Land Rover is a British brand that became an icon thanks to its 4×4 systems and its off-road abilities. It all started in 1947, when Rover’s chief designer, Maurice Wilks, began experimenting with a self-built prototype.
Land Rover's 4×4 Systems – A Brief Guide
We must note that the model was not developed from scratch, as it was made using components from a Jeep, including a chassis.
Luckily for Maurice, his brother Spencer was the Managing Director of Rover. Thanks to this association, his project eventually entered development and became known as the Land Rover Series I.
Demand for the capable British off-roader grew, as farmers and other customers with specific needs required an affordable and competent machine.
From the beginning, the Land Rover was made to be an able off-roader. Nobody would have imagined the model known today as the Defender would have been kept in production until 2016 with minor changes, out of which few regarded its shape.
The character and abilities of the Defender spawned numerous clubs of Land Rover enthusiasts, and the brand still relies on its off-road credentials to sell its cars today. With the Defender as we knew it removed from production, it’s time to ask ourselves what kind of 4×4 systems the British brand provides.Defender
The vehicle we call the Defender today did not bear this name for a consistent part of its life. Land Rover called the ancestor of this model the “Series I,” and upgraded versions were subsequently called Series II and Series III. The “Defender” name came in 1990, not before LR calling it the 90/110/127.
Now, to the fun stuff. Over the years, the Defender employed several four-wheel-drive systems, but all were the most hardcore offered by the British brand.
The Series I, II, and III Land Rovers came with a part-time 4WD system, which would be disconnected when on dry pavement, but did all the hard work in adverse terrain conditions. Its manual selection lever had settings like “2WD,” “4WD Hi,” and “4WD Lo, the latter being used to get the vehicle unstuck when in serious off-roading conditions. We must note some versions of the “Series” models from Land Rover’s early years did come with 4WD.
Modern Defenders feature a permanent four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer gearbox and a lockable centre differential. The latter can be employed with the 4WD Low mode to ensure the Defender does its best in off-road conditions at reduced speeds and in low-grip conditions.Discovery and Freelander
The Discovery and Freelander models in the Land Rover portfolio started out as off-road capable SUVs with enhancements to allow road and day-to-day use. From the outset, they featured all-wheel-drive, but low ratio gearboxes are not present in most configurations.
In the case of the Freelander, a model which currently employs a Haldex system, a low-range gear selector or gearbox is not present, and neither is a locking differential. Its all-wheel-drive system works on-demand, meaning the rear wheels do not receive torque at all times, especially on dry, paved, roads. Torque split is usually 50/50 front/rear, but is variable depending on grip.
Land Rover Freelander’s first generation was the most competent in off-road conditions when compared to its successors, but it is not even close to a Defender or Discovery. It was never supposed to be, as the Freelander was Land Rover's response to the emerging compact SUV segment. At first, the all-wheel-drive system of the Freelander used a viscous-coupling center differential.
The Discovery started out as an SUV with sufficient off-road skills, and it remains one because it still features a low-range gear set. Over the years, its abilities when leaving paved roads have decreased, as it was further optimized for road use. Beginning with the second generation of this model, Land Rover employed a monocoque body mated to a ladder-frame chassis, and the solution was called Integrated Body Frame by the British automaker.
The current Discovery has an-infinitely-variable locking center differential, and a similar rear differential is available. While limited by its road-biased tires and its reduced attack angles because of the bumper design, its intelligent all-wheel drive-system (Terrain Response) still performs adequately in off-road conditions. Naturally, it is no match for a Defender when things get rough.
Land Rover’s Discovery 5, the designation for the third generation of this model, is set to retain off-road capability, so we expect it to feature a low-range gearbox and a lockable center differential. An optional lockable rear diff is supposed to be available. Range Rover
Land Rover’s premium branch, Range Rover, also has competent all-wheel-drive systems. The flagship model started out in 1970, and it came with a low-range gearbox and a lockable center differential. The second generation retained the configuration, and added a 50/50 power split between axles for its all-wheel-drive system.
Eventually, the Range Rover became a luxury icon, and it started to involve more electronic aids for its AWD system, like traction control, hill-descent control, and many others. The modern versions of the Range Rover also employ Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, complete with the selector.
The first generation of the Range Rover Sport was constructed on an adapted Discovery platform, and inherited its all-wheel-drive system. The second one is built on the same unibody platform as its bigger brother, the Range Rover. Most users of this model rarely leave paved roads, so the AWD system was improved for road behavior, as BMW has done with its X range of SUVs. This practice is common among SUV users, and some statistics claimed over 90% of customers of such vehicles never left paved roads.
Range Rover’s smallest model, the Evoque, is developed on an evolution of the LR-MS platform, which it shares with the Discovery Sport. Until the 2014 model year, it used an all-wheel-drive setup from Haldex. Depending on the program selected by the driver from the Terrain Response System, torque delivery is adjusted between the front and rear wheels.
Even though the British premium automaker keeps showcasing the Evoque in off-road driving scenarios, most owners never leave paved roads. Beginning with MY2014 Evoque models, GKN Driveline's system was used. This solution provides on-demand all-wheel-drive, and comes with torque vectoring capabilities for individual wheels.
We must admit the Range Rover models are capable off-roaders concerning technology, but their all-wheel-drive systems are restricted by the tires fitted from the factory, which were meant for on-road driving. Furthermore, their vast and expensive bumpers make potential off-road enthusiasts think twice if they should engage in leaving the pavement, as a small misjudgment could break one of these elements.
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