Buying used: VW Amarok (2011-2022) – Probably the most underrated dual-cab on the market

By Dex Fulton 16 Min Read

VW Amarok? Ew. They’re just a pretend ute aren’t they? No real carrying capacity. Euro vehicles are way overpriced for what you get. And they probably fold like a lawn chair when you take them off-road. That seems to be a lot of folks’ perception when you throw the Amarok name into the ring anyway. But the thing is, none of that is really true. Like, at all. 

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They can carry north of 800kg. On par with the big names in the category. There’s also not much difference pricing-wise compared to the HiLux and Ranger; and off-road they’re easily as good as any other dual-cab on the market. Probably better than most, in fact. 

But hey, the misconceptions about the Amaroks mean that on the second-hand market they can be had for a relative bargain. Which means you can pick one up, throw some suspension and barwork at it, get an engine tune (which’ll give it more than enough to make a 300 Series Land Cruiser hold its pocket when walking around the prison yard), and install a lithium dual-battery system. Then have yourself a take-anywhere-in-the-country tourer for less than a new Ranger. And have more power and solid off-road abilities. 

As for reliability? The V6 turbo-diesel platform (easily the best engine out of any of this generation’s dual-cabs) has been used in multiple vehicles. From Audis to Porsches. And are known for their reliability and longevity. Examples are getting around with half a million clicks on the odometer, which says it all really. 

If you’re in the market for a new-to-you ute that’s powerful, comfortable and way more capable than most people realise, then take another look, and a test-drive, of a Vee-Dub. They’re much better than you reckon. 

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Model Differences

Engines:

  • In 2011 the Amarok was initially offered with the TDI400, a single-turbo 4cyl 2.0L diesel that put out around 90kW and 300 Newtons. This engine was also offered in the rare-as-Barbie-nipples single-cab Amaroks, which almost nobody bought.

  • From there the TDI400 and TDI420 engines received a second turbo and around the 132kW and 420NM (hence the name). This engine largely remained the same for the duration of the 4-cylinder run until 2022. These engines were available with a 6-speed manual or 8-speed auto.

  • 2016 saw the introduction of the V6 turbo-diesels. The TDI500 put out 165kW and 500NM and was available in auto and manual. Note that the manual models were Core variants only, and limited in torque output due to the clutch not being able to handle much more than 500NM. 

  • Other than the Core, all other V6 Amaroks were 8-speed autos (which has to be said is a great box) and were TDI550s, which, you guessed it, had 550NM of torque on tap, although power remained at 165kW.

  • The TDI580 V6 engines were found in the higher-spec models and put out a class-leading 580NM and 190kW, which jumped up to 200kW on overboost. For reference, the 2023 HiLux puts out 150kW and 500NM of torque, you know, in case you were wondering. 

Core: 

  • The budget-spec of the Amaroks. Think cloth trim, optional lumbar support, halogen lights and minimal creature comforts. The only variant in which you can buy a V6 manual though, if that’s your jam.

Sportline:

  • These models get a bit of an upgrade in the bells and whistles department, which may be enough to keep you happy, but there’s nothing too revolutionary. Dual-zone AC is handy, as are the rear seat cupholders and carpet (as opposed to rubber). Mainly though, it’s glitzy additions like aluminium inserts, 18in alloys and chrome highlights that offer no practical use. Although they do come with a 12V outlet in the tray, which is definitely handy. 

Highline:

  • Stepping up to the highline will get you bi-xenon headlights (although to be honest, none of the factory Amarok headlights are what you’d call great) and LED DRLs and fog lights. You also get a different style of 18in rims, an interior-monitoring alarm system, extended wheel arch flares, TPMS and underbody protection. Highline’s also get an SD slot in the infotainment head unit, which allows the use of off-road mapping. The TDI580 engine is also available in the Highline and up, which probably makes it worth the extra outlay on its own. 

Ultimate/Aventura:

  • Leather seats that are heated and electrically adjusted keep your butt snug in the Aventura models. You also get paddle-shifters and a much fancier driver-instrument panel. Illuminated side steps, sports pedals and 20in alloys round out VW’s attempts to convince you to spend more money on their high-spec pony. 

W580S:

  • VW Australia entered into a partnership with Walkinshaw in 2021 and they put out the W-series of Amaroks. The W580S had MTV twin-tube shocks, twin exhaust with side pipes, 275/50R20 Pirelli Scorpion ATR all-terrain rubber (with a 40mm factory lift to match), special Walkinshaw grille and wheel arch flares. The interior got the Vienna leather treatment and there’s a fancy racer-boi spoiler out back for all of your Domenic Toretto cosplay dreams.  

W580X:

  • 2022 saw the phasing out of the W580S, which was replaced with the W580X. This model copped a beefy 4mm bashplate, integrated grille-mounted lightbar, rock sliders (which VW reckon are designed to take 3x the vehicle’s weight), diff breathers and Art Velour Walkinshaw-branded seats

VW Amarok common problems

4 Cylinder Models:

The number one with a bullet drama on the 4-bangers is the EGR cooler. Which was constructed from one-ply tinfoil and welded together with a politician’s promise. These things are hot garbage and are practically designed to fail. There are a few methods of getting rid of them and making the cooling system basically immune from leaks, but unfortunately none of them are legal.

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Allegedly they involve a pair of blanking plates, a short length of rubber hose and using the cooler as a discus at your next athletics event. But again, illegal. Plus we would never advocate such recklessness.

It’s a similar story with the DPF. They work great until they don’t (they usually give up from anywhere between 80K to 180K). They’re a filter and, again, are designed to fail. A new one is around the $2500 mark from VW. Or you could spend less than that and get a tune and make the DPF disappear. Netting power, economy and reliability in one hit. But that’s only if you’re using your vehicle off-road only, Officer. It’s illegal to do so, even though it makes so much more sense – but again, definitely not suggesting you should do anything like that. Really, we aren’t.

Other than that, servicing is king (goes for V6 models too). VW say they should get fluids and filters every 15,000km. But the experts reckon for Aussie conditions you’re better off sticking with every 10,000km. Timing belts MUST be done every 105,000km and fuel filters every 60,000km. 

V6 models: 

As with the 4cyl models, the EGR and DPF systems are prone to failure. Hardly an Amarok only problem. All vehicles fitted with them suffer. Although the EGR coolers on the V6s do not have the same shoddy construction as on the fours. 

2016 and 2017 models (the first two years of production) are prone to leaks from a coolant tap in the valley. Fixed on later models with an uprated part. If looking at one such vehicle, find out if it has had the upgrade fitted. 

What can go wrong off-road?

These engines run off a timing chain, so won’t need the 105K major services the four-pots cop. But it’s worth repeating that timely servicing is really a non-negotiable. 

For vehicles that see regular off-road use, be aware that the bi-Xenon lights do not handle water crossings well. And are prone to damage. Similarly, the taillights can allow water ingress. Which, through black magic and sheer maleficence, can cause all sorts of problems with the entire vehicle harness. Long story short, make sure things are sealed up before water crossings. 

Speaking of water crossings, while not really a problem per se, closely inspect any vehicle with any snorkel that’s not a reputable brand – particularly stainless items. Number one: stainless snorkels are loud – as in, a grown man yelling in your ear whenever your window is down loud. Number two: there have been a fair few reports of a couple of inches of water being found in the bottom of the airbox after rain on staino-equipped Amaroks. They may look cool but are probably best avoided. 

VW, in all of their wisdom, added a function that when in reverse the gearbox transmits precisely bugger-all power to the wheels. The idea is that it saves wear and tear on the diff, but it also means if you’re backing a trailer up a steep driveway or trying to reverse out of a bog on sand you’re boned. The feature can be tuned out, but it’s worth being aware of. 

Volkswagen Amarok modifications  

There really isn’t too much you can’t do with Amaroks on the aftermarket. Pretty much everything is available and is not necessarily more expensive than the Japanese-ute brigade. One quick tip would be to take your `Rok to a specialist, of which there are quite a few around the place. They know what works and what doesn’t, and will be able to offer specific advice as opposed to taking it to a generic off-road workshop who may not be aware of the vee-dub’s quirks – for example, in putting this yarn together one expert informed us that the V6 Amaroks have a 3in exhaust from stock, and that any aftermarket exhaust will only really help the sound, not power. So yeah, take it to someone who knows the brand to avoid costly mistakes.  

For us, first cab off the rank would be a tune. 250HP and 600+NM is regularly achieved with no other mods, making it one of the best bang-for-buck mods. From there we’d throw on a Rival front bar, winch and some Bilstein suspension, with some 265/70R17 AT rubber (largest you can legally fit). A lithium battery system behind the back seat to keep the fridge chilly and a long-range tank to get us a little further out into the bush and we’ve got the makings of a vehicle we could happily drive for the next ten years. 

Should I buy an Amarok?

The arguments for the Amaroks, particularly the V6 versions, are pretty bloody strong. They don’t have the boat-ramp-champ cred of a HiLux or Ranger, but you can rest easy that neither of those vehicles will come close to having the power, real-world torque or comfort of your ‘Rok. 

As mentioned, the key is finding one that has been serviced religiously and isn’t throwing any whacky codes. DPF and EGR codes can be “fixed” pretty easily and are useful bargaining tools, especially if it’s on the market cheap. 

Realistically, they’re comfy, powerful and represent excellent value as a used buy. There are plenty of examples out there that have never been off-road, let alone driven in anger. If that sounds like a bit of you, we can only recommend you take a few out for a run and see if they tick the boxes for you. 

Price Guide – buying used Amarok

Keep in mind there are a lot of variations in price between 4cyl, V6 and different model variants, so take these prices as a rough guide. 

  • 2013 Amarok Highline; 4cyl, manual ~180,000KM $15K – $20K
  • 2018  Amarok Ultimate; V6, auto ~85,000km $35K – $45K
  • 2022 Amarok W580X; V6, auto ~5,000km $85 – $95K

Before You Buy Checklist:

  • Service history (every 10,000km preferably, 15,000km at the minimum)
  • Bring a code reader – DPF and EGR codes in particular are solid bargaining points
  • Check EGR cooler and head for leaks (4cyl models)
  • On V6 models (particularly `16 + `17) check coolant tap for leaks
  • Check Injector seals for oil residue
  • Check CV boots for wear and tear
  • Check brakes for wear (pads and rotors need to be changed at the same time so haggle accordingly)
  • Check boost hoses (particularly hot side on the 4cyl models)
  • Check blower motor works on all speeds (4cyl models)
  • Stock rear shocks will almost certainly be leaking, as will the rear diff pinion seal (they sweat, rather than leak so it’s generally not a huge issue) – haggle accordingly

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