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Free Range

When you own an expensive, sophisticated four-wheel drive like the supercharged 2010 Range Rover Sport, you tend to coddle the thing. Fortunately, we’re just borrowing it.

Author Mike Guy Photography Courtesy of Land Rover North America

Image – Courtesy of Land Rover North America

IT MAY SEEM OBVIOUS, but it’s always bugged me: Luxury SUVs are too expensive to risk taking off-road, where they perform best. Take the Range Rover Sport, a fantastic off-road vehicle that only a complete wastrel would actually take off-road—unless he was being chased by molten lava. In 3-D.

Luckily, the 2010 model I’m driving in the Green Mountains of Vermont doesn’t belong to me (though I know it costs $94,275, plus tax). It was loaned to me by the company, and the publicist warned me to please refrain from taking it off-road. At first, I was happy to oblige. I love the way the Range Rover feels on tarmac, and it has a timeless look: The soft leather seats and wood paneling give it a luxurious, rustic feel, and the “Range Rover” letters above the grille might as well say “I’m Classy.”

What pleases me more, though, is the seriously upgraded engine, which sits on a sophisticated suspension system that the driver can convert to “Off road” settings with a flick of a switch (the Rovers are so popular in the Middle East that there’s a new traction control setting to “launch” the SUV on sand).

I’m looking at the Dynamic Control switch at the head of a trail in Vermont when I succumb to a sudden urge. I switch to Offroad, turn onto a muddy, rocky, root-strewn pathway and goose the throttle. The Rover, on 20-inch tires, is stable in the roughest spots. When I pass an old Jeep CJ-5 (what a Vermonter would call a “mudder”) spinning its tires, its driver looks at me with astonishment.

Fortunately, the Rover emerged from the woods unscathed. But it goes without saying: Even if you live in a Beverly Hills mansion, don’t try this at home.

Executive editor MIKE GUY’s other car is a pair of Tevas.

1 LED headlights grow dimmer as they sense oncoming traffic, then brighten again when it passes. Brilliant.

2 510-horsepower supercharged V-8 grinds out 410 pound-feet of torque.

3 The Dynamic System uses “predictive” technology, so it knows what you’re going to do wrong before you do it.

4 Surround cameras offer a 360-degree view of the exterior, so you don’t crush your neighbor’s car trying to parallel-park.

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