Volkswagen's pickup also gets a more powerful and more efficient engine.

In the not too distant past, eight-speed automatic transmissions were almost exclusively fitted to big luxury sedans with a six-digit price tag prominently displayed on the window sticker. In Europe BMW democratized the eight-speed in smaller cars by offering one in the 1-Series and now, Volkswagen is applying the concept to pickup trucks.

For the 2012 model year, the Volkswagen Amarok will get an eight-speed automatic borrowed from the Touareg SUV. This is the first time since the Amarok's launch in late 2009 that it is offered with an automatic transmission, a feature that buyers have often demanded.

The other noteworthy change that will take place under the Amarok's hood is that the eight-speed will be mated to a 180 horsepower, 310 lb-ft version of the existing 2.0 twin-turbo TDI taken from the California van's parts bin. The 163 horsepower version of it will also be available with the eight-speed, while the entry-level TDI that packs a scant 122 ponies will be dropped altogether.

"Thanks to this greater spread the TDI engine works even more effectively in every rev range, and it is more fuel-efficient and agile. Moreover, 8th gear was configured as a fuel-saving overdrive gear that operates at reduced engine speed. The first gear is configured for pulling away in off-road use or when towing", Volkswagen explained.

They added that "like the manual version, the Amarok with automatic transmission and permanent 4-wheel drive is thus also highly capable in all-terrain use without any need for additional reduction gearing"

In an effort to further reduce emissions and raise fuel economy, the 180 horsepower engine will use Volkswagen's Bluemotion technology which includes a Start and Stop system and low-rolling resistance tires.

According to the German automaker the revised Amarok now boasts 31 miles per gallon in a mixed European cycle, making it more efficient than a comparable model equipped with a manual transmission.

Another benefit of the new drivetrain is increased towing capacity, which gets bumped up to 7000 pounds, almost a thousand pounds more than before.

The refreshed Amarok will be available in January of 2012 in three trim levels: Startline, Trendline and Highline. Volkswagen has not released the pricing yet.