With two Utes, the Hilux and Ranger, being Australia's best selling cars in 2016 and 2017, the VW Amarok has some serious competition. Famed for being able to carry a whole pallet in its tray (that’s one way to buy your nappies) we wanted to find out if the Amarok's cab was also practical for carrying our most precious cargo!
Firstly, the Amarok is ENORMOUS!! What a crazy over-inflated car!! Not only is the tray and the body enormous but the windows are lovely and big too, making the visibility for passengers great, especially rear facing babies. The windows are deep, so they get to see out from early on.
The Amarok had a few other BabyDrive friendly features such as the felt-lined door pockets (pretty special for a ute) that stop things rattling around and waking babies when you open and close the doors or go over bumps!
The doors and windows were also BabyDrive friendly with quiet mechanisms and doors that closed first time, unlike the Holden Colorado!
If you leave your phone plugged in when you get out of the Amarok, the digital display lights up a reminder that you have forgotten your phone, which is a nice touch!
Lets be honest in the early days, you're so tired, you would forget your child if it wasn’t constantly attached to you!!
The media system was easy to connect to and played nursery rhymes as soon as I plugged my phone in.
That is about where the BabyDrive friendliness stopped!
My first gripe was with the key! Where is the keyless entry and push start VW!? Having keys jingling around my knees is not BabyDrive friendly!
The VW Amarok was a beast!! I found it just enormous! Un-wieldy! Impossible to see behind when reversing, especially with child seats installed, and installing child seats was a mission because of the heavy, single backrest. Not to mention the fact there is no legroom! How can a vehicle of this size have such little room in the cab! With a rear child seat installed we could not seat a 184cm passenger in front of it!
All the space has been given over to the tray which of course would hold any configuration of prams, strollers, bags and dogs even with a pallet of nappies! However I found it difficult to access more than the first foot of the tray and impossible to reach over the sides of the tray, the sides were just too high.
The Amarok does not have curtain airbags, so there is nothing for the rear passengers. There are no seatbelt removal warnings which although the Amarok has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, it would not get if tested today because seatbelt removal warning is imperative to be given five stars.
There are few of the usual safety features you would expect in a vehicle of this price. Although the omittance of these features (in a BabyDrive not making noise sense) was a refreshing change! If you were spending this amount of money you would expect to have everything money could buy in terms of safety features!
The VW Amarok has two cup holders in the front of the cab, between the two front seats and beside a lidded storage box. I found it best to put the taller item, my bottle, in the rear of the two cup holders otherwise it obscured access to the gear lever.
Both cup holders are a good size and able to take a large disposable coffee cup and my large Décor refillable water bottle.
The door pockets are fantastic! They easily hold a large drinks bottle, iPad, book or my wallet. My favourite feature… they are felt lined! Finally, a door pocket that doesn’t rattle its contents making lots of baby-waking noise!
The handles in the door are not enclosed wells, so anything you put in them falls through. I could forgive VW for this as the door pockets are lined!!
The plastic used for the handles is different to the rest of the interior and looked and felt a little cheap in comparison.
The central console box has a padded lid which is a comfortable position to rest your arm whilst you are driving. This storage box is really needed as the glove box is surprisingly small for a vehicle of this size.
There is a tray area on top of the central dash which is large enough to hold a big map book or newspaper although whatever you put in there will reflect in the windscreen affecting the visibility as you are driving.
You also wouldn’t want to use it for your phone for example as anything you put in there gets cooked in the sun. Also, things slide around whilst you are driving making a very annoying scraping sound on the plastic surface, that will definitely wake the baby! So although it’s a great storage area in theory, in practice I found it not very functional.
There is a glasses case in the ceiling in the front of the cab positioned alongside the front interior lights.
There is a generous sized well/storage area in front of the gear lever which is perfect for your phone as the USB and headphone connections are situated in the back of it. The base is rubber and grips well so nothing you put in there will slide around or make a noise.
In the back there is a fold-down double cup holder in the footwell of the middle seat. It feels a little flimsy and I don’t think it would survive being toddler trodden on! You can fold it up so that it doesn’t obstruct the footwell space. It is the perfect size for a sippy cup with handles though which was fantastic and a takeaway coffee cup fitted well too.
The back has very shallow 1/3 map pockets and the same felt lined, large door pockets as the front of the cab.
There are bungee straps with hooks to hold the seat bases up if you need to put a back seat up for extra storage inside the cab although there is no under-seat hidden storage.
VW boasts the Amarok’s tray is the largest of its kind and will carry a complete pallet.
The boot space and its functionality are really important. I like to have a big boot space and little side wells or areas I can divide things into. So something I don’t want to move around while I’m driving such as Tulsi’s lunch bag or her wet swimming gear can be sectioned off in a little well where it’s not going to spill or get squashed by the rest of the things in the boot.
Hooks for securing shopping bags to are also favourites of mine, I like being able to secure the bag containing more fragile things like eggs so they don’t move around on the journey.
I measure the boot space in freezer shopping bags, prams and dogs. Not because I think all there is to a mum’s life is food shopping, prams and dogs. (Although it can feel like it sometimes!!) But because these are visually mesurable items we can all associate with. For me, the car company boot measurement of litres is not an amount I can easily visualise and 400L in one car may differ in usability to that in another due to the configuration or shape of the space.
The tray would hold all sizes of stroller and up to 30 bags of shopping and, if you have no cover on, any size dog as well. Clearly, it is not the boot capacity we need to worry about with this one but how practical and usable it really is, or is not!?
The floor of the tray has a very grippy/scratchy surface which made it great for stopping things moving around while you drive along. On the down side it meant I couldn’t slide things into, or out of, the tray. The Mountain Buggy pram, for example, would only slide with great force and got badly damaged by the abrasive surface.
I found the tray quite impractical to use, I just could not reach over the sides or tailgate into the tray at all. The depth of the sides, in addition to the silver bars that run along the top of the sides at 162cm I found it impossible. With the tailgate down it was still too deep for me to reach over and access any more than the first foot of tray space without having to climb up into the tray, which is almost impossible with a baby to contend with as well! So in reality for me being 162cm I could scrape my Mountain Buggy Urban Jungle pram in and out and put one row of bags to the side of it and that was all without hopping up into the tray.
There was a 12V power socket in the tray also which would be good for carrying an Esky if you loaded it up for a family camping trip.
The model I drove didn’t come with a cover for the tray (although they are available) so I secured the stroller in place with a cargo net using the anchor points on the sides of the tray, but it did come to my attention that they positioned one on either side nearest the cab and one either side half way down, there were not any at the rear of the tray which is the area people would access most frequently and easily so you would have to climb into the tray to fix anything down.
I have to admit with only one child I did use the back of the cab to carry bags etc most of the time, as it was just more accessible and BabyDrive friendly.
The parking sensors in the Amarok are very loud and very sensitive. I’m not sure if it is just because of the size of the vehicle but the alarm was going off constantly just reversing straight out of a parking space with a car parked either side. This wasn’t very helpful as the visibility is so poor in the Amarok you think the alarm is warning you of something you can’t see but actually, it is just a very sensitive system in a giant machine. Like the BFG!!
Thankfully they have put an easily accessible button on the central console so you can turn everything off.
Or I discovered you can turn just the volume off and just keep the visuals and camera on. Using a button situated on the bottom right of the touchscreen once the camera visual comes on. I felt the camera view wasn’t wide enough to make up for the lack of visibility when reversing also.
The indicator had quite a loud tick, which if Tulsi was a newborn and asleep I think it would be too loud and I probably wouldn’t change lane unless I had to while she was asleep!!
The sat nav voice was very loud and I found it too much for me let alone a child. I couldn’t find a way to turn the voice down, but I can’t imagine it is set as this loud permanently. I would love a simple and easy to find mute button for the sat nav so you could mute it until the part of the journey when you need the directions. Even when you have set your volume for the stereo the sat nav voice interrupts much, much louder.
Becoming a parent I soon realised there are some noises and sounds I feel are unnecessary and I could happily live without if it meant my baby stayed asleep!!
That often the distraction of my screaming, distressed baby is more dangerous when driving than not having a lane departure warning for example.
If it is the lane departure warning beeping that creates distress with my baby then which is safest?
It’s where I think we need to be able to strike a balance and choose when we can mute the warnings or swap them to a vibration in the steering wheel or flashing light perhaps?
A lot of these noises come with the increase in technology and especially linked to safety features and alerts. For me these all have their place.
Another thing I have realised is I spend my time in a lot more places where small children roam, parks, beaches, play gyms, swimming lessons, daycare centre etc. I have become more aware that when I’m reversing or manouvering in the car parks I have to tripple check for small children running around behind me or being in my blind spot when reversing. For this I LOVE reversing cameras, I just don’t like their beeping sounds!!
I have become so much more aware of safety and potential accidents or hazards since having a child and so I love the peace of mind that I get from the cameras and sensors combined with my own vision from windows and mirrors as I don’t trust cameras alone.
The Amarok uses Apple Car Play or Android Auto which I found really easy to connect to. I already had nursery rhymes playing on my phone and as soon as I plugged it in they started coming out of the speakers in the cab. Which is exactly what I needed to keep Tulsi content!
The media screen is clear, simple to navigate and it is easy to mute the whole audio which I find is an important feature with a baby.
The volume settings are not remembered, however. So if you have muted the sound at the end of one journey, when you get back into the Amarok for your next journey the sound will be blaring again.
Sometimes I will park up somewhere with a nice view when Tulsi falls asleep. Let her sleep for an hour or so and then shortly before I know she will wake I start the car and drive home so that we are nearly home or home when she wakes. The Amarok caught me out because I had muted the audio before I pulled up for her sleep and turned the engine off. When I turned it back on to drive home the radio came blaring out, waking baby up!
The doors close quite easily with a gentle close which was surprising for a car of this size. With baby asleep, you can get in and out without worrying the doors will be too noisy. The same for the windows their mechanism is not too noisy and I didn’t notice them having a loud opening or closing sound.
The Amarok does have automatic engine cut off, the switch to turn it off is easily located on the central dashboard. I find I have to turn it off for all journeys with my daughter on board, she gets too disturbed at junctions with the motion and sound change.
The road and engine noise have not been a consideration with the Amarok. I generally find if something hasn’t come to my attention during my test driving week then it is neither a problem or a good thing! For a vehicle of this size and compared to its competitors, the Hilux or D-Max which I found are both much louder vehicles, the Amarok is good for road and engine noise.
There is no seatbelt removal alarm in the Amarok and it does have a five-star ANCAP safety rating, which it wouldn’t get if it was rated now as cars have to have a seatbelt removal alarm to get five stars.
The Amarok dual cab has two seats in the front and three in the back. The back three all have top tether anchor points situated on the reverse of the backrests.
The ISO Fix is in the rear outer two seats only and they are well hidden within slits in the leather at the back of the seat bases. They are clearly labelled but it could be a little tricky to locate the bars within the leather slits.
I could comfortably fit two rear-facing child seats using ISOFix and Top Tether in the outer rear seats and someone sitting in-between them on a booster seat in the middle seat.
We also took friends' kids out too and was just fine with a booster seat on one side, a rear facing child seat the other side and someone sitting between.
Installation of the child seats is not as simple as I had hoped. Firstly the Top Tether points are situated on the back of a one-piece backrest. So you have to bring the whole backrest forward. To do this you have to move both front seats backrests and bases into their furthest forward positions.
Then there is a tab on either end of the backrest which both need to be pulled at the same time so you either need two people, one at each end or if you are shorter like me you can stand in the back footwell straddling the central console box and pull both tabs at the same time to drop the backrest forward. They are hard to pull, I found it difficult the first few times but soon built my strength over the three weeks we had the Amarok (the backrest is heavy when it drops forward also).
You cannot rest the seat back in its upright position without it clicking back into place. So I found it best to use a wedge or spanner rested in the mechanism whilst I installed the seats, connected the ISO Fix and top tethers and then took the wedge out when I was ready to lock the seat-back into position.
I found it worked better to install all your child seats at the same time while you have the backrest down, connect all your top tethers, then rest the seat-back in position using a wedge in the mechanism, install the ISOFix, remove the wedge and lock seat-back into position then adjust ISOFix and Top Tether straps.
Thankfully it was less of a palaver to install my daughter into her child seat than it was to install the child seat itself!
Placing her into her seat from both inside and outside the Amarok was good and it was nice to post her in and do up restraints while standing upright instead of bending.
I thought the height of the Amarok, as I’m 162cm, would make it difficult to post baby into her seat but it is actually very easy and I now prefer utes and taller SUVs for this reason. You do not have to bend down and into the car at an awkward angle; everything is more or less at chest or shoulder height for me!
A little tip if you are shorter like me… If you park next to a kerb it is even easier!!
The height of the ceiling in the Amarok meant the posting space was ample to fit my enormous 13-month into their child seat from inside the cab!
Australia being a country of weather extremes- blazing sun and torrential rain, mean you may find it easier to put Bub into their seat from inside the car sometimes. If it’s hot you can get the air-con going, cool the car down and not stand out in the sun while you fasten them in or shelter from the rain and not get soaked yourself whilst you’re doing it. So it is important to test whether Bub can be easily installed from either direction!
There is room to feed bub in the back with just one child seat installed.
The seats are leather which is my preference for being easy to wipe down and clean mucky fingerprints off! However, these seats have a lot of stitching, seam details and perforations which all tend to trap dirt and crumbs making it harder to clean.
The seats in the back are quite comfortable, the seat-backs are in quite an upright fixed position but they feel comfortable.
The leg room was shocking in the Amarok. With a rear-facing child seat in the back you could not sit a tall passenger in the front.
With just one rear facing child seat installed in the back if I wanted to drive and my husband be the passenger, he had to travel in the back behind me or we had to move the child seat to be behind me so he could move the front passenger seat back far enough for his legs (he is 186cm). For a vehicle of such an enormous size, there is not enough room in the dual cab.
The front seats in the Amarok would have been reasonably comfortable, but I found the seat bases to be too long for me (I'm 162cm). They are extendable to give taller drivers leg support, however even with that fully retracted, the seat-base was still sticking awkwardly into the backs of my calves.
The front seats are easily adjustable with electric levers on the side of the seat and the backrests pivot in a good place and do not stick into your lower back, as I am finding is the case with many seats in cars at the moment.
The headrests in the front are angled too far forward to have a ponytail, but the headrests in the back were straighter so I could have a ponytail back there.
I had spent hours styling my hair this morning to get it just right too… said no new mum ever!!!
I couldn’t drive comfortably with a ponytail! My husband is taller and he could rest his high-pony on the top of the headrest, mine, however, sat right in the middle of the headrest and I had to take it out.
For the first year of Tulsis life when we would go out as a family, if I wasn’t driving, I would travel in the back with Tulsi, I know many other mums that do too, so it’s important to check the comfort of the back seats as you may be spending a lot of time in them! They were never something I gave any thought to before but I definitely notice a good or bad back seat now!
The back seats are comfortable, they do not stick into your lower back and if you are not using the middle seat in the back you can bring down an armrest in-between the two others.
In the middle seat I could sit quite comfortably with enough knee and leg room, my left arm was tight against the child seat though and on a long journey I would need to drape my arm across the end of the child seat which would be fine with a newborn but once Bub gets older they don’t want your arm draped over their feet!! Visibility was also good from the middle seat straight out through the windscreen.
The Amarok steering wheel can be adjusted in/out as well as up/down. This is important as most of the Amarok’s competitors do not adjust in/out and it makes driving positions very uncomfortable.
There are no air-con vents in the back of the cab. The four large air-con vents in the front are effective however and I found putting them on full blast was adequate to cool the whole cab comfortably after it had sat in the full Queensland sun.
The windows of the Amarok we drove were tinted but there were no fitted window blinds on any of the windows. We have the stretchy window shades with the suction cups on each corner and they fitted really well on the back side windows.
The back windscreen, however, is flat vertical and so the sun comes through there straight onto the rear facing baby's face. This was a problem for me and long term we would need to either black out that back window or add a blind there which might make visibility quite difficult out of the back.
The windows are nice and big in the Amarok and come down quite low giving great vision out for passengers.
The heightened seating position makes visibility forward great for both the driver and passengers and I even noticed my rear facing Bub enjoying a view out of the window for the first time, when we parked up and one of us nipped into a shop Tulsi was very entertained watching the people out of the window… amazing!!! She would normally be screaming!!
However, visibility for the driver down the sides and behind the vehicle when manoeuvring and reversing is not good enough for a vehicle of this enormous size.
One thing I have noticed since being a mum is I hate it when I reach a destination or get home from being out and Tulsi has either done really well in the car or she is screaming her head off and I have done really well to keep it together for the entire journey (usually the latter!!) and it takes 10 minutes to park the car! It can be really stressful. Usually I dread when we get the big cars and utes as they take longer in our tight apartment block carpark, the Amarok was as expected, difficult to park because of the poor visibility!
I like to be 100% sure there is no one in my path when manoeuvring and with the Amarok, I feel I am always second guessing. Checking everything two or three times because I can not see properly.
The reversing camera needs to have a much wider view, the Colorado's view from the reversing camera is much wider and made it so much easier to reverse. A vehicle of this size needs that same level of visibility and view.
In the front, there are three interior lights located with the glasses case in the ceiling, one for each side passenger and a central light. In the back, there is the same set up centrally located and it is within reach of the driver.
I have found Tulsi does not like travelling in the dark in the car so if it gets dark whilst travelling then I reach back and turn the interior light on for her. So it’s really important for me that I can reach the rear ceiling light.
Also if I am traveling home and it is getting near to bed time and I DEFINITELY DON’T want her to fall asleep in the car as even a 5minute nap in the car means bed time is all over!!!! I lean back and pop the light on so it’s not dark and try to keep her awake!! Along with screaming/singing at the top of my voice!!!
It is also useful when there are lights situated above the doors where the handles are usually positioned. These are good for when putting baby into their child seats when visibility is poor, so you do not have to reach across them to a light situated in the ceiling centrally etc.
I didn’t enjoy driving the Amarok, I usually LOVE the challenge of driving big vehicles and find them fun and have driven much bigger vans etc but with the Amarok, I think it was just too unnecessarily bulky?! With such bad visibility manoeuvring and reversing I could never get a true sense for where the edge of the vehicle was.
If you imagine the difference in ease between parking a Hi-Ace van or a Fifth Wheeler on a concrete slab in a campsite and that is the best way to describe driving an Amarok around town! Overkill! VW makes a lot of other cars that are more family and town driving friendly if you don't actually need the tray!
On the open road, it makes a bit more sense and you can be more relaxed about not bumping into anything, however, I just didn’t find it enjoyable.
I saw the Amarok as a challenge and after repeated practice, I could reverse park into our apartment car parking space. With a child seat in the back your visibility is pretty much non-existent out of the back windows!
There are four ceiling handles in the back, two grab handles to help you climb in and a handle above each doorway with coat hooks. They are well positioned to hang a child’s toy from to keep infants entertained on a journey.
There is a 12V socket in the storage tray on the front dashboard. There is a 12V socket and cigarette lighter in the central console either side of the gear stick.
There is another 12V socket in the back of the central console box. A USB and AUX sockets are in the central tray in front of the gear lever in the central console.
The cab of the Amarok is actually quite pleasant. There is one texture surface across all the dash, doors etc with a silver flair across it and it’s nice to have this simplicity instead of the array of textures we usually get in interiors. This would all wipe clean easily but scratch easily too.
The VW Amarok has a five-star ANCAP safety rating. This was given prior to seat belt removal warnings being mandatory to get a five-star rating.
The Amarok only has four Airbags. Yes you read that right!! Front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger and pre-tensioner seatbelts in the front only as well.
No curtain airbags, in fact, no airbags for the back passengers at all.
As standard, the Amarok also comes with Rollover Mitigation, Trailer Sway Control, Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, Anti-Lock Brakes and Electronic Brake-force Distribution.
The V6 Ultimate model comes with Multi-Collision Brake Assist, which slows the car down to 10kmph after a collision to help prevent a second collision from happening and Tyre Pressure Monitoring.