The Ford Everest and Raptor can be configured to suit specific terrains using their Terrain Management System (TMS), and we’d expect future Ford 4X4s to be the same. Here’s how it works.

Mud is different to rocks and sand is different to snow. Each terrain requires different characteristics from a vehicle, which is where adaptive terrain systems come in, able to reconfigure the vehicle to a specific terrain.

To some extent this has been done since 4x4s were invented, as low range itself is a reconfiguration, as are differential locks and swaybar disconnects, and even adjusting tyre pressures. But what’s really driven the idea of adaptive terrain systems has been the electronic age.

With fully electronically controlled vehicles, adaptive terrain systems change parameters like throttle responses, gearshift points, front/rear torque distribution and traction control settings to optimise the vehicle for different terrains like sand, rocks and mud. In this article we’re going to take a detailed look at the Ford’s adaptive terrain system called Terrain Management, as fitted to Everests and Ranger Raptors – and my guess is we can expect to see it on Rangers too. The system is also fitted to other Ford vehicles such as the F-150 Raptor and Explorer, available in North America, so much of what is explained below is relevant to those vehicles too.

Terrain Management System – overview

Terrain management has several modes – six for Raptor, four for Everest. Ford has also changed the modes over time, as the Everest used to have Normal, Mud/Snow, Sand and Rock. Now it has Normal, Mud/Ruts, Sand and Grass/Gravel/Snow. And the 2020 Raptor’s Grass/Gravel/Snow mode has been renamed Weather….so yes, all this is a bit confusing, I wish Ford would just settle down with the names! However, it’s more a naming thing than actual changes, although all carmakers do update their in-car technology over time without necessarily making a big fuss about it.

Some of the modes are for use on-road, and some off-road. Here’s a table showing what modes are in which vehicle:

Type of mode ModeVehicleRangeUse
RoadNormalEverest, RaptorHigh or lowNormal driving onroad, towing.
RoadSportRaptorHigh or lowHigh-speed, sporty onroad driving.
OffroadSand, Mud/SandEverest, RaptorHigh (sand)
high or low (Mud/Sand)
Loose, soft, deep terrain
OffroadWeather, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Snow on older EverestsEverest, RaptorHighHard but slippery surfaces
OffroadRock (also known as ‘Rock Crawl’)Everest, RaptorLowRock, deep ruts, wheel articulation
On/offroadBajaRaptorHigh or lowHigh-speed offroad driving

Not all modes are available in low range, an interesting contrast to Toyota who offer no modes in high-range, and Land Rover who offer all modes in all ranges except for Rock which is low-range only. Ford did tell us that there was not enough difference between the other modes in low range which is why they aren’t offered. And if you’re thinking that Ford’s TMS looks very similar to Land Rover’s Terrain Response, even down to the icons…then you’re right. When Land Rover developed its Terrain Response it was owned by Ford, so I guess there was some sort of intellectual-ownership deal going on. And indeed, many other carmakers have copied Terrain Response such as Jeep, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota, to name just a few. Similar systems are fitted to sports cars too, setting up for racetrack work, normal driving or sporty onroad driving.

Because these different modes are just selecting different software programs on the car’s computer, any mode can be selected immediately, no need to stop, as it’s just electronic reconfiguration.

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Everest: the dial is the Terrain Management system – Normal, Mud/Grass/Snow, Sand and Rock, with Sand mode selected.  In the centre of the dial is Hill Descent Control.

The modes are selected in the Raptor by a menu, not a dial. I much prefer the tactile dial, but implementing things in software is cheaper.

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Raptor TMS selection, prompting to select low range before Rock can be selected.

In both Everest and Raptor (Everest shown), you’re notified on the dash when a mode is selected:

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The settings changed by the different modes are:

  • Brake Traction Control (BTC) – brakes an individual wheel that spins to increase drive to the other one that isn’t spinning;
  • Engine Traction Control (ETC) – regulates power to control wheelspin across two or more wheels;
  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP) – brakes individual wheels and controls throttle to keep the car from sliding, controls oversteer and understeer;
  • Gearshift points – when the car changes up, and down;
  • Throttle response – speed of response and sensitivity;
  • Centre clutch (Everest only) – the degree to which the centre clutch (does same job as a centre differential) locks up.

Here’s a short video showing an Everest and Raptor demonstrating brake traction control – look at how wheelspin is stopped on individual wheels:

Aside from the electronically controlled driving systems, all Raptors, Ranger 4WD and Hi-Rider, and 4WD Everests have a rear manually operated cross-axle locking differential (“rear locker”). This means that on the rear axle one wheel cannot spin uselessly while the other remains stationary, but locking the rear differential will reduce steering capability as both rear wheels are forced to turn at the same speed, even when the vehicle is cornering. The TMS system does not force the rear locker in or out.

Everests are also all-wheel-drive with a centre clutch that electronically distributes torque front and rear, and locks up to a greater or lesser degree. This means the vehicle can change between being easy to turn or offering good straight-line offroad traction. This computer-controlled centre clutch is different from the part-time 4WD system used in the Raptor and Ranger which runs 2WD on road and 4WD off-road, or other vehicles which have a manually lockable centre differential. In the Everest, the computers look after that for you as there is no manual control over the centre clutch, but what it does is influenced by the TMS setting. The normal front/rear torque split is 50:50, and it works very well except when stopped, which is when it unlocks and that can cause problems.

Now we’ll describe each mode except for Normal, and how the Terrain Management System adapts the Everest and Raptor:

TMS: Sport

Raptor only, high-range 4X2 only

The terrain
High-traction surfaces like bitumen.

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Despire the all-terrain tyres, the Raptor has a sport mode!.

Terrain Management setup

  • BTC – No change to Normal mode;
  • ETC – No change to Normal mode;
  • ESP – fo change to Normal mode;
  • Shift points – changes down earlier, and shifts up later;
  • Throttle response – more sensitive, for a sportier feel.

Analysis
All this does is change the transmission shift points, same as the Sport mode for the Everest, which is accessed by moving the gearshift lever to the left rather than selecting a TMS mode. In other cars, Sport modes relax the stability control a little but not here. There’s always Baja mode if you want that, which can be used in 2WD on road.

TMS: Grass/Gravel/Snow (newer Everest, older Raptors) or Weather (new Raptors), Mud/Snow/Grass (older Everests)

Everest and Raptor, 4X4 high-range only

The terrain
The same mode has two different terms for the two vehicles. The big clue here is ‘grass’, which in the language of terrain systems means a surface that is relatively hard, but slippery. That can be true of mud, gravel and snow too, but those three also come in deep, soft terrains..and this mode isn’t what you use for that sort of driving. This mode is for wet grass, which is very slippery, yet not soft, similar to shallow mud and icy snow on firm surfaces. The fact that this mode is limited to high range is also a clue that it is not intended for deep, soft surfaces.

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The Mud/Snow/Grass mode is intended for hard slippery surfaces as opposed to deep, fresh snow.
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In deeper snow, you’re better off in low range as you need lots of torque at low speeds.

Terrain Management setup

  • BTC – reconfigured for increased sensitivity so there is less tolerance for wheelspin;
  • ETC – still active, as it’s easy to apply too much throttle and lose control;
  • ESP – fully enabled, but tuned for low friction surfaces so it intervenes early;
  • Shift points – slightly lower gearshift points to minimise torque inputs and reduce wheelspin;
  • Throttle response – softened, so the vehicle is less responsive which reduces the chance of wheelspin;
  • Centre clutch – tuned to suit low friction surfaces, which means locking up in a straight line, but reducing lock around corners to permit easier turning.

Analysis
This mode is great for keeping the car under control on slippery surfaces, but expert drivers will feel limited by the electronics. Even so, no matter your level of driving skill, in some cases the car will do a better job than you can as it can react quicker, and it can brake individual wheels and you can’t.

Best used for:
Hard, slippery surfaces like icy roads and a thin covering of mud on hard dirt, or a layer of sand on rock.

TMS: Sand (Everest), Mud/Sand (Raptor)

Everest – 4X4 high range only, Raptor – 4X4 high and low range

The terrain

Sand can vary from extremely hot, fine and soft to very hard-packed. Regardless, it is soft and driving definitely requires not only momentum but power to push through. It’s not a low-speed surface, and requires a lot of engine power. The sort of mud this mode is for is the deeper stuff where you need power and momentum, and I guess that’s why Ford renamed it for the Raptor. “Shallow mud” and “Deep Mud” aren’t great names.

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The Everest briefly displays the mode you select. An easy way to check is to see which light has illuminated on the selector dial.

Terrain Management setup

  • BTC – desensitised, as there’s naturally more wheelspin in sand;
  • ETC – disabled totally, as the last thing you want is the computer cutting your throttle;
  • ESP – partially disabled, comes in at greater slip angles, allows a lot of sway/angle before it intervenes because sliding is normal in sand;
  • Shift points – raised higher, and downshifts earlier to keep engine in power band;
  • Throttle response – more sensitive, so quicker response so you can get into the power earlier;
  • Centre clutch –  maximum torque to the front even at large steering angles, so the vehicle pulls through rather than pushes.

Analysis

This is a pretty standard sand mode except for the front torque bias. The two most important changes are there – totally disabled ETC, and partially disabled ESP. We haven’t driven an Everest on sand, but we’ll assume the ESP changes are such it doesn’t get in the way and sap momentum.  Raising gearshift points will make life easier, as will a snappier throttle response, but the Everest has a good manual control system for gearshift and that should be used in hard going to avoid shifts an inopportune times, such as driving up dunes. The rear locker works in high range, but will be of very limited use in sand as speeds are relatively high, and there will be drag when turning. One time you’d want the rear cross-axle locker, relatively slow dune ascents that are massively scalloped out.

Best used for:
Sand, and deep/thick sand, gravel or snow where you would need to trade off the benefits of no ETC and little ESP against reduced BTC. Basically, the faster you drive in such conditions, the more Sand mode is likely to be of benefit.

TMS: Rock, Rock Crawl (Everest and Raptor)

Low-range only

The terrain
Very slow going where the vehicle has high traction but is likely to be balancing on three or maybe two wheels, and have clearance issues. This may be rock, or big ruts as pictured below.

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Not rock, but very slow going with wheels losing traction due to axle flex, so Rock mode works well here.

Terrain Management setup

  • BTC – maximum sensitivity, as wheels are likely to be in the air at slow speed with a high chance of wheelspin;
  • ETC – disabled totally, as you need total control over wheelspin;
  • ESP –  off in low range, so that includes Rock mode;
  • Shift points – locks in first low and won’t change unless you manually shift;
  • Throttle response – softer, because the vehicle will bounce;
  • Centre clutch –  locked almost all the time, even when turning.

Analysis
You definitely want your BTC locked up for maximum sensitivity in rocks, and indeed most offroad terrain. ESP is off which is good, but in rocks you’re not going fast enough for it to be a concern, and rocks are generally high traction. The interesting point here is the gearshift. Most rock modes delay shifting so the car stays in gear a long time before shifting up, and that’s done for extra control. However, Ford have taken this to extremes for some reason and not permitted any automatic upshift at all, forcing the car in first low, which is a bit strange. However, you can always shift gears yourself…and you should!

Best used for:
Rocks, but also situations where you want to minimise wheelspin such as hill climbs and ruts. This would be my preferred mode for most Australian offroading where the terrain is hard going.

Best used for:
Sand, and deep/thick sand or snow where you would need to trade off the benefits of no ETC and little ESP against reduced BTC. Basically, the faster you drive in such conditions, the more Sand mode is likely to be of benefit.

TMS: Baja Mode (Raptor only)

4X2 and 4X4, high- and low-range

The terrain
Any terrain where you want to drive fast.

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Not rock, but very slow going with wheels losing traction due to axle flex, so Rock mode works well here.

Terrain Management setup

  • BTC – normal;
  • ETC – on, reduced sensitivity;
  • ESP –  on, reduced sensitivity;
  • Shift points – sport style shifting, earlier downshifts, later upshifts;
  • Throttle response – sharpened, more responsive.

Analysis
Baja Mode is named after the famous offroad race. It’s a pretty similar mode to Sport, but with a bit of relaxation of the stability and traction control systems. However, it isn’t really possible to drift a Raptor in Baja mode alone, you’ll need to disable stability control, and also used 2WD as the vehicle lacks the power required to maintain a four-wheel drift on surfaces other than the most slippery.

Best used for:
Any time you want to drive fast.

Low-range Road compared to high-range Road

This isn’t a terrain setting, but here’s how the Fords change when shifted from high- to low-range:

  • BTC – same as in high-range;
  • ETC – disabled;
  • ESP – disabled;
  • Shift points – tuned for low range, delayed shift points, uses lower gears for hill descents;
  • Throttle response – softer, tuned for low range gearing and good controllability;
  • Centre clutch (Everest only) – basically locked all the time, except at rest.

Locking differential

All 4X4 Everests, 4X4 Rangers and even Hi-Rider Rangers have a manually lockable cross-axle differential (“locker”). When that is engaged the ESP, BTC and ETC systems are changed. They are all active, but BTC sensitivity is reduced. The 2WD Everests do not have a rear locker. Happily, Ford does not require their vehicles to be stopped to engage or disengage the locker, and it can be engaged in 2WD and/or high range depending on the vehicle.

EPAS – Electronic Power Assisted Steering

There is no change to the electric power steering system for any mode on Everest, or between high- and low-range. On the Raptor there are Comfort, Sport and Normal modes. These simply change the effort required to turn the steering wheel, so are really of marketing use only.

Towing

Ford says that “when towing, the automatic transmission sees the increased load by comparing torque with normal vehicle response, which looks the same as a gradient. When the gradient is high enough it alters the shift points to suit the higher load.” The Everest also has load sensitivity, like the Ranger, which means it detects when it is loaded and alters its shift patterns to suit.

Automatic gearbox behaviour in low-range

The automatic gearbox holds gears for longer in low-range, and shifts to lower gears for downhill. The behaviour has changed from the PX Ranger to the PX3 – depending on the vehicle it may shift up or down slightly different as Ford change the settings over the years.

Automatic Transmission Torque-Convertor Lockup

The Fords run a conventional torque-convertor transmission, either 6-speed for the 3.2L models or 10-speed for the 2.0L models. In Normal and Sport mode the transmission can lock up the convertor in third gear and above, and on gradients second gear. In manual mode first gear, and in low-range first-gear too.

Switching Stability Control Off

In low range stability control is off, so pressing the button does nothing. In high-range mode it will disable stability control. Some modes such as Baja de-sensitive it, but the ‘off’ will entirely disable it.

Driving advice

There’s a lot of technical information in this article, so let’s distil it down into some key driving tips. The advice below is necessarily general as it’s impossible to be specific about every potential situation:

  • Use low-range – because Ford haven’t implemented the full range of Terrain Management modes in low-range you may be thinking that for sand or mud/snow you’re better off with high-range. Not always the case. If the terrain is such that your speed is no more than around 40-50km/h then for any 4×4 you’re better off in low-range because the car then has 5 or 6 gears to choose from, as opposed to only 1 or 2 in high range. And looking at how the Everest works, in low-range you get ETC and ESP totally turned off, as well as the centre clutch locked up. That’s good for off-road work.
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For easy but slow going select low range, Road mode.
  • General slow speed off-road work – you’ve go two choices, Normal or Rock for the Everest, or Mud/Sand for Raptor. I’d use Normal for most trail driving but when it gets harder, for example looking at that long, shale-rock climb, deep mud or other really tough terrain, then I’d definitely be switching to Rock or Mud/Sand for the Raptor to get the advantage of quicker-acting BTC and greater lockup of the centre clutch. Just remember to manually shift gears in Rock mode.
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Tough hills are where you want low range, and we’d suggest Rock mode to lock up the centre clutch and make brake traction control reactive. The rear locker tends to help too.
  • When to use the rear cross-axle differential locker – pretty much whenever it looks like you might lift a wheel. Ford has made it easy to switch in and out as you don’t need to stop, and the BTC on the Fords even in Rock mode is not particularly effective, so it’s good the locker is available. And yes, BTC still works on the front axle on all models except the older PX Ranger, albeit with reduced sensitivity. So you need to trade off a locked rear axle with reduced BTC on the front axle against more effective BTC on all four wheels but with no rear locker. The answer is for slow-speed, high traction surfaces like rocks you’re better off with the rear locker, but once speed builds – say third-gear low-range – then it’ll make more sense to rely on BTC. Also, you’ll be better able to turn corners with the locker disengaged.
  • Deep water crossings – use low-range and I’d suggest Rock with manual gear selection, say second low before you enter. Don’t leave it in Drive as you may find the car entering the water in third or fourth low and changing down to second mid-stream which can lead to a loss of momentum.
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There is no mode for water, so we’d suggest low range and Rock.
  • Sand driving – high-range Sand mode if it’s easy going or you’re over about 40km/h, low-range Normal mode if not. Don’t bother with Rock mode or the rear locker.
  • Deep mud or snow – don’t use the Mud/Snow/Grass mode as it does not disable ETC and deadens throttle response. That mode is for hard, slippery surfaces. Sand isn’t ideal as you get reduced BTC. Try Road mode, or in low-range, Rock mode.
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Easy but slow direct road. Just use high range Road.

Summary

Most of the time you’ll be in low-range, and Normal mode will suffice but when the terrain is hard and slow going, or steep use Rock mode, regardless of whether it’s rocky. Engage the rear differential lock at slower speeds and when you don’t need to turn tightly. And experiment with your vehicle; try the same obstacle multiple times in different modes, at different speeds, in different gears and with and without the rear locker. Like any 4×4, to get the best from the Fords you’ll need to really understand how and why it the cars work, then drive to maximise their abilities.

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