Caravan, Caravanning, Caravans, Project Wolf, Touring, tow vehicle, Towing
If you haven’t read “Choosing A New Tow Vehicle Pt 1…” you might want to start there first.
So what happened to scupper all my spreadsheet deliberations in the early hours of the morning while driving to work?
I was on the M60 heading towards the airport thinking about what aircraft were due out… as you do, when a large pickup passed me. Not with one of these truck tops on the rear but a hard cover over the pickup bed and 4 bikes mounted on a rack above the bed. I hadn’t a clue as to what make it was as I wasn’t into pickup’s really but it did look really neat and by the time my brain got into gear to see if I could identify the make, it was gone.
All that morning I was thinking about pickup’s…. maybe I was missing a trick here and a SUV type vehicle wasn’t the way forward, but a pickup was. They seem to be one of the vehicles of choice in the USA for people towing travel trailers, but that’s a whole different market. There are a lot of caravaners in the UK using them too. What was I missing?
A couple of days later I saw what I thought was the same vehicle again on the M60, this time with no bikes on the back. It had a VW badge on the tailgate. I thought VW didn’t make pickup’s. But this got me thinking again, was a pickup the way to go… lots of people use 4 x 4 pickups to tow with, they seem to have plenty of room, be practical, have seating for five and are generally built tough as they are usually designed for commercial use.
A chance conversation about caravans at work with someone who had recently changed his Discovery for a pickup… a VW pickup.
A few days later I started searching on the internet for information about pickups… there is more out there than I thought. My original spreadsheet got a bit of a re-write over the course of a weekend.
A day or so later we were staying down at Plough Lane Caravan Site and we saw another Amarok on the road which was the first time Sue had seen one and it renewed our interest again, and as luck would have it we were near to a VW Commercial Dealership (have a read here https://caravanchronicles.com/2015/09/20/wiltshire-wanderings/) so we dropped in. It was ticking all the boxes, but more research was still required about 4 x 4 pickup’s. My spreadsheet grew.
Now, I’m not going to give you a long list of the ones we looked at and the reasons for dismissing them in our particular case, some people might have chosen them and for them, they tick all the boxes which is great. The others didn’t tick enough of our (well my) boxes and the Amarok did. So “Project Wolf” was born.
I did not know what to call this series of blog posts when I was making my notes, I read that an amarok, or amaroq, is a gigantic gray wolf in Inuit mythology, said to stalk and devour any person foolish enough to hunt alone at night. Unlike real wolves who hunt in packs, amaroks hunt alone. This kind of stuck in my brain and I started scribbling “Project Wolf” at the top of the pages I had in my note-book where I’d written about stuff for the Amarok.
After my first conversation with the dealer in Swindon, I needed lots of questions answering and fired off an email to VW UK. And got a quick reply telling me nothing of what I really wanted to know. So I tried again, this time to VW in Germany. Not telling me much more… but in lots of detail of course. Thankfully the Australians came to the rescue, although the specs are a little different, it helped fill in the blanks.
Searching on the internet it seems that the Amarok is going down a storm down under in Australia and there are lots of videos and information on Australian 4 x 4 forums about the Amarok… as well as quite a bit of stuff from southern Africa and south America. I spent the next couple of months gathering information and adding even more columns to my spread sheet, then going back visiting other manufacturers web sites filling in blank bits for their particular 4 x 4 pickup’s to keep things on a level playing field.
OK… So why choose a pickup?
Glad you asked. Well these are OUR reasons and thoughts. They may not coincide with your particular circumstances, but here’s why… for us.
The loading and storage capacity are huge when compared to most SUV 4 x 4’s. The weight capacity is around 1000 Kg’s and most can take a standard Euro-pallet footprint. That’s a lot of caravanning extras. A lot of pickups can be fitted with a van style top that will allow wet dogs, bikes and other stuff that you wouldn’t put inside a vehicle. Although we don’t particularly want a cab style top but would prefer a flat lid with a bike rack on top. And we don’t have a wet dog. We may have a wet awning though. The tailgate can apparently support 250 Kgs… handy for tailgate BBQ’s! It also makes it easy for me to throw in a big snap-on tool chest and use it as a work bench when tinkering with aircraft electrics.
A lot of pickups are still built on a ladder chassis (like the old Land Rovers) for strength and generally have a longer wheelbase which for towing increases stability. The hitch nose weight limit is generally higher – 150 Kg upwards and generally they are heavier so a lower towing weight ratio can be achieved.
Comparing our Freelander to the Amarok I got:-
Freelander Mass In Service=1723 Kgs, Caravan MTPLM=1490 Kgs, giving a towing ratio of 86.5%
Amarok Mass In Service=2093 Kgs, Caravan MTPLM=1490 Kgs, giving a towing ratio of 71.1%
The Amarok 85% figure is a caravan with a MTPLM of 1779 Kgs and 90% comes in at 1884 Kg’s. The maximum rated towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3200 Kgs.
The other factor for me is the build. Most pick-up’s are built for commercial use and things tend to be a bit beefier. The seats are a bit tougher, the springs, brakes, switches…. everything is designed and made with heavy use in mind. OK this can make them a bit more utilitarian in their design and look inside, but I wanted something that would still look good after 100,000 miles.
The mechanics too tend to be a bit more industrial. The vehicles are not built to a minimum weight just to get good MPG or performance. They are designed for a working life with minimal down time and servicing costs. With all this In mind and much more we (well I) settled on the VW Amarok as the main contender.
OK… so what’s hot about the Amarok?
Here’s a few things I like… mainly taken from the VW literature and I guess is similar to other offerings.
ABS and EBD – Anti-lock Brakes and Electronic Brake Distribution. ABS is pretty standard now but the Amarok ABS also has Off Road ABS as well and is linked to something called EBD which essentially helps prevent lockup of the rear wheels when under less load (i.e. lightly loaded in the back) or when the vehicle’s weight is transferred to the front wheels when braking. Handy for those wet grass campsites.
Hill Hold Assist – handy for hill starts when towing and Hill Descent Control – Available on a lot of 4 x 4’s but the big one for me was unlike the Land Rover version (which is great by the way!) it operates in off-road mode at any speed below 18 MPH when the vehicles ABS is being used. It controls the braking automatically to prevent unintentional acceleration going down hill even in slippery conditions.
Brake Assist – senses how fast you apply the brakes and if it senses you are doing an emergency stop automatically applies the maximum braking effort available.
The 2.0 Litre BiTDI Engine produces 180 PS (132Kw) or 180 Hp in old money which is similar to some larger engines in other makes. The two turbos help the engine give a huge 420 Nm of torque when mated to the 8 speed automatic gearbox, which has first gear optimised for off-road and pulling away when towing heavy trailers. 8th gear is designed as an overdrive to reduce revs and maximise fuel efficiency.
Here’s one from the F1 world…. regenerative braking. When you brake the energy recuperation system uses momentum to turn the alternator and charge the battery, making the most of the energy when you brake.
Permanent “4 motion” four-wheel drive. All wheel drive is permanent on the automatic no matter if you are in on or off-road mode. The Torsen differential splits the power 40:60 between front and rear wheels, but when off-road the system automatically distributes power to the wheels with most grip… and works with hill start and hill descent control.
There were a few other things that I liked… for example you can put a 32Gb SD card in the radio with all your music from your iPod on and the hands free system seemed quite easy to use too. There were more 12 volt power points than you could shake a stick at, including one in the pickup bed, handy for your cool box!
It has all the usual stuff too, leather interior, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, cup holders everywhere, storage draws under the front seats, inbuilt sat-nav.
It’s not small – 5254 mm long (excluding tow bar) and 2228 wide at the mirrors. With our caravan hitched it will be a total length of around 12.54 metres or about 41′ 2″ in real money.
The MPG figures were OK too…. but that with VW has to be seen in perspective of course.
So with all my geeky and techie boxes ticked…. all we had to do was go and prod one in real life and take it for a wiz round the block!
Now I think VW have missed a trick here, VW Car Dealerships don’t sell Amarok’s, you have to go to a VW Commercial Dealer, and after talking to a few people, this seems to be a bit daunting as a lot have people have never stepped into a commercial dealership before. Our nearest VW Commercial Dealership is Manchester Van Centre VW in Trafford Park where we met the lovely Jessica… but more about that in Part 3.
Here is a sneaky preview of an Amarok from Down Under….