How To Drive Amarok In Sand

The Amarok has been around for almost ten years now and over the years has proven itself to be a very formidable contender in the 4-wheel drive Ute segment. This article will discuss the off-road capabilities of the Amarok and how it performs in the sand. We will determine its strengths and weaknesses and ultimately decide if the Amarok can be branded as a proper 4WDe or just a fancy leisure vehicle. Let’s dig in!

So how do you drive the Amarok in Sand? The VW Amarok is a very capable sand-driving vehicle with great low-down torque ideal for thick uneven sand. You need to make sure to disengage the off-road traction control by pressing the 4-wheel drive button for 3 seconds. With the Off-road mode disengaged, it allows enough wheel spin to allow the Amarok to glide over thick sand and up steep beach dunes quite effortlessly. Tire pressure plays a vital role and 0.8 bar provides a long and wide enough footprint with the standard Amarok 17” AT tires.  

When the Amarok was launched, many were skeptical about the tiny 2L engine and if it had enough steam for the dunes. Many said the traction control will hamper it in the sand and the two-liter won’t be able to rev high enough when climbing dunes. Engine reliability came under question by most journalists who were divided as to the durability and robustness of the new German vehicle. Some years have rolled on now and we are starting to see a different image immerging of the Amarok and how people in the 4-wheel drive world are viewing it. YouTube, forums, and social media sites are filled with videos of Amarok’s performing great feats in sand dunes and other off-road challenges. I guess it had a point to prove and most Amarok owners are quite happy to oblige. *wink

So let us look closely at VW Amarok’s sand driving abilities and how it stacks up against its rivals.

Amarok Sand driving ability

When I first took this truck off-road, I had no idea what to expect. It is wider, taller, lower, and longer than any 4-wheel drive Ute I have ever owned. It sure looked confident in its stance with its aggressive front grill and angry-looking headlights, but how did it fare in the sand? Well with 120 kilowatts on tap and 400 newtons available to play with it was a cakewalk. The Amarok hardly flinched. I even threw it in deeper, softer sand to test its breaking point or where it starts to struggle, but the way the power is so effortlessly transferred to the wheels once the torque convertor has engaged it just plows through. In one instance I had my rooftop tent, roof racks, and 3 adult males with me and this didn’t seem to bother the Rok at all.

The turbo lag could become more apparent if you are in 4H and allow the engine revs to drop below 1300. When in 4Lo and cruising in 3rd gear it’s always in boost and happy to cruise between 1500 and 2300 rpm through any sand conditions. Not once did I need to engage the rear diff lock.

Amarok Off-road mode OFF in sand

How To Drive Amarok In Sand

Let me tell you, the Amarok is a beast off-road, and driving on beach sand is a delight with this machine. Obviously, the standard rules of sand driving still apply so airing down tires and disengaging the traction control would be your first two things to do. Also, as mentioned from the outset, make sure you DO NOT select Off-road mode when driving in the sand since this activates the off-road traction control system when the computer thinks traction is being lost in sand and will prevent wheel spin. This will hamper forward momentum in thick sand. What was a concern for me was the slightly lower ground clearance, which isn’t really a problem in the sand, however, it did catch here and there on some dry sea-weed heaps lying on the beach. A suspension upgrade will do the rock some good.

Power Band

Being a diesel engine and the way the Amarok gear ratios are set, the Amarok has a fairly short torque bandwidth but the powerband is more than enough to play within dunes. The power still peaks at almost 4000 RPM which means you have some decent revs to play with when climbing out a dune. However, the way the power is delivered in the Amarok, it hardly requires you to rev to the max to extract any decent power, and it’s all very readily available. The low-end turbo assists with pull-off and reduces turbo lag and the second turbo picks up where the first one left off for mid to high-end power delivery. This helps tremendously in the sand since you need the low-down torque for the thicker parts and more high-revving power when attempting dunes.

Gear Selection in Sand

How To Drive Amarok In Sand

Maintaining momentum at low speeds on the sand is a comfortable task for the Amarok.  When you Select 4Lo and 2nd gear, you are off and you can play around between 2nd and 3rd for the easier firmer sand closer to the shoreline. When the going gets a bit easier you can shift up to 3rd and even fourth and cruise easily with the revs well below 2000RPM. When the sand is a mixture or there are many turns with many inclines, I found myself changing gears more regularly due to the shorter-than-usual gear ratios. Here I suspect the 3.0 V6 would outperform the 2.0 BiTdi engine.

Diff-Lock in Sand

For really loose, deep, sand you always have the rear diff locker available to call on when things get a bit hairy.  The rear locker can be activated at low range on the fly below 10mph. The rear diff locker will engage both rear wheels to function as a single axle irrespective of traction conditions. This function is only meant to be engaged when the driving conditions require low speeds and maximum traction for overcoming challenging off-road obstacles.  

Amarok Tire Pressure in Sand

The Amarok simply glided over dunes with ease. It was as if she was in her natural environment. No stress on the engine or over-revving is required. The tires were aired down to about 1.8 bar which seemed sufficient enough to me.

Off-Road Mode

The Amarok’s off-road mode is activated by a button right next to the gear shifter. The OFFROAD mode adjusts the electronics of the Amarok and primes it for off-roading. By selecting that button, it now knows you are driving on a low traction surface such as sand, snow, dirt roads, or mud tracks. Selecting the OFFROAD button also activates the HILL DECENT control which allows you to remove all feet of the accelerator and brakes and allow the vehicle to crawl down a steep hill at the exact pace you specify and no faster. It’s a very weird feeling not having your foot on the brake as you decent a steep switchback on a mountain trail. It really freaked me out the first time I tried it, but it functions beautifully. Another function the OFFROAD button performs is recalibrating the ABS system. This also allows for improved performance on slippery dirt roads.

One thing to remember is, when you switch off the vehicle or open the driver’s door of the Amarok, the OFFROAD mode automatically engages when you start up again. This could cause some hassles if you are not aware of it and the off-road mode will hamper you in thick sand. Always check that the OFFROAD button is switched off when on the sand. This will allow enough wheel wheels to spin to navigate the thickest beach sand.

Amarok ABS

The Amarok is packed with clever electronic traction aids so it goes without saying it has ABS. This is pretty standard these days. The Amarok ABS function is a safety feature built into the AMAROK’S braking system that prevents wheel locking up in the event of an aggressive or emergency braking scenario. This is mainly so the driver doesn’t lose control of the vehicle when performing an emergency brake. A very important feature since no steering means no control and that’s just “un-good” for you. The Amarok’s ABS system uses wheel speed sensors that sense when a wheel is about to lock. It then releases the brakes fractionally and momentarily to prevent locking up. It doesn’t necessarily wait till the wheel has completely locked.

The Amarok also has two other brake technologies, EBD and EBA.

EBD System

EBD is electronic brake distribution – the system increases braking power on given wheels for maximum effect, as distinct from normal ABS which just stops a wheel locking.  In road cars, the front brakes are set to lock before the rear because that’s safer, so at the maximum braking effort, there’s still some traction left on the rear wheels.  EBD ensures every wheel is braking to the maximum.

EBA System

EBA is an electronic brake assist, a system that detects if you’re trying to do an emergency stop by working out how quickly you came off the throttle and onto the brake.  If it suspects you are trying to stop very quickly it’ll help apply maximum braking pressure, as most drivers don’t do this as they rarely, if ever, do emergency stops.

Read the Sand

Below is an extract from an article titled: Sand Driving tips

Read the Sand

This a skill you will need to learn quickly when sand driving on beaches or dunes with regular traffic. Dirt Bikes & ATV drivers also enjoy dune driving just as much as we do, however they can cause a bit of a challenge for 4-wheel drivers since they tend to churn up the sand quite badly. This creates deep thick loose sand that you want to try and avoid as much as possible. The uneven holes and sandpits created by spinning dirt bikes tires make it a bit harder for 4WD’s to navigate through. Always try and aim for the moist firm sand on beaches since they are more compact and easier to drive on. Sand closer to the seawater creates less resistance than soft loose sand found higher on the shores.

Observe where other vehicles are getting stuck and avoid those areas if possible.

When dune driving, you want to learn to read the dunes by observing shapes and sizes and crest heights. This can become difficult after a while since even an experienced dune driver can suffer from dune blindness. This phenomenon is caused when you lose the ability to judge the height or distance from the top of the dune. It’s like having no depth perception, which could result in you cresting a dune at a speed and ramping over the other end.

Remember the dunes can change shape and size within minutes when the wind picks up. This means a dune that was easy to ride a few hours earlier could pose a serious challenge later on as the wind shapes and forms bigger higher dunes.

extract from an article titled: Sand driving tips

Amarok Owner Feedback

You probably know by now that I am the proud owner of a BiTdi Amarok 4Motion Double-cab manual transmission Amarok. I purchased it about 2 years ago after owning a Toyota Hilux D4D 4×4 for a few years. Coming from driving, what was labeled the “king of off-road Utes” for so many years, the Amarok had some big shoes to fill.

When the Amarok was initially launched, I immediately fell in love with it. It was literally love at first fright! I could not believe that VW had finally launched a competitor to a market segment that has been dominated for decades by the Orientals in the form of the Toyota Hilux, Triton, Isuzu, Triton, and the like. These vehicles are household names and have a strong following in almost every part of the world. Enter the Ford Ranger and things really got shaken up. The Hilux seemed to have been knocked off its throne, although that highly depends on who you speak to. Be that as it may, the Germans had a mammoth task on their hands to produce a vehicle that not only competes but beats the competition.

The Amarok is not the first 4-wheel drive VW ever developed since they produced the Syncro’s and Toaureg’s with 4Motion for years so it was bound to happen. Now I will admit it, I was a huge Volkswagen fan-boy and this Amarok was a godsend for me. This would amount to the eleventh VW I’ve owned over the years. As mentioned, when it was launched I fell in love and immediately wanted one, however, the Amarok was priced somewhat out of my league at the time. This meant I had to wait for prices to drop in the used market, so wait I did… in a Hilux.

Needless to say, I put the Hilux through its paces, and how. I mean I threw everything I could at this thing as often as I could and it kept going. Not exactly problem-free unfortunately. My Hilux gave me a fair share of problems from injector failure, clutch replacement, and a leaking rear wheel bearing that nobody seemed to be able to cure. Not to mention the gearbox that packed up one week prior to my deciding to sell it. I might have purchased a lemon.  All that aside, the Hilux was a good truck with a strong pedigree which gives the driver confidence. 

Now once I finally got my grubby paws on an Amarok, I wanted to test and see if this thing was anywhere as capable as the Hilux. People would look at me in amazement and confusion as to why I’d opted to sell a trusty Hilux for an Amarok. Well, let me tell you something, the Amarok can tango with the best, and then some. This is one well-rounded package with a serious level of off-road ability. The ride comfort, refinement, space, and build quality were all leap years ahead of the D4d Hilux in every way.


The Amarok has proven itself over and over in all off-road situations for me and many other happy Amarok owners. Sand driving with the Amarok is a very fun and hassle-free experience. Make sure you air down your tires and disengage the OFFROAD button. Select 4Lo and play between 2nd and third gear and you are golden. This vehicle with its tiny two-liter engine has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with in all off-road conditions, including sand.

Many journalists questioned the durability of the Amarok two-liter engine, but the last year has proven so successful that other manufacturers are following suit. Proving once again, Volkswagen leads the way…

It does, however, have a few common problems, but with a few simple fixes, you can make your Amarok bulletproof. You can read about that here.

If you obey the laws of sand driving and apply them when off-roading with your Amarok, this truck will pleasantly surprise you and any doubting Thomas’s.

Jade C.

4-Wheel drives and off-road driving techniques has been my passion for over 20 years. Here we strive to provide the most accurate, up-to-date, information about the functionality, common faults and latest technology built into most 4 Wheel Drives.

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