So the plan is to swap the '66 Ford for the 2010 VW, and see how it copes. The first task is to transport some sheep. My efforts to help catch them were inhibited by the fact that I thought we were taking them to the slaughterhouse, so instead Diego catches all three. Diego works for Alastair, refers to him -- in total seriousness -- as a gringo, and is a proper gaucho, wearing the typical beret and dagger tucked into the belt. Its blade looks considerably sharper than his intellect, but he can rugby-tackle terrified, bolting ewes like nobody's business. In minutes, three are lying, feet bound in leather cord, in the back of the Amarok, defecating furiously over our previously pristine load bay.
Turns out that although they will eventually end up as mutton, they'll have a few months of gentle retirement working as woolly lawnmowers at another smallholding down the road. That's where we're headed. Once I've turned them loose, we return to the ranch by the direct route: straight across the steppe. No tracks here: You just aim the truck at the target and go, blasting over the green and gold tufts of grass and brush and surfing over the loose, sandy soil. Environmentalists will have a fit, but here it's the only way. "Sometimes there's a track, but usually there isn't," says Alastair. "It's not like we're short of grass. You see that range of mountains?" he indicates a dun-colored rock massif miles off on the horizon. "Our other fence is on the far side of that."
Back at the estancia, we start loading the Amarok again. This time it's six-foot-long eucalyptus posts weighing about 90 pounds each, which Alastair needs to rebuild a fence lost in a wildfire. We pile them into the back of the truck: Diego counts 47 of them and decides we have enough. It probably also puts us well over the Amarok's 2500-pound maximum payload. We also have a full tank of diesel and five guys to carry, and the fence is halfway up one of those mountains and totally off-piste.
This is a proper test; I'm not entirely certain we're going to make it. Despite square-jawed good looks that suggest V-8 power, the Amarok has only a 2.0-liter diesel engine compared with the HiLux's 3.0, although it's twin-turbocharged to produce 161 hp to the Toyota's 169 and, more important, has way more torque with 295 pound-feet compared with the HiLux's 253. It's also an old-school pickup with a ladder-frame chassis and leaf-spring rear suspension. Volkswagen claims the Amarok will haul its full load up a 45-degree slope. If it's going to be the sales success VW hopes for in places like this, where people buy pickups in the millions and put them to work, it had better be able to.
But other than a distinct flat spot before the turbos spool up around 1500 rpm, it surges up the steep, soft tracks that take us into the hills. You can choose either permanent 4Motion four-wheel drive with a variable torque split or the selectable system fitted to ours, which offers rear or four-wheel drive and a low-range transfer case. You can shift on the fly, and we don't need the low range until we've left the track and are headed straight up the slope toward the fence line.