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Our recent trip to the Caravan Club’s Blackshaw Moor site near Leek gave us our first chance to tow with the Amarok.

The Amarok I found has an excellent driving position giving a good all round visibility despite being a large vehicle, 5554 mm long including tow bar and 2228 mm wide. This was brought home when a Discovery Sport pulled up next to me and I was looking down into it! In normal solo driving, the 8 speed automatic gearbox keeps the engine rpm low, not often going above 1800 rpm. Even pushing it quite hard the rpm remains low, showing just how much torque the 2 litre BiTurbo engine has (420 Nm of torque at 1750 rpm). First gear in the automatic box has been designed for off road use and pulling away towing a 3200Kg trailer. Although the rear end is a classic leaf spring suspension although unconventionally the springs are mounted outside the chassis rails to give less roll for a given spring rate, the clever design of the front suspension and the long 3095mm wheelbase keeps everything smooth and even speed humps don’t cause bounce from the rear end and as soon as any load is introduced on the rear bed (and you can put just over a tonne in there!) everything is really quite relaxed and the standard shock absorbers work well. Even in the wet and on roundabouts with no load in the back, everything is under control and so far I’ve not had the Electronic Stability Program kick in. All wheel drive is permanent on the automatic no matter if you are in on-road or off-road mode. The Torsen differential splits the power 40:60 between front and rear wheels and this reduced understeer on wet corners to zero if you are being slightly over enthusiastic. One thing that did surprise me is just how spritely the wolf is.

The Amarok stands on 19 inch rims fitted with 255×55 Continental Crosscontact Extra Load tyres with a load rating of 1090 Kgs which which give it a great footing. We are trying running with the standard pressure of 29 PSI all round for the moment, although the rear tyres can be run at 44 PSI for a maximum load of 5 people and 1000 Kgs load in the rear bed.

Inside everything is functional and seems well laid out. Road and engine noise are minimal even on motorways, especially when the gearbox drops into 8th gear which is classed as overdrive, and at 60 mph the engine is just ticking over at a shade over 1200 rpm. As there is loads of torque available even at this rpm, putting your foot down to accelerate doesn’t always require a downshift to 7th. The brakes are impressive and surprisingly have a lot of feel to them despite the Wolf being a truck. The Amarok is fitted with VW’s brake assist and if you jab on the brakes in an emergency stop situation, it detects how fast you apply the brakes then automatically applies maximum braking effort… it also then starts flashing the brake lights to bring attention to the fact you have just done a full brake emergency stop and then turns the hazard lights on.

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When we purchased the Amarok we opted for the Whitter tow bar, which while not the slimmest fitting tow bar available does give us options for adjusting the tow ball height over three settings when required. It’s equipped with an Alko machined head tow ball.

To keep everything secure in the rear bed, we opted for an American made Roll N Lock cover supplied by Up-Country Autoproducts. It arrived in a huge box with a good set of instructions, but if you go onto Roll N Lock’s website there are a couple of good installation instruction videos and after watching them a few times, it took me about two hours to fit on my own and that included removing and refitting the sports bars. Roll N Lock provide an optional fitting kit so you can install the OEM sports bars (as far as I know it’s the only retracting cover that can accommodate the OEM sports bars). The Roll N Lock adds about 30 Kgs to the weight of the Wolf.

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As I did’t fancy leaping on and off the tailgate every time I wanted something from the back of the pickup bed, I opted to install a German made Antec Sliding Cargo Tray also from Up-Country Autoproducts. When retracted the bed can support 550Kgs in the driving position and when pulled out to about 75% of the bed length can still support 250Kg in standard form fully extended out and can be upgraded to 350Kg by replacing the bearings. It took just over an hour to fit on my own and again, watching the manufacturers video’s on U-Tube a couple of times filled in a few steps that were not clear in the instructions.

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It incorporates tie down rails on all four sides, although I might install a couple of cargo rails that allow you to install multiple anchor rings (the same type as used in aircraft holds). The sliding bed adds another 65Kgs to the weight. I’m still playing about with loading configurations for the bed. We currently use a number of Really Useful Box Company boxes to store everything and these work out well. The only thing I might do over winter is build a custom storage box that fits semi-perminantly at the rear of the slide under the Roll N Lock cover to store all the off road recovery bits, straps, shackles, air compressor etc.

Towing…

Coupled up the whole outfit with our current caravan is 41 feet 6 inches long. Reading through the Wolf’s manual there is quite a big section on towing. One interesting feature I noted is when the caravan is plugged into the Amarok’s 13 pin socket, the alarm system covers the caravan, so if you leave the Amarok and lock the doors turning the alarm on, if anyone tries to unplug the caravan or cuts the cable it will set off the Amarok’s alarm.

VW recommend turning off the engine autostop feature. Although the caravan towing electrics are set up so that if the engine stops, the fridge circuit is switched off until the engine restarts. I’m not sure why they recommend this but I’ll try to find out. While towing, I followed VW’s advice and turned it off.

As soon as you connect the caravan electrics up to the Amarok, the vehicle detects the presence of a trailer and a number of parameters are changed. The rear parking sensors are turned off (and you see a trailer on the sensor display) and the rear vehicle fog light is disabled so the front of the caravan is not lit up bright red in low visibility situations. The other changes are to do with the electronic stability system, ABS, off road and gearbox modes. The handbook recommends shifting the gearbox into sport mode for towing, which extends the rev range in each gear before an upshift is commanded. You can also use the gearbox in manual mode shifting up and down manually between each gear.

With the caravan hitched, sitting in the drivers seat I didn’t feel as though I’d need towing mirrors as I could clearly see down both sides of the caravan. I did opt to fit our towing mirrors however, and I did adjust them so as they were quite close in. This still gave me a great view down both sides of the caravan to the extent I could easily see each of the orange side marker lights in the caravan. I also thought having them fitted would reduce the chance of VOSA and the Police pulling me in for not having them.

100_3402cWhere we store the caravan, pulling out from our spot requires a 270 degree right  turn. I didn’t measure it but to felt like the turn was tighter than I could have achieved with the Freelander, despite the Amarok’s greater length. Stopping to double check all the road lights and fridge were functioning correctly, I wasn’t disappointed and the guys at North West Towbars had done a great job of getting everything wired correctly. We pulled out of the storage facility into the centre of Stockport and I’d opted to go via the A6 and then the A523 through Macclesfield to Leek, which is a bit of a mixed road with plenty of bends and some hill climbs. To be honest, and this is probably an over used statement, but after a couple of miles through Stockport and down the A6 I didn’t really notice the caravan. The width of the Amarok meant that after a couple of hundred miles solo I was already use to placing the vehicle the right distance from the kerb and the caravan width meant it was nicely in line all the time. Through Macclesfield there was a section where a lorry was unloading and the road became a single carriageway. The oncoming vehicle flashed me to come through and I put my foot down and the Amarok caught me by surprise, it dropped a gear and took off like a scalded cat. I was used to putting in a lot more accelerator in the Freelander for a similar manoeuvre.

During the journey, the engine temperature remains nailed on 90 degrees and the oil temperature varied between 85 degrees and 99 degrees so I don’t think the engine was working too hard. The gearbox didn’t surprise me with any odd changes (except for my enthusiastic manoeuvre above!) and on a couple of long down hill sections, I flipped the leaver into manual mode and dropped a gear and the Amarok held it’s speed nicely with only minimal use of the brakes. I certainly didn’t have to ride the brakes as you have to with some automatic vehicles when being pushed downhill by 1500 Kgs of trailer. I’m not sure, but I think that sport mode on the automatic gearbox with a trailer attached is different than without a trailer attached.

Arriving at the site, you do realise just how long the unit is and it required a bigger reversing area to get the caravan located on the pitch aligned with the peg, but the good all round visibility helped, especially having the caravan so far away from the rear window, there were no blind spots and I could see the caravan clearly…. and Sue did a good job of guiding me in via the two way radios.

There are a couple of things that I don’t like. The reversing light (yes ‘light’ not ‘lights’) is very poor. VW have thought it only needed one reversing light, and for that matter one rear fog light. The reversing light is on the near side and would not attract a moth at night when its turned on. So one of the mods will be to install two under bumper LED lights via a suitable fused relay. Looking at some of the Amarok forum posts, this seems to be a common mod. The other mod is then to convert the normal reversing light into a near side fog light by replacing the LED unit and changing the wiring over. I’ve already ordered and had delivered the LED units for the reversing lights and will be tackling this job soon.

The second thing is the GPS unit. I guess I have got used to the TomTom unit and programming my own POI’s. The actual map display on the unit is great and the display of the map is really clear. However, the navigational aspect is not a good as our TomTom in my opinion. The other thing I would have thought is as it’s a commercial vehicle, the GPS unit should be able to be programmed with size and weight… and details of a trailer, but alas, no. I think it is the same software that is used in the VW range of cars. Why can’t manufacturers team up with the guys that know about navigation and offer inbuilt TomTom or Garmin products.

I have however recently discovered a web site that allows you to store POI’s on the memory card and access them through the GPS…. apparently you can also set some navigational parameters too. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Cross Country Solo…

Friday gave us chance to have a run out solo across the back roads of the Peak District over to the National Tramway Museum at Crich. I set the TomTom for the shortest route and it directed us up and over some spectacular scenery on B roads and a couple of single lane tracks. A road closed diversion added another eight miles to our trip. The Amarok performed well, most of the milage gained solo so far was on a short motorway commute to the airport so having a chance to throw it a round a bit gave me an insight into its abilities, and I wasn’t disappointed. At no time did I feel it was lacking power and the two litre engine performed like a bigger unit. We came back via the A6 and Buxton which is a bit of a fast twisty road in places and despite its size and weight handled really well, feeling extremely sure footed… well enough for me anyway. I don’t do excitement while driving anymore! The climate control and aircon are great, with Sue being able to adjust her side exactly to her preference and leaving me to do my own thing. I can’t wait for winter now when we could never agree on the setting in the Freelander.

100_3403cReturning home, the sat-nav wanted us to turn right out of the site and head towards Buxton, then cut across back towards Stockport I opted to return the way we had come through Leek and Macclesfield. The return trip was exactly an hour and the towing again was easy with the Amarok and it feels just as sure footed when making good progress towing through twisty sections of road. I wasn’t going to do the ‘Elk Test’ but I feel that it would not give me any nasty surprises especially as the Electronic Stability Programme works with the ABS when towing. I really think VW should enter this for the tow car of the year awards.

In conclusion, it’s everything I hoped it would be and it has so far exceeded my expectations. It’s comfortable, roomy and has lots of storage inside the cab. The Atacama version is fully featured and I don’t think it misses anything we would need. We are both really please with our choice. I’m looking forward to the motorway tow down to the NEC for the Motorhome & Caravan show in October (unless we get away before then!). If you see us there and would like to have a look round an Amarok or just say Hi, do stop by.

If you think that you might like to try one, go and visit your nearest Commercial VW Centre and if you are anywhere around Manchester, drop in and see Jessica at the Manchester Van Centre VW in Trafford Park and tell her I sent you, she won’t run away… promise!

Still to come…

We have still to fit a few other bits of equipment to source and fit…

  • Vehicle Tracking System
  • HD Dash Cam.
  • Led Reversing Lights.
  • Thule Bike Rack Mounting System.

For the vehicle tracking system, I’ll be talking to a few of the exhibitors down at the Caravan & Motorhome Show at the NEC in October to see what options there are. The HD Dash Cam is a little easier, There is an excellent website called “TECHMOAN” and the video reviews on there are straightforward and honest and I’m my opinion some of the best reviews on tech equipment. I think I’ll be choosing the DDPai M6+ unit with a battery pack to use the parking features.

I’ll keep you updated on how we go on.