VW is mounting a major attack on the purpose-built pick-up market with the launch of the all-new Amarok. The four-door five-seater double-cab 4×4 will appear in September, while a two-door single-cab marketed in both 4×2 and 4×4 guise arrives here in 2011.

Customers can pick from either permanent or selectable four-wheel-drive. Power comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre common rail diesel engine with 163PS on tap and married to a six-speed manual gearbox.

A 122PS 2.0-litre diesel is on its way, too, again tied to a six-speeder. An automatic is on the cards but remains some distance away.

We tested a top-of-the-range 163PS Highline double-cab. The Highline name probably will not be used in Britain but VW has yet to say what the model will be called instead.

ABS, ASR and ESP are all fitted along with an electronic diff lock.

So are fully automatic climate control, an MP3-compatible radio/CD player with half-a-dozen speakers, 17in alloys and driver and front passenger airbags.

On ordinary roads the smooth-running Volkswagen rides and handles surprisingly well for a 4×4 load-shifter, and with 163PS to play with there is no lack of performance. A shame, then, that the gearchange was at times notchy and clonky.

Off-road its ability is significantly ahead of most rivals. Buttons next to the gear stick engage four-wheel drive plus a low set of gears if required, while hitting the off-road mode button attunes the ABS, ESP, ASR and diff lock, providing all the support they can when the going gets tough. Punch that button at up to 18mph or so and Hill Descent Assist is also activated. It employs targeted brake actuations to keep Amarok’s speed steady on precipitous descents. Hearing the brakes being applied, released and re-applied is remarkably comforting as you gingerly head down a steep and seemingly never-ending incline.

Drive back up the same slope and Hill Hold Assist ensures the vehicle does not start rolling backwards as soon as the brakes are released.

Another neat trick is the way in which the ABS cycles slightly more slowly when braking on a loose surface. It allows a wedge of gravel to build up before the front wheels, which helps bring the Amarok to a halt quickly and safely.

Volkswagen Amarok Highline 2.0-litre
Price (ex VAT) £20,500
Model price range £14,300-£20,500
Service interval 18,000mls*
Insurance group 9A*
Warranty 3yrs/100,000 miles*
Load length 1555mm
Load width (min/max) 1222mm/1620mm
Load bay height 508mm
Loading height 780mm
Gross payload 1147kg
Engine size/power 1968/163hp
CO2 206g/km
Fuel consumption 36.0mpg
On sale September 2010
Score 9/10
Verdict A remarkably able vehicle
both on- and particularly off-road