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Volkswagen Amarok 2023 review: Core & Life


Daily driver score

4/5

Tradies score

4/5

Flagship utes have gotten both very good, and very expensive, haven't they? The new Amarok, for example, tops out at just under $80k for the top-spec Aventura.

But what if your still waters don't run deep with cash? Well, there's good news, because the cheapest Amarok options – the Core and Life – are still pretty well equipped, and both start well below the $60k barrier.

What's more, I reckon one of them might just be the pick of the entire Amarok range.

Which one, you ask? For that, you'll need to stay with me as we explore the Amarok Core and Amarok Life.

Price and features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The Core opens Amarok proceedings, listing at $52,990. And, unfortunately, it does very much feel like an entry-level model, with a key you need to insert and turn, a manual handbrake, vinyl flooring and the least-powerful engine available.

Happily, it doesn't so much look like one. In fact, externally, the big differences between the Core and the Life is the latter's body-coloured mirrors, and the former's external fixing rail that runs alongside the tray.

  • The Core opens Amarok proceedings, listing at $52,990. (Core variant pictured) The Core opens Amarok proceedings, listing at $52,990. (Core variant pictured)
  • Unfortunately, it does very much feel like an entry-level model. (Core variant pictured) Unfortunately, it does very much feel like an entry-level model. (Core variant pictured)
  • Happily, it doesn't so much look like one. (Core variant pictured) Happily, it doesn't so much look like one. (Core variant pictured)
  • It gets 17-inch alloys. (Core variant pictured) It gets 17-inch alloys. (Core variant pictured)

It gets 17-inch alloys, a standard tow bar, LED headlights and DRLs (the former so powerful that a colleague riding ahead of me asked me to turn my high-beams off) and some impressive in-cabin tech, including an 8.0-inch digital cockpit, and a 10.0-inch central screen that loads up your Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Life is one rung above the entry-level Core model, and it lists at $56,990, which is not chump change. But it does deliver one of the best engines on offer - which the Core does not - and you get plenty of niceties, as well as all the ute non-negotiables.

  • The Life is one rung above the entry-level Core model, and it lists at $56,990. (Life variant pictured) The Life is one rung above the entry-level Core model, and it lists at $56,990. (Life variant pictured)
  • It delivers one of the best engines on offer - which the Core does not - and you get plenty of niceties, as well as all the ute non-negotiables. (Life variant pictured) It delivers one of the best engines on offer - which the Core does not - and you get plenty of niceties, as well as all the ute non-negotiables. (Life variant pictured)
  • The Amarok does genuinely look like it has European sensibilities. (Life variant pictured) The Amarok does genuinely look like it has European sensibilities. (Life variant pictured)
  • The Life features 17-inch alloys. (Life variant pictured) The Life features 17-inch alloys. (Life variant pictured)

Outside, there’s LED lighting - headlights, DRLs and fog-lights - as well as 17-inch alloys. The tow bar is still standard fit, too.

Inside, there's the same infotainment tech, along with a leather steering wheel and gearshifter, eight-way driver and passenger seat adjustment, and an electric park brake.

Design – Is there anything interesting about its design?

It feels a little weird to describe any kind of dual-cab ute as "elegant", I know. We're used to these trucks looking big and bulky, with tough usually being the singular design brief.

But you know what, I'm going to. Because the Amarok does look somehow elegant – mature, even – both in its Core and Life guises.

  • Climb inside the Core and you're met with the rough-and-tumble cabin of an entry-level workhorse. (Core variant pictured) Climb inside the Core and you're met with the rough-and-tumble cabin of an entry-level workhorse. (Core variant pictured)
  • The steering wheel feels low end, the flooring is vinyl, and there's a manual parking brake, cloth seats and hard cabin materials. (Core variant pictured) The steering wheel feels low end, the flooring is vinyl, and there's a manual parking brake, cloth seats and hard cabin materials. (Core variant pictured)
  • That said, it's all nicely laid out, and it all works visually, especially when you consider the purpose of the Core. (Core variant pictured) That said, it's all nicely laid out, and it all works visually, especially when you consider the purpose of the Core. (Core variant pictured)
  • They’re all pretty damn practical, these Amaroks, and that’s true of both the Life and Core models, too. (Core variant pictured) They’re all pretty damn practical, these Amaroks, and that’s true of both the Life and Core models, too. (Core variant pictured)

It's partly the colours available – the Bright Beige Metallic especially is lovely — but it's also the design philosophy overall. VW talks about it, and when they do it can sound like marketing guff, but the Amarok does genuinely look like it has European sensibilities.

Climb inside the Core and you're met with the rough-and-tumble cabin of an entry-level workhorse. The steering wheel feels low end, the flooring is vinyl, and there's a manual parking brake, cloth seats and hard cabin materials.

  • The Life improves matters, with comfy - still fabric - seats, a leather steering wheel and cooler, and leather-wrapped shifter. (Life variant pictured) The Life improves matters, with comfy - still fabric - seats, a leather steering wheel and cooler, and leather-wrapped shifter. (Life variant pictured)
  • Inside, there's the same infotainment tech, along with a leather steering wheel and gearshift, eight-way driver and passenger seat adjustment, and an electric park brake. (Life variant pictured) Inside, there's the same infotainment tech, along with a leather steering wheel and gearshift, eight-way driver and passenger seat adjustment, and an electric park brake. (Life variant pictured)
  • The Life features a nice smattering of colours through the cabin, though the hard plastics remain. (Life variant pictured) The Life features a nice smattering of colours through the cabin, though the hard plastics remain. (Life variant pictured)

That said, it's all nicely laid out, and it all works visually, especially when you consider the purpose of the Core.

The Life improves matters, with comfy - still fabric - seats, a leather steering wheel and a cooler, leather-wrapped shifter, and a nice smattering of colours through the cabin, though the hard plastics remain.

Practicality – How practical is its space and tech inside?

They’re all pretty damn practical, these Amaroks, and that’s true of both the Life and Core models, too.

While it’s slightly narrower than the model it replaces, this Ford Ranger-based Amarok is slightly longer, with a longer wheelbase, which the brand says delivers more backseat space, while still being able to carry a pallet in its tray.

This Ford Ranger-shared Amarok is slightly longer, with a longer wheelbase, which the brand says delivers more backseat space, while still being able to carry a pallet in its tray. (Core variant pictured) This Ford Ranger-shared Amarok is slightly longer, with a longer wheelbase, which the brand says delivers more backseat space, while still being able to carry a pallet in its tray. (Core variant pictured)

It will also tow 3.5 tonnes braked, deliver a 988kg payload - slightly down on the Core’s 1042kg - and the roof is rated to 350kg.

There are plenty of off-road goodies, too. The 4Motion system delivers high-range and low-range 4WD, and both variants offer 235mm of ground clearance, and 800mm of wading depth.

And I can tell you from experience that there’s more than enough off-road capability on offer here to take you about as far as you want to go on the weekend.

Under the bonnet – What are the key stats for its engine and transmission?

The Core gets the entry-level diesel, with its single-turbo, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 125kW and 405Nm. It pairs with a six-speed auto, and delivers decent but not life-changing grunt.

The Life, though, steps it up. It gets a familiar (from the last-gen Ranger Raptor) bi-turbo-diesel engine, with the outputs dialled up to 154kW and 500Nm. It pairs with a 10-speed auto, and is an engaging, entertaining drive.

  • The Core gets the entry-level diesel, with its single-turbo, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 125kW and 405Nm. (Core variant pictured) The Core gets the entry-level diesel, with its single-turbo, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 125kW and 405Nm. (Core variant pictured)
  • The Life, though, steps it up. It gets a familiar (from the last-gen Ranger Raptor) bi-turbo-diesel engine, with the outputs dialled up to 154kW and 500Nm. (Life variant pictured) The Life, though, steps it up. It gets a familiar (from the last-gen Ranger Raptor) bi-turbo-diesel engine, with the outputs dialled up to 154kW and 500Nm. (Life variant pictured)

Efficiency – What is its fuel consumption? What is its driving range?

The Amarok is fitted with an 80-litre tank, and VW reckons you can expect 7.2L/100km on the combined cycle in the Life, and 8.0L in the Core.

We found the real-world fuel use was closer to 10L/100km in both models, but that included some off-roading, too.

Driving – What's it like to drive?

The question that really needs to be asked here, I think, is do you really - really - need a V6 engine? Because if that answer is no, and it would be for me, then I think the Life might be the pick of the Amarok range, both from a price and power perspective.

Don't get me wrong, the Core's engine isn't massively underwhelming. But it's the entry-level powertrain, and it feels like it's working harder than the Life's diesel donk.

If you're even vaguely interested in dual-cab utes, you'll know the bi-turbo engine on offer in the Life as the driving force behind that other dinosaur-themed off-roader, and it's no less enjoyable in this new application.

  • Don't get me wrong, the Core's engine isn't massively underwhelming. (Core variant pictured) Don't get me wrong, the Core's engine isn't massively underwhelming. (Core variant pictured)
  • But it's the entry-level powertrain, and it feels like it's working harder than the Life's diesel donk. (Core variant pictured) But it's the entry-level powertrain, and it feels like it's working harder than the Life's diesel donk. (Core variant pictured)
  • There's also something to be said for the refinement on offer from the modern dual-cab ute. (Core variant pictured) There's also something to be said for the refinement on offer from the modern dual-cab ute. (Core variant pictured)
  • The Amarok genuinely fills that family car that can go anywhere brief, without sacrificing on the ute essentials. (Core variant pictured) The Amarok genuinely fills that family car that can go anywhere brief, without sacrificing on the ute essentials. (Core variant pictured)
  • Part of that is down to the ride, which VW says has been tuned firm on purpose. (Core variant pictured) Part of that is down to the ride, which VW says has been tuned firm on purpose. (Core variant pictured)

Lightning fast it is not, but the power on offer is really more than enough here, and not once was I longing for a V6, whether we were on the road or off it.

There's also something to be said for the refinement on offer from the modern dual-cab ute, with the Amarok genuinely filling that family car that can go anywhere brief, without sacrificing on the ute essentials.

Part of that is down to the ride, which VW says has been tuned firm on purpose. It can be a little jarring when you hit a rough patch or bump, especially when off-roading, but the trade-off is a ute that doesn't sway or float too much when cornering, helping the Amarok feel more SUV-like than an old-school dual cab.

Downsides? The 10-speed auto fitted to the Life shifts smoothly enough, but it's pretty busy, shifting up or down when you don't really expect it to, and with only the lightest accelerator input. That, and the diesel thrum is a pretty constant companion, delivering background noise in the cabin whenever you're accelerating.

  • If you're even vaguely interested in dual-cab utes, you'll know the bi-turbo engine on offer in the Life as the driving force behind that other dinosaur-themed off-roader. (Life variant pictured) If you're even vaguely interested in dual-cab utes, you'll know the bi-turbo engine on offer in the Life as the driving force behind that other dinosaur-themed off-roader. (Life variant pictured)
  • Lightning fast it is not, but the power on offer is really more than enough here, and not once was I longing for a V6, whether we were on the road or off it. (Life variant pictured) Lightning fast it is not, but the power on offer is really more than enough here, and not once was I longing for a V6, whether we were on the road or off it. (Life variant pictured)
  • The diesel thrum is a pretty constant companion, delivering background noise in the cabin whenever you're accelerating. (Life variant pictured) The diesel thrum is a pretty constant companion, delivering background noise in the cabin whenever you're accelerating. (Life variant pictured)
  • Downsides? The 10-speed auto fitted to the Life shifts smoothly enough, but it's pretty busy, shifting up or down when you don't really expect it to, and with only the lightest accelerator input. (Life variant pictured) Downsides? The 10-speed auto fitted to the Life shifts smoothly enough, but it's pretty busy, shifting up or down when you don't really expect it to, and with only the lightest accelerator input. (Life variant pictured)

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What is its safety rating?

The Amarok range carries a five-star ANCAP safety rating, and nine airbags, and every model, including the Core, is fitted with a host of high-tech safety kit, too.

AEB with pedestrian and cyclist monitoring is standard fit, as are front and rear parking sensors, with Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning and adaptive cruise control taking the stress out of freeway cruises.

The Life then adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, but Volkswagen suggests the two technologies will be added range wide in the future.

The Amarok range carries a five-star ANCAP safety rating. (Core variant pictured) The Amarok range carries a five-star ANCAP safety rating. (Core variant pictured)

Ownership – What warranty is offered? What are its service intervals? What are its running costs?

The Amarok gets a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and you get 12 months of roadside assistance thrown in, too. You can also bulk-buy your services for the first five years, too, for $1800.

Service intervals are 12 months and 15,000km.

The Amarok gets a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. (Core variant pictured) The Amarok gets a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. (Core variant pictured)

The Life might one of the more budget-friendly offerings in the Amarok range, but for mine, it's also among the smartest buys in the family.

So ask yourself, do you really need that V6?

$50,990 - $56,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5

Tradies score

4/5
Price Guide

$50,990 - $56,990

Based on new car retail price

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