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Exclusive: Next Ford Ranger spied in regional Victoria

Bar none: The two-bar grille of the engineering development mule spotted testing in Victoria last week points to a fresh face for the Australian-developed Ford Ranger.

Camouflage can’t hide fresh design for Aussie-developed ute as US launch nears

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Ford logo21 Feb 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON

THE Australian-based engineering and product development program for the Ford Ranger utility appears to have stepped up a gear, with an engineering development mule – which could be the forthcoming US-market version – spotted testing in Victoria’s Gippsland region last week.

An eagle-eyed GoAuto reader spotted this camouflaged left-hand-drive Ranger ute in Bairnsdale, showing Ford Australia engineers putting the Ranger through its paces on public roads – more than 300km east of the company’s You Yangs proving ground near Geelong.

The left-hook Ranger has a trailer attached, indicating either a towing test or additional weight for ride and handling evaluation. The trailer is also likely to be carrying evaluation equipment.

The camouflage pattern matches the one covering the Ranger that was caught testing in the United States last week, which some publications suggested was a next-generation model.

The US development car was certainly a precursor to the Ranger that will be sold in the US as a 2019 model – indicating a possible release late next year – as Ford returns to the sub-F-Series light truck segment to compete against the likes of the Chevrolet Colorado, Toyota Tacoma, Honda Ridgeline and the ageing Nissan Frontier.

The Blue Oval confirmed Ranger’s return at the Detroit motor show last month, along with its plan to resurrect the Bronco four-wheel-drive wagon as a global model in 2020 – another vehicle based on the T6 underpinnings of the Aussie-developed Ranger and the related Everest SUV.

While the Ranger in the images here could be hiding next-generation underpinnings under a current-generation body, the camouflage looks to be covering a further facelift for Ford Australia’s top-selling model.

The side air vents above the wheelarch and the tail-lights appear to be a match for the existing Ranger, however the two-bar grille design is new and takes inspiration from Ford’s SUV models, including the Everest and the Kuga-replacing Escape.

It also aligns with the freshly updated F-Series truck, raising speculation that this is the look that will be adopted in the US.

The existing Ranger has a central grille bar that houses the Ford badge, but the positioning is different on the camouflaged vehicle.

The high-end headlights and blacked-out wheels indicate that the test mule captured in Bairnsdale is a Ranger Wildtrak.

It is unclear what other visual tweaks the Ranger might get beyond the redesigned front end. Minor updates to safety and comfort features are also anticipated.

Given the model lifecycle for the current Ranger is likely to continue until 2019/20, it makes sense for Ford to update its popular pick-up range before the all-new model arrives, and it would also be logical for Ford to introduce the model to the US with a facelift.

Ford Australia product communications manager Damion Smy this week gave little away about the engineering development car, but said the US-market version of the Ranger would likely differ from the model we get in Australia.

“The US-market Ranger will be built in Michigan and be tailored to the needs of North American customers with unique front styling, engines and features,” he said.

“In regards to left-hand drive, as you know, our You Yangs proving ground is a development hub for Ford products globally, so it’s not unusual to have LHD vehicles on-site.” While the Ranger in the pictures could well be the US-market model expected by 2019, the Australian team works on vehicles for many global left-hand-drive markets, including South-East Asia and the Middle East.

Mr Smy told GoAuto that the Australian design and engineering centre was central to the Ranger’s continued development.

“The Ranger is a hugely successful product that’s sold in more than 180 markets around the world,” he said. “Similar to our best-selling Ford Transit that is primarily engineered in Europe and sold around the world, Australia is a centre of excellence for small pick-up design and engineering.” Ford introduced a mid-life facelift for the Ranger in August 2015, about four years after the locally developed ute made its Australian showroom debut in September 2011.

A facelifted version of the Ranger could help ensure ongoing interest in the Thai-built workhorse in the twilight years of the current generation, further boosting its fortunes in Australia where it has proven to be a hit with local buyers.

Last year the Ranger was the fourth-best-selling vehicle in Australia with 36,934 sales – up 24.6 per cent compare to its 2015 result.

It was beaten only by the Hyundai i30 (37,772), Toyota Corolla (40,330) and its key rival, the best-selling Toyota HiLux (42,104).

The Ranger made up just over 45 per cent of Ford’s total sales in Australia last year and this trend is likely to continue as consumers continue to move from traditional sedans and wagons to SUVs and family-friendly dual-cab pick-ups.

Ford Australia has introduced a number of accessory packs and limited-edition versions of the Ranger since the 2015 facelift – including the tough-looking FX4 released last week – and it is likely to continue receiving minor updates and changes through its model life.

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All future models

Ranger pricing

Motor industry news

GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.