It may look like the current version beneath the disguise, but it hides the new D6 platform.

These are the first images of an early mule of the 2019 Ford Explorer, spotted tested on the public road in Ford’s hometown of Dearborn, Michigan.

Beneath the heavy disguise, the mule appears to be wearing the current, fifth-generation body. But that body is sat atop Ford’s new D6 platform, which will eventually be pressed into service on a number of Ford and Lincoln models. The current car's D4 platform is also used by the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT.

It is thought that the D6 platform can be configured for front-, rear-, or four-wheel-drive. This prototype doesn’t appear to have a rear differential, suggesting the front-wheel-drive theory could well be true.

The existing 2.3-liter, four-cylinder and 3.5-liter V6 EcoBoost engines are likely to be transferred over in updated form; the naturally-aspirated, 3.5-liter V6 could be axed, though, in an effort to improve the average fuel economy and emissions of the Explorer range.

The Explorer was first launched in 1990 and has been a massive success for Ford. Despite the Firestone tire scandal - which resulted in 240 deaths and around 3,000 serious injuries - and a huge dip in sales towards the end of the last decade, around 7 million have been sold in the United States alone. That makes it one of the best-selling SUVs of all time, indeed one of the best-selling cars of any sort.

The sixth generation of the seven-seat Explorer is expected to be unveiled late in 2017 - possibly at the Los Angeles auto show - or early in 2018 at the Detroit show. It is likely to go on sale sometime in summer 2018 as a 2019 model.

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