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Spotlight On: Land Rover Terrain Response

by Andrew Ganz

We take an in-depth look at Land Rover\'s highly sophisticated off road control system.

Few brands carry the cachet of Land Rover. Synonymous with high style across the globe, Land Rover has remained remarkably true to its mud-plugging roots.

Even if its tony LR4 and Range Rover models seem better suited to Rodeo Drive than the Serengeti, their luxury trappings hide suspensions and bodies engineered for grueling off road expeditions. You might never want to use your six-figure Range Rover where pavement is miles away, but it's nice knowing that it can traverse some of the most difficult trails imaginable.

Over the last decade, Land Rover has been forced to abandon the rugged frames and simple solid axles that off roaders in favor of lighter, more modern bodies and comfort and handling-oriented independent air suspensions. You don't have to be an automotive engineer to realize that these changes have reaped benefits on Land Rover models' on-road handling and ride comfort. Nearly as adept at (paved road) canyon carving as a sports sedan, the latest Land Rovers really are do-anything, go-anywhere vehicles.

But to further improve off road ability, Land Rover introduced on its Discovery-replacing LR3 range in 2003 its Terrain Response control knob. Over the years, the system has evolved and it is now offered, in one form or another, on every Land Rover vehicle on the market.

We sampled Terrain Response on a 2013 Land Rover LR4, and while the interface is different on other Land Rovers, the system works essentially the same way.

It's worth noting that other brands have copied Land Rover's system. While the Terrain Management dial in the Ford Explorer and the Multi-Terrain Select control in the Toyota 4Runner and the Selec-Terrain knob in the Jeep Grand Cherokee are conceptually similar, they are not the same as Terrain Response.

Breakdown

Essentially, there are two kinds of Terrain Response: That on Land Rover's more off road-capable vehicles equipped with a two-speed transfer case (meant for slow off road excursions) and that on its more road-oriented models. Falling into the two speed camp are the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and LR4 (known globally as the Discovery). Single-speed transfer case models include the Range Rover Evoque and the LR2 (known outside the U.S. as the Freelander).

Pertinent information is then repeated on both the displays at the top of the center console and in the instrument cluster. The instrument cluster screen also shows the direction the front wheels are pointed.

Some models - LR4, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport - also include controls for their air suspension heights. Further, those models also offer an optional locking rear differential. When the differential lock is engaged, power can be apportioned mechanically between the two rear wheels.

But the core of Terrain Response is the buttons or knob (depending on model) that tailor the vehicle's sophisticated traction control system, air suspension, transmission, downhill descent control and drive-by-wire throttle to the type of terrain it is encountering. Newer models beginning with the 2013 Range Rover also include an "auto” mode that determines parameters based on what it senses.

Drivers select the type of terrain they're encountering by moving the knob to the correct pictograms. We've chosen to give you a very basic overview of the system below. Truth be told, each mode drastically alters the Land Rover's personality to make it more adaptable for whatever surface lies underfoot. Also, be aware that the Land Rover you're in may or may not have all of these modes.


On the trail

We've experienced a variety of dirt roads, muddy patches, creek crossings and rock moguls in multiple Land Rover vehicles.

In practice, Terrain Response is almost too simple to use. Simply look at the road around you and select what picture matches the road (or lack of road) you're on.

For light trails - like getting to a fishing or hiking point - there's no need to put the vehicle in low range. But for more serious rock crawling - think a trail in Moab, Utah, or even simply pulling a boat out of a lake - low range is a mere press of a button away in larger Land Rovers.

We tried several obstacles first in Normal and later in one of the Terrain Response modes. Without fail, Terrain Response's modifications to the vehicle's equipment made mincemeat out of any challenges we encountered. In particular, we liked both the dialed back throttle response and second gear starts to prevent us from digging into loose surfaces.

Leftlane's bottom line

We could argue for eternity about what's better for off roaders - a simple, mechanical system that relies on driver skill or far more advanced electronic assistances like Terrain Response.

But the simple truth is that Terrain Response makes already capable Land Rover vehicles into off road beasts for the 21st century. You may never use a single Terrain Response mode, but it's nice knowing they're there.

(Pssst - you really should give Terrain Response a whirl. Hook up with a local Land Rover group and you'll find plenty of like-minded owners who are interested in experiencing their trucks' legendary capability).


Leftlane's Spotlight On series aims to provide new car shoppers with an in-depth look and critical evaluation of new technologies and features. Since high-tech items tend to evolve quickly, it is important to note that the information presented here is accurate as of the publish date above.