VW Amarok vs. Off-Road SUVs Shows You Don’t Always Need the Biggest Engine

It’s practically a cliché: “no replacement for displacement.” If you want your truck or SUV to tow the most, carry the most, you need the biggest engine possible. And as a helpful by-product, you get more speed. Except, not always. There’s more than one way to generate big numbers than simply increasing the size of your truck’s or SUV’s engine. And just because a vehicle has a big engine, that doesn’t make it fast. UK used-car site carwow’s latest drag race, between the VW Amarok and several off-road SUVs, demonstrates this quite well.

Which off-road SUVs is the VW Amarok competing against?

We Americans don’t get the VW Amarok, but it’s quite a capable mid-size pickup truck. In fact, it can actually out-haul several full-size pickups. Part of that’s down to its engine, a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 which makes 258 hp and 428 lb-ft. It, like the off-road SUVs in the test, has all-wheel drive.

2019 Toyota Land Cruiser
2019 Toyota Land Cruiser | Toyota

The Amarok’s competition runs the gamut of off-roading icons. Host Mat Watson brought a Land Rover Discovery, a Toyota Land Cruiser, and a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Like the Amarok, they were all equipped with turbodiesel engines, even the Wrangler. Unlike the VW, theirs are four-cylinders. Gladiator fans should pay attention, as the Wrangler’s diesel may show up in the Gladiator soon.

2019 Land Rover Discovery
2019 Land Rover Discovery | Land Rover

The Discovery’s 2.0-liter makes 240 hp and 317 lb-ft. That’s less than the Amarok, but more power than the other SUVs, which actually have bigger engines. The Land Cruiser has a 2.8-liter engine, which makes 332 lb-ft but only 177 hp. The Wrangler’s 2.2-liter engine also makes 332 lb-ft, but 200 hp.

The competition set-up

As with other carwow tests, the vehicles first ran a standing quarter-mile test against the clock. That was followed by a 50-70 mph rolling test. The first test measures power and acceleration, while the second is about power, torque, and transmission tuning.

Finally, the vehicles lined up for a brake test from 70-0 to see which stops in the shortest distance.

How the pickup truck and SUVs performed

Sometimes, there really is no replacement for displacement. In both the quarter-mile and rolling drag race, the VW Amarok came in first. But what was more interesting was which SUVs came in second.

The Amarok did the quarter-mile in 16.5 seconds, but the Land Rover Discovery came in second, with a time of 17.2 seconds. Although it had the smallest engine, it made more power than either the Wrangler or Land Cruiser. The Wrangler came in third at 18.1 seconds, and the Toyota came in last at 19.3 seconds. The Land Cruiser had the second-biggest engine, but its 2.8-liter was significantly down on power.

The Land Cruiser was also hampered by its transmission in the rolling 50-70 race. The Toyota still only has a 5-speed automatic, whereas every other vehicle has an 8-speed. As with the quarter-mile race, the Amarok came in first, the Discovery second, Wrangler third, and Land Cruiser last.

Jeep Wrangler
Jeep Wrangler | Jeep

The braking test, however, shook the order up a bit. All three SUVs were spec-ed for off-roading, and off-road tires increase braking distance. So, no surprises, the Amarok won. However, the Wrangler actually edged out the Discovery slightly and came in second. The Wrangler weighs slightly less than the Discovery. Car and Driver weighed a diesel Rubicon at 4863 lbs and Land Rover lists the diesel Discovery’s curb weight as 4900 lbs. The diesel Land Cruiser isn’t sold in the US, but the US-spec version weighs 5815 lbs. Which explains why it finished last.

So, do the biggest engines always best? Sometimes, but not always. The Amarok may have won, but the 2.0-liter Discovery beat out the other SUVs not because it had a bigger engine, but a more powerful one.