It speaks volumes about the component-sharing state of the world's motor industry that Volkswagen can take an eight-speed auto from the Audi A8 luxury sedan and put it into a ute.
That's just what the German company has done with its Argentine-built Amarok.
Up until now, the big ute has been available only with a six- speed manual transmission, but now Volkswagen New Zealand has introduced a 4WD double-cab twin- turbo-charged diesel model with the eight-speed auto.
It's not cheap at $64,990, with all the frills of its Highline level of specification, but it immediately takes its place as one of the most refined utes you will find.
At the same time, the company has added a single-cab version of the Amarok in an effort to get into the classic 'workhorse' segment of the ute market. It's called a Super Single Cab because there's a small cargo space behind the two seats.
Addition of these two models should result in Amarok annual sales moving through the 1000 unit mark, said Volkswagen NZ's general manager of commercial vehicles Grant Doull at a media conference in Auckland last week.
VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK DOUBLE- CAB AUTOMATIC
POWER PLANT: Four-cylinder 2.0-litre common-rail fuel injected twin turbo diesel engine, 132 kW at 4000 rpm, 420 Nm at 1750 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive. Eight- speed ZF automatic transmission. Suspension features heavy duty leaf springs on a ladder frame chassis.
HOW BIG: Length 5254mm, width 2228mm, height 1834mm, wheelbase 3095mm.
HOW MUCH: $64,990
WHAT'S GOOD: Lovely relaxed and highly specified drive.
WHAT'S NOT: Road oriented rather than agricultural - if that can be considered an issue these days. Price is high.
OUR VERDICT: This Amarok will have special application in the urban areas because of its ease of use.
"The initial launch of the Amarok double-cab in New Zealand in early 2011 has been a success for our brand," he said.
"And as we continue to see the cross-over of typical SUV-type buyers opting to have a dual-use ute like Amarok as their vehicle of choice, we see some terrific potential for the new eight-speed automatic model."
It's certainly one of the most relaxed utes I've yet driven.
Powered by a twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel that is the most powerful of the Amarok range with 132 kilowatts of power and 420 newton metres of torque, it uses all those gears available in the ZF auto pinched from the A8 to offer an exceedingly quiet and smooth driving experience at all speeds.
First gear is configured for pulling away in off-road use or for towing, while the eighth gear is intended as a fuel-saving overdrive gear that operates at reduced engine speed. This means that all the hard work is done up to seventh gear - and the transmission then pops into eighth for lazy, long-legged motoring.
At 100kmh down the motorway in eighth, it feels as if the engine is barely ticking over, and a high level of interior specification and exceptional sound deadening add to the relaxed experience. I really did feel as if I could drive from Auckland to Invercargill in comfort.
And that was despite the fact that the Amarok's suspension system includes leaf springs at the rear, which can often mean a lumpy sort of ride. But this ute is so good, even when empty, you'd think it has independent rear suspension.
It does all right off the road, too; as was proved during a couple of hours spent on a very muddy farm near the Hunuas.
Naturally, being an automatic there are no reduction gears, but that has saved weight. And anyway, the combination of the low first gear, permanent 4WD and various electronic aids including a lockable Torsen diff and hill-hold meant the Amarok cheerfully took on some quite heavy work without getting stuck - most of the time.
It certainly has sufficient power, which is saying something for a 2.0-litre engine.
The Amarok is like many other Volkswagen vehicles in that instead of being powered by larger engines, it has gone the smaller cubic capacity way but uses technology such as twin turbo- charging and common-rail fuel injection to extract optimum performance. In this case, the maximum power is 132 kW at 4000 rpm, while the top torque is 420 Nm at 1750 rpm.
This is higher than the 120 kW and 400 Nm developed by the engine under the bonnets of the manual versions of the Amarok - the turbo boost is higher and there have been other improvements - and word is that those engines will soon change, too.
Apart from the fact that it has two pedals inside rather than three, there's no interior difference between the auto and the manual.
It's at the Highline level of specification, which means that the exterior features chrome accents and a rear bumper, and 17-inch alloys with flared wheel arches. On the inside, there's a lovely leather-covered steering wheel with multi-function controls, and it has full Bluetooth connectivity.
A high level of safety equipment is also carried down from the current Amarok lineup. The new variant has stability control, and front and head/thorax airbags.
The ute is rated to tow three tonnes if the trailer is braked, and the rear tray is 1555mm long and capable of carrying up to 2.52 cubic metres of cargo.
Meanwhile, the new single-cab Amarok boasts a massive rear tray. The same length and with the same wheelbase as the double-cab versions, this model features a load bed that is 2205mm long, which means it can accommodate two standard sized pallets crosswise, one behind the other, and still have another 60cm of bed length. That's a lot of room.
It's come on to the market as a 2WD-model powered by a 90 kW/ 340 Nm turbo diesel, or as a 4WD version with the 120 kW/400 Nm engine. Prices for this ute are $41,990 for the 2WD model and $49,990 for the 4WD version.
- © Fairfax NZ News