by Gregory Simpson

MATROOSBERG, THE ULTIMATE TESTING GROUND

It was with great anticipation that I received the brand VW Amarok V6 to review recently, a vehicle that has hit hotly contested bakkie market with plenty of pomp and ceremony

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And this is not without reason, given that it boasts the most powerful engine in any bakkie locally (180kw)—the only v6 diesel option and also the fastest—it has all the boxes ticked before even moving a wheel.

The first thing that comes to mind when entering the new Amarok is the build quality, which feels very robust and strong, without losing the luxury appeal of a R700k Volkswagen.

Now, to test such a weapon of mass construction, I needed to bring it to the ultimate testing ground for man and machine, the no-nonsense Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve, which boasts the Western Cape’s highest 4x4 track, finishing over 2 000 metres above sea level, also making it the highest peak in the region.

We were also fortunate enough to be the first guests staying at their cosy self-catering unit called the Solitaire Mountain Cottage (SMC), situated in a picturesque kloof that leads to crystal clear rock pools that are a must for a dip in the heat of summer. Given that it was only spring when we visited, it was more eye candy than anything else.

Now, it was a good thing that I brought the new Amarok with the Extreme Package, giving it more ground clearance and extras than the entry-level models. That was essential because to get to the cottage, you need to cross a cheeky little river that could claim a few side steps if you are not careful.

Luckily, our V6 Amarok was all business and did not put a foot wrong on the journey to the SMC, which is about a 15-minute drive into the mountains, from the reception on the main farm of Erfdeel.

My initial impression of the reserve was how friendly the staff was. Nothing is too much trouble and the Manager, Waldo, is a wealth of knowledge of 4x4s and offloading, and I spent an hour plotting which is the best 4x4 on the market.

He was immediately impressed by the ground clearance on the new Amarok and was confident that it would make it to the top of the Matroosberg peak without incident. And with the vehicles permanent all-wheel-drive and off-road extras like a hill descent, crawler gear and diff lock, it was going to take an army to stop the 180kw V6 powerhouse from achieving its mission.

The only concern that I had for the trip up the famed mountain was the tyres. Once again, I see fairly low-profile tyres on a serious off-roader. This puzzles me because the tyres will give up long before the car does on serious off-road. It would appear that all new SUVs and bakkies are aimed at highway driving and not off-road. It’s a pity because you can never fully enjoy the drive as you’ve always got the fear of a puncture in the back of your mind.

Thankfully, we did not get any punctures, and the tyres held up well, but the fear still existed. However, on the highway, the Pirelli tyres came into their own and handled themselves with aplomb. Perhaps you simply have to accept that there is a far bigger percentage of people who drive these vehicles on tar compared to gravel, thus the quieter highway tyres were selected. The first thing I’d do if I owned an Amarok is put proper all-terrain tyres on, which is a very simple solution.

So, off we set with trepidation, to take on one of Southern Africa’s highest peaks, with the mist coming in, at a mere five degrees. The temperature really does plummet when climbing altitude, so remember to pack plenty of warm clothes and some hot coffee. The 4x4 track climbs steeply from the offset, as it winds its way up the rugged mountain.

I selected all the 4x4 buttons for assistance and she started climbing without putting a foot wrong. Now, this is first-gear low-range territory all the way, as you crawl up, catching 360-degree views along that way, which makes up for the bumpy ride.

Before long, you are reaching the cloud line as the temperature continues to spiral, reminding me of my frigid gap year in Scotland.

After an hour of careful manoeuvring, we start reaching the upper limits of the peak. A sheer drop off down to a majestic canyon is a reminder of the inherent dangers at the top. I would not recommend anyone trying to hike or drive this route while under the influence of anything; it may be your last trip. People have died falling from the top of the mountain.

Even though it was misty and freezing at the summit, it was well worth it for the sense of accomplishment and freedom. The Amarok had little trouble navigating the rocky path and the new V6 makes the power-to-weight ratio perfect. The previous two-litre TDI engine was always a touch underpowered in my mind. Having said that, Waldo was quick to point out that the Amarok was voted the best towing vehicle in SA, so what do I know?

After a few chilly pictures, we headed back down. Thankfully, the vehicle has a proper hill descent that kicked in when the bakkie sensed it was going downhill. It kept the car a 5km/h, which is fast enough, coming down this particular track. The way down is arguably even more beautiful than the way up, with long vistas that take your breath away.

After three hours of shake, rattle and roll, we made it back to the safety of the cottage for a well-deserved rest. And rest you can have, with pure solitude that you just can’t find in the city. While fairly basic, the unit feels new, from the braai grid to the cutlery, and makes for the perfect break from the rigours of the rat race. Adventure lovers will have their hands full with a plethora of outdoor activities for young and old, from paintball to fishing.

So, all in all, I’d give the new V6 Amarok, which shares the same engine as the Porsche Cayenne, a lofty 9.5 out of 10 on the Leadership Car Guide. It is sure to make a serious impression in the Ford and Toyota domination of the hotly contested bakkie market.

Until next time, happy motoring. 

Gregory Simpson

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