A Head-to-Head Guide – Isuzu D-Max vs Volkswagen Amarok - Vanzone
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A Head-to-Head Guide – Isuzu D-Max vs Volkswagen Amarok

Two very capable trucks but possibly aimed at different types of customer. Is there an overlap? Would the typical D-Max customer who might work in the agricultural industry consider something a little ‘flashier’ like the Volkswagen? And would a D-Max appeal to the dual-purpose user who likes a truck to look good and perform well on the road? Van Expert Tim Cattlin puts these two pickups head to head…

VW Vs Isuzu no border

A Quick Intro.

The D-Max was launched in 2012 to great critical acclaim, replacing the Rodeo which hadn’t had a great deal of success in the UK market. D-Max was immediately praised for its off-road performance and it quickly made friends with those needing a rugged, capable truck that they could trust to do the job. Sales exceeded all of the importer’s expectations and the truck went on to win many industry awards.

After the original Volkswagen Amarok was discontinued in 2020, the German manufacturer came back into the fray recently with the new pickup being the result of a joint venture with Ford, the basic vehicle and running gear on Amarok and Ranger being identical.

The Ranges:

Volkswagen is marketing the Amarok at four trim points, Life, Style, PanAmericana and Aventura. Things are a little more complicated with the D-Max, however, which has ranges within ranges. ‘Business’ range is aimed at those who are most likely to use the truck for work and here you’ll find the Utility model. ‘All-Purpose’, including the DL20 and DL40 models provides a combination of practicality and style, and finally, V-Cross, a truck more likely to appeal to those looking at the Amarok as a potential purchase. There’s also the AT35 ‘Arctic Trucks’ D-Max, with its larger wheels it has more of a niche appeal for those wanting something both eye-catching and durable for serious off-roading – we’ll leave this one out of our comparison.


Although we’re more accustomed to seeing the double cab pick up, many using a truck for work need additional loadspace which, of course, comes at the expense of passenger accommodation. The D-Max is also offered in single cab form with just a driver and single passenger seat or an extended cab which provides fold-up rear seats for two people. Both of these options allow for a longer load bed, up to 2315mm compared to 1495mm with the double cab.

Things are more straightforward with the Amarok, there’s just a double cab and no option for a longer bed than the standard 1621mm (a healthy 126mm longer than the D-Max).  

For a pickup to be designated as a commercial vehicle for taxation purposes, it needs to have a payload of at least 1000kgs, something that all D-Max models achieve. It’s the same with the Volkswagen with the exception of the Aventura model which falls well short and needs to be avoided if the user wants to reclaim the VAT and pay the (for the time being) reduced rate of Benefit-in-Kind tax.  

All models of both trucks can tow 3500kgs, something demanded by many using these vehicles for work rather than pleasure.

Engines and Transmissions

The Amarok is fitted with the Ford diesel engines which are included in the Ranger line-up. There’s a 2.0 litre unit which is offered at an output of 170PS or 205PS, and a V8 240PS lump for those that desire the ultimate in performance from their VW. There’s a 10-speed automatic transmission which is standard with all but the 170PS engine where a 6-speed manual shift is the only option. The V6 powered truck can do the 0-62mph sprint in 9 seconds and the entire Amarok range has a top speed of 112mph.

Perhaps this is the area where Isuzu lose a few sales, the D-Max only being offered with a 1.9-litre diesel engine with what is now a modest power output of 164PS through a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. Whilst the agricultural sector may well find this more than adequate, the leisure user will perhaps seek something that allows for a more ‘spirited’ drive. Performance figures aren’t too shabby though, with a 0-62mph time of 12.7 seconds and, identical to the Amarok a top speed of 112mph being on offer.

D-Max Interior
VW Interior

Trim Levels:

Comparing the two trucks isn’t easy as the ranges are structured so differently – to try and make things more simple I’ll compare the basic D-Max and Amarok and then the top-of-the-range versions. Bear in mind though that there is plenty in-between and that there will be winners and losers along the way.  

First off, the D-Max Utility. It’s relatively basic and functional with cloth trim but has a few surprises in the cab for those expecting it to be bereft of any tech. There’s air conditioning, a DAB radio with Bluetooth connectivity and automatic wipers and lights. Outside, there’s little to shout about but the tailgate includes a damper allowing for stress-free lowering – this is something missing on the entire Amarok range.

In the blue corner, the Amarok Life is the lead-in model in the Volkswagen range, looking a little more upmarket than the D-Max with alloy wheels and a body-coloured front bumper. In the cab, the seats are also trimmed in cloth and there’s air conditioning, adaptive cruise control, a lane-keeping aid and an 8” touchscreen which includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.

Moving to the range-topping models, the D-Max V-Cross looks pretty good from the outside with its dark grey side steps, Bi-LED headlights and grey 18” alloy wheels. In the cab there’s leather upholstery, heated seats, and a 9” touchscreen that includes smartphone integration. Dual-zone climate control keeps the occupants comfortable and for the driver, the V-Cross includes adaptive cruise control on the automatic version and no less than 17 driver assist and safety systems as standard, possibly the most comprehensive set of features of this type in the entire pick-up sector.

The Volkswagen Amarok PanAmericana (I’m ignoring the tax-unfriendly Aventura for the purposes of this comparison) offers black alloy wheels, side steps and a ‘styling bar’ in the same colour. The cab gets a 12” digital cockpit and a 12” portrait-orientated touchscreen which includes navigation. Dual-zone climate control is included, as is a 360-degree camera to enable safe manoeuvring. If you like your tunes loud, the 640-watt (not a typo) Harman Kardon premium sound system should keep you entertained. There are up to 20 ADAS safety features available, but not all are standard equipment.

Driving Impressions

I’ve driven both these trucks at length – here’s a brief summary of my impressions…

Amarok PanAmericana V6 automatic: ‘The V6 diesel engine and 10-speed automatic transmission work in perfect harmony. If you’re driving gently, the engine is quiet, the ratio changes almost imperceptible. Put your foot down and there is that unmistakable sound of a V6 engine, the gear changes becoming much more noticeable’ 

Ride quality is excellent with bumps effortlessly being absorbed’

What is probably most noticeable when driving is how eerily quiet the Amarok is. Intrusion into the cab from any source is somewhere between minimal to zero, road noise in particular has been suppressed by an incredible amount, something you can usually rely on to be heard in a pickup due to the size of the tyres. The truck glides along with barely a sound to be heard, just a little wind noise from the door mirrors being evident at speed’. 

Isuzu D-Max DL20 manual. ‘Compared to the competition the engine still feels a little unrefined at low speed, and although the manual gearbox has been improved it is still just that bit too ‘agricultural’ in use. Although there is definitely a lack of torque at low engine speeds, the 164PS unit performs perfectly adequately on the road’

The level of refinement whilst cruising is excellent with minimal engine, wind or road noise’. 

It exudes an air of capability and gives the driver confidence that it’s up to the task. It’s still a bit ‘no frills’ in its approach (particularly at this trim level) but this just seems to add to the feeling that it’s built to do a job, and to do it properly’.


Can the D-Max compete with the Amarok? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a truck that is quick, has a well-equipped and modern cab and a badge that the man in the street would associate with quality, then perhaps not. But, if your needs are primarily for a tough, no-nonsense workhorse that has a great reputation for reliability (not to mention the fact that it has a 5-year warranty), that at higher trim levels looks just as good as the VW and has an excellent level of safety tech then yes it does.

Which would I buy? The Amarok, for the powertrain and cab environment. But, I’m a desk bound van reviewer, not a farmer…

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