There was a time when Land Rovers were rugged, supremely capable off-roaders built from sturdy chunks of steel and sheets of aluminum, with overwrought drivetrains and suspensions. This recipe earned the company a formidable reputation--but the vehicles became increasingly out of step in a world where SUVs are expected to serve as comfortable and efficient family transportation.

How can Land Rover provide that civility without compromising off-road capability? Enter Terrain Response, a computer-controlled system that apportions power to the wheels based on a scheme selected from four different settings. With that technology on board, the LR2 ably fills the shoes of its jungle-busting forebears, despite the fact that this upmarket replacement for the primitive and unloved Freelander is built using parts and designs from corporate-sibling Volvo's S80 sedan.

Because of this source of drivetrain hardware and suspension designs, the new entry-level Land Rover possesses the graceful ride and handling expected by today's sport/utility buyers. There's no engine smoother than an inherently balanced inline-six like the LR2's Volvo 3.2-liter, 230-horsepower unit. The LR2 also uses a beefed-up version of the Volvo's MacPherson-strut front suspension, combined with Land Rover's own new strut rear suspension.

But the question in any off-road traditionalist's mind is, how could this glorified Volvo possibly uphold Land Rover's proud tradition of rock-busting prowess?

To answer this question, Land Rover launched the LR2 in Morocco, a country renowned for exotic settings and a classic film ("Casablanca"), not the quality of its highway system.

Fortunately, Land Rover didn't expect us to stick to those byways, instead shepherding us off to rock-strewn paths frequented by donkey carts and over windswept sand dunes along the country's Atlantic coast.

On the dunes, the LR2 ran a close second to the camels, which was impressive considering the absence of LR3-style air suspension to provide added ground clearance. We also hadn't bled the air pressure from the smooth-riding highway-oriented Continental tires for better traction, making the performance in sand even more amazing.

Give it a bit of stick, as our English handlers suggested, maintain momentum, and keep the front wheels pointed as straight as possible, and the LR2 climbs dunes that would leave many 4x4s buried. Judging from the plumes of sand lofted by all four wheels, the Sand setting of the Terrain Response permits considerable wheelspin and ensures that all wheels contribute equally.