Ute lovers will be spoiled for choice next year by a load of workhorses with luxury-car price tags. Each brand's plans are officially under wraps but we can reveal three of the big players - Toyota, Ford and Holden - will release their most expensive and most adventurous takes on the ute theme to date.
Volkswagen's Amarok Ultimate V6 turbo diesel is the dearest and most powerful workhorse on sale - $74,000 drive-away before options - but it's getting company.
The 2018 showroom arrival of a Ford Ranger Raptor is an open secret, with countless spy photos of beefed-up prototypes seen here and overseas. Toyota and Holden are also working on similarly over-the-top utes.
The Raptor will be pitched against a Holden Special Vehicles-enhanced Colorado and a new modified TRD HiLux with tougher looks inside and out, bigger wheels and tyres, overhauled suspension and performance brakes.
Unfortunately all three will share another key element that may dull the shine for some buyers - they will retain their diesel engines because it is too expensive to develop high-performance petrol engines for the relatively small Australian market while also meeting global durability and emissions standards.
That means the hot-looking, high-riding Ranger Raptor is expected to be powered by a version of the current 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel, while the US version could adopt the V6 turbo from the bigger F150 Raptor or the four-cylinder turbo borrowed from the Mustang and Focus RS.
Rather than opt for high-performance petrol power, the HSV Colorado and TRD HiLux will retain their respective 2.8-litre turbo diesels.
The 4.0-litre V6 in the HiLux is about to be dropped locally, and the 3.6-litre V6 used in the Colorado ZR2 in the US is not available on Australia-bound models.
Each "super ute" has yet to be confirmed but it is understood all will be in showrooms within 12 months priced in excess of $65,000 - the threshold for their current flagships.
The Raptor's arrival is tipped to coincide with a Ranger face-lift, which is expected to add a new super-efficient 2.0-litre turbo diesel to replace the 2.2-litre in current workhorse versions and to power higher spec variants.
Expect the 2018 Ranger to get a new nose, refreshed interior and new safety tech, including automatic emergency braking and blind spot monitoring.
Mechanically, the Ranger is set for further refinements such as a new brake package with four-wheel discs on some versions - and the bulky tow bar assembly will tuck behind the bumper for better clearance off-road.
The "super utes" coincidentally will go up against the Mercedes-Benz X-Class 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel due mid-2018, which will be available with an AMG design package for those who want a show pony rather than a workhorse.
Meanwhile Nissan has released the N-Sport, a special edition of the Navara, as it tries to reclaim lost ground and join the shift to "sport trucks".
The N-Sport, based on the flagship Navara ST-X, doesn't get the overhaul of the coming sports utes but gains a honeycomb grille, black sports bar, nudge bar and fender flares, LED light bar and black 18-inch alloy wheels.
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