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Ford Ranger-based SUV | spy shots

The seven seater four wheel drive will likely be named ‘Everest’. Like the Ranger ute it’s based on, it’s developed by Ford Australia, whose design, research and development capability is expected to continue operating locally beyond manufacturing close down in 2016.

The Territory rear end on this production test mule disguises a shorter wheelbase than the Ranger, which should make the Everest more manoeuvrable and agile on and off road. Like its rival, the Holden Colorado 7, the Ford is expected to upgrade the Ranger’s leaf springs and drum brakes to a live axle coil suspension setup and rear disc brakes.

This should make the ride more passenger friendly, with the possibility of Ford adopting an independent rear suspension setup also an option. This would make the development more costly, but would favour passenger comfort and handling on road.

A passenger version of the previous generation Ford Ranger has been in production in Thailand for several years, carrying the Everest name in that local market. But this is the first time the Everest SUV, which will be assembled in Thailand, will feature a smaller wheelbase and the expected suspension, brake and cabin refinement and passenger safety updates to make the SUV a competitive product in the global Ford portfolio.

Like the Ranger, the Everest will be sold in European, American and Asia-pacific countries. No details have been revealed about engine and powertrain options, but expect little or no change to Ford’s 147kW 3.2-litre 5 cylinder Turbo diesel unit and 6 speed manual and automatic transmissions for our market. Ford’s 110kW 2.2-litre Turbo diesel, and 122kW 2.5-litre petrol may also feature in overseas models, but both are unlikely to make it to Australian showrooms.

Low range is almost certain to continue too, making the Everest the most off road capable passenger four wheel drive offered by Ford Australia since the late 80s Maverick. A rear wheel drive model may also be on the cards, lowering the entry level price for families who don’t need the extra off road capability.

Expect the Everest to launch in the second half of 2014, when the new model will need to win over the hearts of families and off road enthusiasts alike. The segment is currently dominated by the Toyota Prado with over 1000 sales per month, but it’s the soft roaders like the Ford Territory, Toyota Kluger, Holden Captiva 7 and Hyundai Santa Fe that make up the majority of sales combined, making passenger accommodation an important success factor.

However, it’s the other ute-based passenger SUVs that will feel the heat of increased rivalry, with the Holden Colorado 7, Isuzu MU-X and Mitsubishi Challenger squarely on Ford’s radar. Ford may gain some sales from Territory buyers too, once manufacturing of the local SUV stops in 2016. Territory’s likely replacement, the Ford Edge, is not available with a Diesel engine, meaning customers wishing to buy a diesel four wheel drive Ford will need to turn to the Everest.