Although the second-generation VW Amarok is based on the new Ford Ranger, the German car giant helped lift both utes to a new level. Here’s how different they really are.
Volkswagen says its partnership with Ford is a two-way street – and that the German car giant helped give both utes a boost in quality and technology.
For the first time since the partnership between VW and Ford was announced, we have been given the first insights into exactly what’s different between the new Amarok and new Ranger from behind the wheel.
Cynics have dismissed the new VW Amarok as a rebadged Ford Ranger but the changes – and the improvements – are more than skin deep, say senior Volkswagen executives.
The new Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger – developed together by a team of designers and engineers at Volkswagen’s main engineering centre in Wolfsburg, Germany and Ford’s Australian design and engineering centre in Victoria – are twins under the skin.
And, as previously reported, the new VW Amarok will be made in a Ford factory in South Africa.
However, Volkswagen says it was embedded in the program from day one – and helped lift the technology and quality on both vehicles.
“Right from the start, we established high targets,” Lars Krause, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle board member responsible for marketing, told Drive during a media briefing in Germany.
“The new Amarok had to be better, even in the areas where [the first generation model] already led the class.”
The current Amarok was widely regarded as having established new standards for interior quality and driving dynamics – in the ute class – when it launched internationally in 2010 and in Australia in 2011.
However, the arrival of newer competition has seen the original VW Amarok come under fire over the past 11 years.
Krause said the joint input from Volkswagen and Ford in the development of the two utes drove both companies to set higher standards for the new models.
“In the sum, the new Amarok is a much better than if we did it alone,” said Krause.
“The same goes for the Ford. Without our input, the Ranger would not be so good. The partnership allowed us to pool our individual strengths.”
One particular area that Krause points to is the Amarok’s new interior, which he describes as being “specific in design and style elements as well as touch and feel compared to the Ranger”.
“There are areas where Volkswagen would take the lead, and other areas where Ford would take responsibility,” said Krause.
“It definitely wasn’t one way. Both benefitted from the competence of the partner. The interior was something where we delivered a lot of expertise, specifically in plastic material and the graining of plastics,” he said.
At the height of the development of the new Amarok, Volkswagen stationed up to 10 designers and a team of 20 engineers at Ford’s Australian design and engineering headquarters.
“Sometimes, we would stay just a few days at a time,” said Krause. “But it was crucial to see the progress first-hand. We would fly via (to Australia) at the beginning of the week and then fly back to Germany for the weekend.”
By adopting a unique exterior design for the VW Amarok – externally, only the door handles, side mirrors, roof panel and glass are the same on both vehicles – Volkswagen also reworked the interior to give it different qualities to that of the Ford.
“It was really important for us to ensure the new Amarok carried over the genes of the first-generation model,” said Krause. “Inside and outside, it delivers a Volkswagen experience.”
Despite sharing the same dashboard architecture and various switchgear with the Ford Ranger, the VW Amarok receives its own unique interior elements and materials in places that Volkswagen describes as being critical to touch and feel.
Included is a new leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel. It is modelled on the steering wheel used on other recent Volkswagen vehicles but retains buttons rather than adopting the touch sensors on the latest VW passenger cars.
As with the new Ford Ranger, the new VW Amarok comes with an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster as standard.
However, as part of the differentiation measures, the VW Amarok receives unique Volkswagen graphics – and the displays differ across the various model grades such as Life, Style, Panamericana, and Aventura.
The controls for the electric windows and exterior mirror adjustment on the doors are also Volkswagen-sourced switches, as are various controls within the centre of the dashboard.
Additionally, there’s a standard 10.1-inch or optional 12-inch infotainment display. As with the instrument panel, they are the same screens used in the Ford Ranger but with Volkswagen-specific graphics.
Rather than adopt the Modularen Infotainment Baukasten (MIB) operating system of other Volkswagen models, however, the new VW Amarok adopts the same Sync 4A system used by the Ford.
“You’ll notice a lot of similarities with other Volkswagen models here,” said Krause.
Between the front seats, which receive Volkswagen-specific cushioning and upholstery, there is a centre console featuring an electronically-controlled gear selector as well as a control for the electronic handbrake.
The materials used within the upper section of the dashboard are described as being exclusive to Volkswagen.
“We have specific graining within the plastic surfaces. It is different to that used by Ford,” said Krause.
Efforts to give the Amarok a typical Volkswagen feel even extend to the electronic key.
It uses the same internal electronic mechanism as the key for the new Ford Ranger, but the VW Amarok gets its own uniquely-styled outer casing.
“They share the internal electronics but are different on the outside,” says Krause.
Kable is one of Europe’s leading automotive journalists. The Aussie expat lives in Germany and has some of the world’s most powerful executives on speed dial.