Volkswagen Amarok vs Mercedes-Benz X-Class vs Ford Ranger: Here’s our winner!

Volkswagen Amarok vs Mercedes-Benz X-Class vs Ford Ranger: Here’s our winner!

Volkswagen’s Amarok has always been a bit of an outsider in the bakkie game, having neither the pick-up heritage of the Ford Ranger (or a Hilux, Navara, or Isuzu), nor the brand cachet of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class. And, as the latter’s recent cancellation shows, sometimes even a glossy badge isn’t enough to guarantee success. But how does the Amarok really compare to the mainstream Ford and the glittery Benz?

Midway between two extremes

Those “only milk comes in two litres” comments must have stung Volkswagen a little bit in the Amarok’s early years, but it was quite an understandable sentiment back in 2011. After all, the smallest-engined high-trim mainstream competitor to a 2.0TDI Amarok had at least a 2.5-litre engine, a Hilux was a 3.0-litre, and the Ford Ranger stretched out to a full 3.2 litres. 

But now the roles have reversed, and the top-line Ranger uses the exact same configuration as the early Amarok range-topper: a 2.0-litre twin-turbo 4-cylinder. But, while Ford was downsizing, Volkswagen slotted their well-regarded 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel under the Amarok’s hood, creating a new bakkie leader and flipping the established order upside down in one fell swoop. 

Just in time, too, as the Mercedes-Benz of bakkies, known as the X-Class, soon received a turbodiesel V6 of its own. Just like that, the battle for our bakkie throne moved to a higher level, but that battle was over sooner than expected. Let’s meet our contenders, and figure out who played the premium bakkie game just right.

 

Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI double cab Highline 4Motion

 

When the Volkswagen Amarok first arrived in South Africa, few onlookers would have predicted which direction its evolution would take. In the beginning, both single- and double cab body styles were available, with the entire model range consisting of 2.0-litre engines. The single-cab workhorses, as well as the detuned Golf GTI engine (with 118 kW and 300 Nm), soon disappeared due to low demand, leaving Volkswagen to pursue the leisure market with a range of double cabs.  

Engine, performance and consumption

All Amaroks are now diesel-powered, and while two variants of the 2.0 TDI engine still make up the bulk of the range, the real attention goes to the 3.0 V6 TDI variants. Standard for all V6 derivatives are an 8-speed automatic gearbox and permanent all-wheel drive. Predictably, it’s quite a mover, with 165 kW and 550 Nm on tap (180 kW/580 Nm on overboost), giving it a 0 – 100 km/h sprint in a claimed 8.0 seconds and a top speed of 193 km/h. 

Fuel consumption is not too excessive, with Volkswagen claiming an average figure of 9.0 ℓ/100 km. On real roads, buyers could look at average consumption in the mid-10 ℓ/100 km region, or even more if they frequently indulge in that wave of turbo torque. It’s not the most frugal bakkie out there, but that’s the price one has to pay for all that power.

 

Standard equipment

There was a time when the Highline label meant top-spec trim in most Volkswagens, but it actually marks the entry point for buying an Amarok V6 TDI. What’s on offer? Pretty much everything: 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a colour touchscreen infotainment system with remote controls on the leather-trimmed steering wheel, cruise control, heated and electrically adjusted rear-view mirrors, illuminated load bay, and front and rear parking sensors all form part of the “basic” Highline package. 

Xenon headlights, leather upholstery, and automatic wipers are optional, but come standard with the higher trim levels. All in all, it’s well-enough equipped for its price tag, but not really at the cutting edge of bakkie tech and convenience items – at least, not at this trim level. 

Safety

A 5-star ANCAP crash test rating, 6 airbags, stability- and traction control, and ISOFIX rear child seat anchors are all included in the standard Amarok Highline package, with no upgrades available on the option sheet — not that it needs much improving in this department, mind you.

 Practicality

Because the Amarok V6 plays in the luxury side of the market, occupant comfort takes on extra importance. It’s all good news in the front seats, with plenty of head-, leg-, and shoulder room around the front pews, even though it’s the narrowest bakkie in this group. The rear seat isn’t quite as spacious, with a bit of the old-school upright seating position in evidence. Nonetheless, there should be enough room for 4 large-ish adults in an Amarok, and 5 at a pinch.

It’s not very load-able for this class, though, because it’s rated to carry up to 867 kg in standard trim. Strangely, Volkswagen offers an optional upgrade, presumably to the rear suspension, which lifts its payload to a more-competitive 1010 kg. The Amarok can tow up to 3300 kg (braked), which is roughly in the class ballpark as well. 

Price and value proposition

In spite of its entry-level positioning, the Amarok isn’t inexpensive by any means. Its list price of R 760 000 includes a warranty for 3 years or 100 000 km, along with a service plan for 5 years or 90 000 km, which is fair but not overly generous. 

It’s pricey, yes – but also the least-expensive way to get behind that storming powertrain. The fact that it’s pretty nicely finished and well-equipped also counts in its favour, although some of those optional features should really be standard across the range.

The competition

Mercedes-Benz X350d double cab 4Matic Progressive

 

The news of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class being discontinued after a very short production run doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. In spite of Mercedes’s best efforts at convincing buyers that the X really was a premium product, its Nissan DNA simply shone through too clearly from the start. Lumping the X350d with the lesser X-Class variants does it somewhat of a disservice, though: at least this one had a genuine Mercedes-Benz engine and transmission, and AMG tuned the suspension.

But, even with these refinements, the X350d never managed to settle into the throne at the top of the bakkie segment, and the main problem was its price. Starting off at R 904 188 in entry-level Progressive trim, the V6 X-Class carried a price premium of more than R 144 000 over that of the (already-expensive) Amarok V6. That’s a lot of money, and you actually don’t get all that much for the extra outlay.

It certainly has all the right attributes on paper. The 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel (as used with great success in a myriad of other Mercedes products) promises a staunch 190 kW and 550 Nm, which should give a 0 – 100 km/h sprint in 7.9 seconds and a top speed of 205 km/h. But in reality, it’s never as lively as the figures would suggest, with severe take-off lag and generally sluggish gearbox responses. 

 It’s certainly nowhere near as polished as the Amarok V6 in this respect, which is a bit disappointing in a vehicle that shows so much theoretical promise. Meanwhile, the X350d is claimed to consume 9 ℓ/100 km on average, but it struggled to drop below 11 ℓ/100 km in mixed-cycle driving when we reviewed it. 

Standard equipment is mostly on par with that of the Amarok Highline, but misses out on climate control (manual air con is standard) and parking sensors: both items are moved over to the option list. The standard wheel size also drops to 17 inches, with larger sizes optional. It tries to compensate with automatic wiper control, but one would really expect a much more comprehensive spec sheet at this price point.

The X350d is pretty strong on safety, though, with a 5-star Euro-NCAP safety rating, stability- and traction control, 7 airbags, and ISOFIX child seat anchors all featuring on the standard equipment list. Optional safety items include the aforementioned parking sensors front and rear, rear- or surround view cameras, LED headlights, and lane-keeping assist. 

 Don’t think that those premium aspirations limit the X350d’s working abilities, either: it’s bound to be properly capable off-road (when running on the standard tyres and without any styling add-ons), can carry a full 1001 kg in the load bay, and tow up to 3500 kg (braked). There’s also a bit more rear-seat room than in the Amarok, and it’s finished to a slightly nicer standard, but these differences aren’t all that significant in terms of overall usefulness.

As for value, the X350d doesn’t really offer enough to justify its sky-high price tag, although it includes a warranty for 2 years (with no mileage limit) and a maintenance plan for 5 years or 100 000 km. Yes, it has a genuine Mercedes-Benz powertrain and bespoke suspension tuning, and the cabin’s upper half gives a reasonable impersonation of a genuine Mercedes, but the price-to-spec ratio is rather far off-kilter. It seems like the buyers agreed in the end: a badge can only go so far.

Ford Ranger 2.0 Bi-Turbo double cab 4×4 Wildtrak

When we reviewed the Ranger in twin-turbo form last year, we remarked that it’s objectively hard to fault. It’s a bit over-matched in the engine room in this company, however, because it’s lacking 2 cylinders and a full litre of displacement compared to the others. We included it in this comparison purely to demonstrate that the world doesn’t necessarily have to begin and end with a V6 engine, and that premium features and everyday badges don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

First, the downsides: when measured against the X350d and the Amarok V6, the Ford’s 4-cylinder, 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel is certainly down on power. There’s 157 kW and 500 Nm on tap, which is nonetheless very impressive for such a small engine (and a fair whack more than an Amarok 2.0 Bi-TDI), even if it can’t match the brawnier 3.0-litre units in the other two. 

This power deficit isn’t the only reason for its more-leisurely performance, because it’s also a heavy beast with a kerb weight of almost 2200 kg. Fortunately, the new 10-speed automatic gearbox makes the most of the small engine’s rather narrow power band, and helps to contain the Ranger’s drinking habits as well. 

Ford claims an average consumption figure of 8.1 ℓ/100 km, but although this is well-nigh impossible to attain on real roads, our test average of 9.6 ℓ/100 km was notably lower than either of the others could manage. At least there’s good reason for the Ranger’s bulk: it casts the largest shadow here, offers the most cabin space of the lot, and its payload exceeds the 1-ton mark. Like the Mercedes, the Ranger is also rated to tow up to 3500 kg (braked). 

 It’s also loaded with nice things inside the cabin, with leather upholstery, electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, automatic headlight- and wiper control, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry with an engine start button, navigation, a colour touchscreen infotainment system with USB- and charging ports galore, and dual-zone climate control all featuring on the standard equipment list. Many of these items are optional on the other two bakkies, yet they’re all standard on the less-expensive Ranger. 

The Ford is also right up there with its safety credentials, with a 5-star Euro-NCAP crash test rating, stability- and traction control, 7 airbags, and ISOFIX child seat anchors all fitted as standard. In addition, front- and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera are included, as are lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring. In short, the Ranger Wildtrak matches its opponents on the main safety features, but also offers a host of driver aids to reduce the chances of an accident happening in the first place.

And then we get to the price: Included in the Ranger Wildtrak’s list price of R 717 500 is a warranty for 4 years or 120 000 km, along with a service plan for 6 years or 90 000 km. This is the strongest warranty in this group, and the best service plan (although it’s still no match for the X350d’s maintenance plan), and all for a significantly smaller price tag. Add the Ranger’s very comprehensive specification sheet, top-level safety features and more-upmarket trimmings, and it begins to look like the bargain of this group.

Facts and figures

Let’s recap the important numbers:

 

Volkswagen Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI d/c Highline 4Motion  

Mercedes-Benz X350d d/c 4Matic Progressive

Ford Ranger 2.0 Bi-Turbo d/c 4×4 Wildtrak

Engine size (cyl/size)

6-cyl, 3.0-litre turbodiesel

6-cyl, 3.0-litre turbodiesel

4-cyl, 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel

Power/Torque

165 (180) kW/550 Nm (overboost)

190 kW/550 Nm

157 kW/500 Nm

Length (mm)

5 254

5 340

5 354

Airbag count

6

7

7

Towing capacity

3 300 kg

3 500 kg

3 500 kg

Top Speed (km/h) *

193

205

180 (est) 

Ave Consumption *

9.0 ℓ/100 km

9.0 ℓ/100 km

8.1 ℓ/100 km

Warranty

3 yr/100 000 km 

2 yr/Unlimited km

4 yr/120 000 km 

Price

US$90000

US$100000

US$74000

* Manufacturer’s official claimed figures.

 

Verdict

Viewed in this company, the Mercedes-Benz X350d has to be the first to be eliminated. It’s really a very good bakkie, but it’s not good enough to justify a price tag. Capable it might be, but a sensible buy it is not – which explains why bakkie buyers (who are generally a sensible lot) stayed away in droves.

It’s not so easy to decide on a winner between the Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI and Ranger Wildtrak, because they have different strengths and weaknesses. The Amarok is undoubtedly the performance king of this lot, and possibly has the best ride quality of these three. If that notable performance advantage over the Ranger is a primary consideration, the Amarok’s price premium will be worth every cent.

But, evaluated on its own merits and as a total value proposition, the crown simply has to go to the Ranger. It offers so much more in terms of equipment than the other two, and has the advantage of a genuine heritage in the bakkie market as well. Sure, it’s down on performance compared to the others (but beats them both on economy), but for everyday driving and hard work alike, the top-trim Ranger’s appeal and outright value simply cannot be ignored. It even comes with some national pride, because it’s made right here in South Africa. 

Local is indeed lekker.

 

 

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