown adornments is called “Cricket” leather, and the brown tastefully extends to the armrests, seatbacks and centre storage bin. While I’m not typically fond of any brown inserts, for this off-road-focussed luxury bakkie, it works a charm.
On the driving front, the Amarok PanAmericana walks the walk and then some. Under the bonnet beats the creamy Ford-donated heart in the form of a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel oil burner that produces a mighty 184kW and 600Nm of torque. In layman’s terms, that’s enough to tow the moon into a different gravitational orbit. Probably. We’re pretty sure.
How about the 10-speed automatic gearbox? There are no qualms here as it covertly distributes drive to the wheels. The plentiful torque figure helps extract the maximum potential from the ‘box that, for 99% of the time, accurately predicts and adjusts according to throttle inputs. The other 1%? Well, it did, on occasion, get a tad overexcited when modulating the throttle before a planned overtake and, as a result, knocked down a few cogs within the 10-speed. Hardly necessary since there’s plenty of grunt on tap for just that.
The refined ride quality and bump absorption remind me of the first-gen Amarok. It won buyers over with its sturdy and unruffled nature over pimply roads and the tranquil cabin was another feather in its cap. In fact, I’m willing to comment and say that, once again, VW has one of the most comfortable contenders in its direct segment. No VW-ness in this dinner jacket-wearing Ranger, says the naysayers – I’ll just trail off here for dramatic effect…
This is a bit awkward, but the Volkswagen Amarok 3.0TDI V6 PanAmericana 4Motion, as tested, costs a sturdy R1,084,600 – and it’s still shy from being the range-topping derivative. That’s R60,000 more than its near-comparatively-specced Ranger Wildtrak cousin and R100,000 less than the mad-as-a-hatter Ranger Raptor.
While the Amarok PanAmericana is a superb bakkie with more than enough redeemable qualities to easily forgive the badge-related bloated elephant in the room, that asking price leans on the side of overly steep. Isn’t the point of joint venturing to make the bean counters happy? To eliminate the need for costly platform developments and refinements to keep asking prices down? Then again, I’m hardly qualified to speculate what goes on behind closed doors when pricing matters are discussed.
I am, though, in a position to comment on matters of fuel consumption. During the test tenure, the Amarok PanAmericana registered 9.2l/100km during suburban driving and dipped to a respectable 8.5l/100km during highway jaunts. Not bad. It certainly doesn’t have the drinking habit of its V6 petrol-powered Ranger Raptor cousin.
The VW Amarok PanAmericana is an astoundingly good bakkie on all accounts. That Ford brawn, the VW finesse… Instead of lamenting this strange-on-all-accounts joint effort, shouldn’t we applaud what these brands cooperatively achieved… In fact, the locally-built Amarok is such a fitting metaphor for South Africa: With the kaleidoscope of different cultures and backgrounds that call our nation home, we can still, on occasion, and despite our differences, come together and do something extraordinary. And then complain about the price.