Volkswagen Magazine


True grit.

Across Australia‘s Simpson Desert – 1100 sand dunes, more than 500km – in a showroom-standard Amarok. On one tank of diesel…

Text Marcus Craft
Photos Chris Benny Imaging

Ostensibly, Volkswagen‘s Think Blue Amarok Desert Crossing was all about fuel consumption.

Filling up at Mount Dare and marking the start of the challenge.


It was a fast-blast trip across the Simpson Desert in central Australia. The plan was to send two stock-standard auto Amaroks across that immense sandy expanse with support from two modified and desert-ready Amaroks.

Ostensibly, Volkswagen‘s Think Blue Amarok Desert Crossing was all about fuel consumption. The company‘s Aussie think tank was supremely confident that a standard auto Amarok crossing of the Simpson on one tank of diesel was an ideal way to highlight the ute‘s fuel thriftiness (with a ADR combined 8.3L/100km). The fact it would also be a great adventure for a select group of journalists didn‘t hurt either. I, along with two other journos, and a top photographer had been dispatched to the Simpson to drive across it. In the two Amaroks. In three days. On one tank of diesel. (Each.)

Our starting point was to be Mt Dare Hotel to meet our guide Dave Cox, the hotel‘s owner/manager; we would finish 505km away at the Birdsville Hotel. We were to follow the French Line, turn at Poeppel Corner, head onto the QAA Line, do a few showboating runs up Big Red, the desert‘s biggest dune at 35m high, and then head into Birdsville for a victory beer.

Our vehicles were 2.0-litre four-cylinder biturbo-diesel dual-cab Amarok Trendlines, with Volkswagen‘s full-time single-range 4X4 system and eight-speed auto gearbox. The race was on to see which of the two race-groups had used the least amount of fuel by journey‘s end. There were two journos (me included) in one vehicle (on Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts); and a journo and photographer in the other (on Continental Cross Contacts).

Both vehicles had two swags, and a jerry can each of water and diesel in the tray for emergencies. David and the Volkswagen crew, driving the two aftermarket-modified Amaroks, provided support.

Taking in some unusual sights in Coober Pedy.

simpson desert.

Putting the Amarok to the ultimate challenge.

Setting up camp at Dalhousie Springs.

just cruisin‘.

Day one started in a South Australian cave (more precisely, at the Desert Cave Hotel), then I saw a grown man use an imaginary paddle in an attempt to propel his canoe forward outside of The Pink Roadhouse and Volkswagen staffers continued to stroll around like dusty peacocks. Just another day in the Aussie outback, really.
Later, after we‘d gorged ourselves on glorious steak sandwiches and topped up our Amaroks with diesel at Mt Dare Hotel – and zeroed trip meters – our Simpson crossing was in full swing … for about 70km and then we stopped for the night to camp at Dalhousie Springs. Some of us took a refreshing dip in the natural warm artesian springs, an oasis in a sun-baked sandscape. Water temperatures here range between 38°C and 43°C. An early rise and a hearty breakfast on day two fuelled us for our assault on the French Line, the desert‘s fastest and most tourer-friendly route. Some have dubbed this ‚Simpson Lite‘ but they‘re off the mark. It‘s still a decent test of man and machine. If you suffer mechanical woes here you‘re in real strife.
From the get-go it was obvious that the track was in awful shape, heavily corrugated, especially on every approach to every dune. It was the worst I‘d even seen it. And the culprits were desert tourers. David was fuming because, he reckoned, drivers had failed, more than ever this touring season, to correctly drop their tyre pressures to best suit tackling the desert sand. People riding on too-firm tyres and using a heavy right foot to take on the dunes had chewed up the tracks. He said it took some travellers more than 60km to realise they should drop their pressures even more. Too late. By then, the damage had been done.
We‘d aired down to about 15psi and the going was easy – – over steep dunes, across interdunal valleys, and, here and there, on side tracks for photographic purposes. The Amarok was never troubled, ticking over in a composed fashion; 420Nm at 1750rpm helps see to that. This Volkswagen steadily climbed up and over each dune, without fuss. Sure, we may have given the accelerator a workout on a few occasions in trickier and deeper sandy sections but that was more about thrill-seeking over-enthusiasm rather than necessity. Any concerns about the Amarok‘s lack of low-range gearing having an impact on its off-road efficacy have long been dispelled. With its low first gear and tall overdrive, as well as its raft of electronic aids (HDC, hill-hold et al), it can easily tackle most off-road obstacles.

On day three we were busy filming a 1980s action movie.

conquering big red.

On day three we were busy filming a 1980s action movie at the combined borders of South Australia, Queensland and the NT. At least, that‘s what it felt like. A chopper buzzed overhead as we drove across the salty crust of Lake Poeppel. John Burey, of Central Eagle Aviation, was at the chopper controls, expertly manoeuvring his machine over our group of vehicles; snapper Chris Benny was clinging on while trying to look professional and get a stack of awesome shots. He did. Later that day, we drove numerous Big Red up-and-downs for the cameras and then headed for Birdsville. We were keen to see which team was the fuel-consumption victor. We‘d used 73.51 litres over 513km; the other crew had used 67.30. Bugger. At the end of it all, dusty and happy, we weary travellers slipped inside the Birdsville Hotel for a beer or three.

And the pump says… Final reading at Birdsville, with fuel to spare!

the numbers that matter

On this Think Blue Amarok Desert Crossing:

We drove 513km and over 1100 sand dunes (give or take)
We passed 16* Land Rovers
We saw 1 dingo, 0 camels
We consumed 11 pots of coffee, 37 bottles of beer and 3 bottles of wine and
We endured 187* bad jokes from Volkswagen Public Relations Manager Kurt McGuiness. (*Actual number may be considerably higher)


Cars and accessories shown may be overseas models and may not be available in Australia. Please contact your local Volkswagen Dealer or visit for local specifications. All information in this publication is correct at the time of publication, however variations may occur from time to time and Volkswagen Group Australia, in so far as it is permitted by law to do so, shall not be liable in any way as a result of any reliance by any person on anything contained in this publication.