A first-look at a forthcoming vehicle is always a bit exciting. When the word Raptor is involved, that's especially true. In this instance, we aren't talking F-150 but rather it's smaller sibling, the Ford Ranger. We recently caught a next-generation Ranger prototype on the street, but the big tyres and bold Ford grille point to this particular test vehicle being a hardcore Raptor variant.

Spotting the off-road tyres is obvious, but how do we know there's a Raptor-styled grille? This prototype is wearing plenty of camouflage, but a close look at the front clearly shows large F-O-R-D lettering on a mesh-style grille. In fact, it's so blatantly obvious we're left wondering if Ford is trying to pull a fast one on us. The current-generation Ranger Tremor is a toughed-up version of the mid-size pickup, though it doesn't have a big Ford grille. It would certainly be strange for Ford to test a future Tremor with the Raptor grille, but hey, stranger things have happened.

Gallery: New Ford Ranger Raptor Spy Photos

Ultimately, we suspect this is a legit Ranger Raptor. Aside from the grille and the tyres, this prototype has camo coverings on the rear axle – something we didn't see in our previous sighting of a standard Ranger test truck. Additionally, this vehicle sports dual exhaust at the rear, versus a single exit for the standard model. The exhaust tips seen here obviously aren't production-spec, but when you add it all up, the evidence points to Raptor.

That leaves us with some questions, starting at the engine. In markets across the pond, the Ranger Raptor gets by with a modest twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel good for 210 bhp (157 kilowatts) and a 369 pound-feet (500 Newton-metres) of torque. That wouldn't cut it for US buyers, but the Ranger Raptor was never offered in America and that leads us to the second question. Will the next-gen off-roader see life in the States? The new Ranger takes all kinds of styling cues from the F-150, and it certainly seems like there's a market for a smaller Raptor. If that's the case, a twin-turbocharged V6 seems an obvious choice.

Settle in for a long road leading to the next Ranger Raptor's arrival. We've only just started our prototype sightings, and we don't expect the standard Ranger to debut until 2022. The Raptor would almost certainly arrive after that.