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Amarok evolves: Dark Label vs Canyon

ON THE ROAD

The bakkie. It fulfils a role in South Africa unlike anywhere else in the world. Americans love to boast about their “trucks”, Australians compare “tub” sizes at the back of a double cab, but neither quite straddles the line between cultural symbol and utilitarian mainstay as perfectly as our attitude towards the bakkie.

This has led to the segment being one of the most competitive, some might even say saturated, markets in the country. How to stand out in such an environment? Volkswagen has put together a decade-long demonstration called the Amarok.

Since its arrival in 2010 the Amarok has hit that sweet spot of being a capable workhorse that doubles as a plush daily-driver. VW is now taking that thinking further towards its logical conclusion and has offered the Dark Label and Canyon special editions in recent times. We got to jump in both recently and it was interesting to see the core Amarok essence extend in different directions. 

Yet neither is trying to be an iconoclast of the line-up: fans of Japanese competitors who were not sold before are unlikely to be scooped now. Rather, the Dark Label and Canyon feel like a treat to those who have come to love the Amarok offering over the last 10 years and don’t mind investing a little bit extra. Which is precisely what they demand — the Dark Label (an odd name just crying out for a Black Label meets Star Wars joke) comes in at R742 600, a full R100 000 more than the double cab highline. It’s cocky Canyon cousin demands a premium R852 000.

The Canyon special edition

The good news is no one will make the mistake of thinking you’re driving any old Amarok. The Dark Label has its name in a bold decal running across its side and has blackened alloys and finishings to go along with the (in our case) grey body paint. It’s all very dark, but it certainly has a mean presence about it. 

The Canyon has a distinct orange — if you opt for the signature colour — and has even more inflated bits and bobs to get the message across that you’re driving a different kind of machine. 

Inside it’s much the same story. The special editions offer their own unique stitching and stylings, but overall the cabin feels very much like the Amarok always has. That is to say, simple and appropriately elegant. It continues to be a class leader in its dashboard offering yet it’s careful not to stray too close to luxury. This remains a bakkie; ruggedness is part of the identity. VW packs a better-looking layout and infotainment screen into a highline Polo, for instance. 

This all means nothing if the bakkie can’t do its job on the road. The Dark Label retains the Amarok’s proven and tested 2.0 litre Bi-Turbo, 4 cylinder, TDi diesel engine. Pacey but still strong, it’s competent — if not remarkable.

For the loyalists who have come for a truer meaning of special edition, the Canyon is the way to go. The Amarok 3.0 V6 TDI is distinguishable and is far beastlier off the line. VW promises a 0-100km/h time of eight seconds and being at the helm of two tonnes of speeding mass is quite something. That extra zip will also make city driving far more palatable.

But at the end of the day this is a bakkie; cities are not made for these kinds of vehicles so you will either be struggling to fit into a parking space or making your own on the pavement. The Amarok has always promised you can at least take to the tar in relative comfort and flair. With the Dark Label and Canyon those values are almost fully evolved. 

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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