This is bizarre. We're chugging slowly down a precipitous rutted slope at walking pace with our feet off the pedals - in neutral.
Volkswagen's Amarok ute is full of clever tech, but that's impressive - as is its ability to crawl up equally steep hills while idling, clutch out, in first gear.
Amarok is a game changer for Volkswagen. It's a pick-up truck that should take the German brand into the back-blocks. Twenty-two per cent of Waikato and 35 per cent of Southland vehicle sales are utes and most are diesel, manual double-cab wellsides - just like Amarok.
While VW has built and sold half-ton utes and has plenty of experience with commercial vans and light trucks, this one-ton ute is its first with global reach. Amarok's engines were chosen for commercial applications.
The 120/400Nm turbo diesel and the 90kW/340Nm fitted to the entry-level 2WD were chosen for their broad spread of power from basement revs; that 400nm is available from 1500rpm.
The six-speed ZF manual transmission was designed with commercial loads and off-road use in mind, with push-button access to four-wheel-drive high and low range.
A mechanical diff lock is a cost option - though with a bit of care in choosing line and speed it isn't needed. The underpinnings are standard ute fare, with MacPherson strut in the front and leaf spring heavy-duty rear suspension and drum brakes out back - not very Germanic, but suited to off-road applications.
Press the off-road switch and you alter the stability control and activate the hill descent control, which holds speed to walking pace, even when you're driving backwards or in neutral.
All the controls are accessed via easily-reached buttons in a smart, nicely laid out and spacious cabin - this certainly is a wide ute.
The company line
VW has priced Amarok to compete with top-end mainstream pick-ups, with the 340Nm 2WD double cab selling for $43,000, the standard 4WD at $56,000, and the up-spec Highline at $61,500.
VW is serious about selling into thehard-core rural market, and offers a wide range of accessories, from tonneau covers to tray liners. Amarok should considerably boost VW sales, especially when the auto all-wheel-drive arrives in a year.
What we say This is a very capable ute. It'll tow 2800kg, and carry one tonne even up a 45 degree slope, providing low range is selected. The electronics make it almost idiot-proof to drive off road, there's trailer stability assist if you use VW's tow hitch, and it has the first five-star crash-test rating for a double-cab ute.
Amarok is useful and smart, both inside and out.
On the road
On-road ride and engine refinement is excellent; you wouldn't hesitate to use Amarok as the family car between stints of bush-bashing around the farm. Shame you can use only two-wheel-drive on road, though.
Why you'll buy one?
You want a smart family-work ute; want an alternative to the Hilux; like the clever tech that removes the guess-work from off-roading; or need the widest load bed available.
Why you won't?
You won't believe the brand that built the Beetle will work in NZ's backblocks - until you see it.