Exclusive: How Volkswagen helped the Ford Ranger up its game

Although the second-generation VW Amarok was based on the new Ford Ranger, the German auto giant helped elevate both to new heights. This is how different they really are.

Volkswagen says its partnership with Ford is a two-way street – and that the German auto giant is helping to improve both quality and technology.

For the first time since the partnership between VW and Ford was announced, we’ve been given the first insight into what’s really different between the new Amarok and the new Ranger from behind the wheel.

Cynics have dismissed the new VW Amarok as an updated Ford Ranger but the changes – and upgrades – are more than just leather, a senior Volkswagen executive said.

The new Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger – co-developed by a team of designers and engineers at Volkswagen’s main engineering center in Wolfsburg, Germany and Ford Australia’s design and engineering center in Victoria – are twins under the skin.

And, as previously reported, the new VW Amarok will be made at Ford’s plant in South Africa.

However, Volkswagen says it was embedded in the program from day one – and helped lift technology and quality in both vehicles.

“From the start, we set our targets high,” Lars Krause, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles board member responsible for marketing, told Drive at a press conference in Germany.

“The new Amarok should be better, even in areas where [the first generation model] already leading the class.”

The Amarok is now widely considered to have set new standards for interior quality and driving dynamics – in the ute class – when it launched internationally in 2010 and in Australia in 2011.

However, the arrival of newer competition has seen the original VW Amarok come under fire for the past 11 years.

Krause said the joint input from Volkswagen and Ford in the development of the two utes prompted the two companies to set higher standards for new models.

“In short, the new Amarok is much better than if we did it ourselves,” Krause said.

“The same goes for Ford. Without our input, Ranger wouldn’t be doing so well. This partnership allows us to combine our individual strengths.”

On: Drive European correspondent Greg Kable looks at the VW Amarok prototype in Germany.

One particular area that Krause pointed out was the Amarok’s new interior, which he described as “a specific element of design and style and touch and feel compared to the Ranger”.

“There are areas where Volkswagen will lead, and other areas where Ford will be in charge,” Krause said.

“It’s definitely not one-way. Both benefit from partner competence. Interior is something where we put a lot of expertise, particularly in plastic materials and plastic granules,” he said.

At the height of development of the new Amarok, Volkswagen placed up to 10 designers and a team of 20 engineers at Ford Australia’s design and engineering headquarters.

“Sometimes, we’ll stay only a few days at a time,” Krause said. “But it’s very important to see progress firsthand. We’ll be flying through (to Australia) at the start of the week and then flying back to Germany for the weekend.”

By adopting a unique exterior design for the VW Amarok – externally, only the door handles, mirrors, roof panels and glass are the same on both vehicles – Volkswagen is also reworking the interior to give it a different quality from Ford.

“It was very important for us to make sure the new Amarok carried the genes of the first-generation model,” Krause said. “Inside and out, it delivers the Volkswagen experience.”

Despite sharing the same dashboard architecture and various switchgear with the Ford Ranger, the VW Amarok receives its own unique interior elements and materials in places Volkswagen says are essential to touch and feel.

Included is a new leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel. It is modeled on the steering wheel used in other recent Volkswagen vehicles but retains the buttons rather than adopting the touch sensors on the latest VW passenger cars.

Like the new Ford Ranger, the new VW Amarok comes with an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster as standard.

However, as part of the differentiation step, the VW Amarok received a unique Volkswagen graphic – and it looks different across different model classes such as the Life, Style, Panamericana and Aventura.

The controls for the electric windows and the adjustment of the outside mirrors on the doors are also Volkswagen-sourced switches, as are the various controls in the center of the dashboard.

In addition, there is a standard 10.1-inch or optional 12-inch infotainment screen. As with the instrument panel, the screen is the same as that used in the Ford Ranger but with Volkswagen-specific graphics.

Instead of adopting the Modularen Infotainment Baukasten (MIB) operating system from other Volkswagen models, the new VW Amarok adopts the same Sync 4A system used by Ford.

“You’ll see a lot of similarities with other Volkswagen models here,” says Krause.

Between the front seats, which receive Volkswagen-specific cushioning and upholstery, is a center console featuring an electronically controlled gear selector as well as controls for the electronic handbrake.

The material used on the top of the dashboard is described as exclusive to Volkswagen.

“We have special granules inside the plastic surface. It’s different from what Ford uses,” Krause said.

Attempts to give the Amarok a distinctly Volkswagen feel even extend to electronic locks.

It uses the same internal electronic mechanism as the new Ford Ranger key, but the VW Amarok gets a uniquely styled outer case.

“They share internal electronics but differ on the outside,” Krause said.

Greg Cable

Kable is one of Europe’s leading automotive journalists. This Australian expat lives in Germany and has some of the world’s most influential executives on speed dial.

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