The suspension is another obvious signal that this SUV was made for use off-road. It's a long-travel double-wishbone independent setup front and rear. The use of electronically controlled air springs allows for multiple modes of operation. The air springs are housed in metal sleeves, so they're less wobbly through the corners than air-sprung suspensions of the past.
When the driver selects off-road mode, the springs gain 2.2 inches of vertical travel, with as much as 10 inches in front and 13 inches in the rear. This amount of travel, combined with truly outstanding brake feel, allowed us to ease down big stair-steps without slamming or bottoming the suspension.
Then there's the drivetrain. Land Rovers have always followed a gearing strategy that called for tallish but very strong ring-and-pinion ratios in the axles and low gears everywhere else. The LR3 conforms to that tradition, with 3.73 gears in the axles, a 4.17 First gear, and a 2.93:1 Low-range gear for a maximum crawl ratio of 45.57:1. We found it easy to operate at very low speeds, uphill and downhill, regardless of how steep the terrain became.
The transmission is a ZF six-speed automatic, with very low ratios in First and Second and a very tall - 0.69 to 1 - Overdrive. Remarkably cooperative, the transmission makes shift decisions based on the driving mode selected. The driver can also choose to operate it as a five-speed manual, locking out Overdrive. We usually selected First gear in manual mode on the downhill side of a steep trail and just let it crawl. The electronic Hill Descent Control (HDC) comes into play on longer, faster downhill movement. This is similar to what we've seen on past Land Rovers and some other impressive off-road-going SUVs, but better. The HDC algorithm can be adjusted through the cruise-control switches on the steering wheel, holding downhill progress to just 1.6 mph in Low range.
The brakes have a lot to do with supporting this kind of control. There are discs on all four wheels, and they're massive stoppers: 13.3-inch discs at the front and 13.8 inches at the rear. They supply impressive stopping power, plus progressive brake feel. There is also a functional parking brake for hill stops. It works as a lever handbrake located on the center console, but is actually electronic and actuates a drum cast into the rear-wheel disc rotors. A fingertip lift tab on the center console controls the brake, and it works very well to secure the vehicle, even in an awkward position.
Not all trail driving is at extremely low speeds. Even moving quickly down graded dirt roads, the LR3 is relaxed, soaking up bumps and maintaining composure across mixed surfaces. Actually, the LR3 is equally at home in a variety of terrains. A dial on the console allows you to choose any of five terrain settings. It may sound like Big Brother all over again, but we found the system (known as Terrain Response) actually makes quicker and better decisions than we could on our own. Select a terrain setting, and the computer works from a particular set of priorities that will adjust the ride height, engine torque response, hill-descent control, electronic traction control, and transmission shifting. The Terrain Response system will lock and unlock differentials in practically instantaneous reactions to slight wheelspin, and each air spring can be extended or collapsed individually, maximizing traction. As a result, the LR3 moves surprisingly effortlessly across irregular surfaces, even with minimal skill from behind the wheel. Terrain Response as has settings for grass/gravel/snow (slippery surfaces), mud/ruts, sand, and rockcrawling.