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2011 Land Rover Range Rover . (Petrina Gentile for The Globe and Mail)
2011 Land Rover Range Rover . (Petrina Gentile for The Globe and Mail)

2011 LAND ROVER LR4

Rover goes where others fear to tread Add to ...

If you dream of off-roading in a luxury SUV - and for the record, driving over a curb doesn't count - Land Rover will satisfy your itch.

Especially if you're tackling southwest Colorado's most treacherous and heart-pounding trails - the notoriously deadly Imogene Pass and Black Bear Pass.

We set off from the ski town of Telluride - altitude: 2,667 metres - driving a 2011 Range Rover Supercharged SUV. In two days, we'll cover nearly 130 km, skipping paved ground for the rugged, steep rocky mountain roads.

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2011 Land Rover LR4.

Our first goal is to drive over Imogene Pass - 3,997 metres high in the San Juan Mountains. We travel the original mining roads where fortune seekers with visions of gold and silver flocked to the area more than 150 years ago. Souped-up CJs, big ol' Broncos, ATVs, mountain bikers and the occasional marathon runner share our narrow one-lane trail to the summit peak.

It's a trying and exhausting adventure - both mentally and physically; it requires skill, concentration, and a little luck. My driving partner, the only other female journalist on hand, gives up quickly, overcome by altitude sickness.

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I keep on trekking - my hands at 10 and 2 with thumbs out on the steering wheel and using my left foot for braking as instructed by my Land Rover coach Ken Cameron in the passenger seat.

"Slow as possible," he says. I confess I'm a bit impatient, but I back off the throttle at the sight of the slippery rock staircase ahead.

Land Rover's updated Terrain Response System is the key to scaling this terrain. Updated for 2011 on the Range Rover and LR4, it's a saviour. There are five driving settings - general, grass/gravel/snow, mud and ruts, sand and rock crawl. Just turn the dial to select. It's that simple.

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We climb slowly and cautiously. I cringe and shift my body away from the edge - not that it matters. If we flip it's not going to make a difference, but subconsciously it eases my mind briefly. We spend most of the time in low gear in "mud and ruts" - on a few occasions when huge rocks stand in our way I select the "rock crawl" setting and instantly the response of the engine, transmission, differentials, dynamic systems and air suspension changes.

I climb the rocks slowly - the SUV tilts awkwardly; it's a delicate balancing act between the wheels on the rock and the ones airborne. A 4x4 information screen displays my wheel position, which is handy when you can't see your wheels. The surround camera system is also useful; five digital cameras display an almost 360-degree-view of the vehicle onto the LCD screen. I double-check that it's off when it's time to pee behind the SUV - the surroundings are sparse at times, the SUV my only shelter.

Climbing the rocks and reaching the summit peak proves no issue for the Range Rover. Down the steep grades, the hill descent control kicks in, slowing the SUV to a crawl downhill - there's no need to apply the brake or throttle - it does everything for you.

The SUV has plenty of guts - a 5.0-litre supercharged V-8 engine with 510 horsepower and 461 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission with normal, sport and manual shift modes. The transmission sends power to all four wheels through an electronically controlled two-speed transfer case with shift-on-the-fly capability. We emerge unscathed as we reach our destination, Ouray - a western town with remnants of its glory gold-rush days.

On day two, my ride is a 2011 Land Rover LR4. Our route is over Black Bear Pass, renowned for its treacherous terrain. Death-defying cliffs and more than a dozen deadly switchbacks line the route. There are no guard rails - the steep cliffs a constant reminder of the danger lurking below.

Land Rover driving instructor Chris Tefky guides my every move from outside the vehicle. We resort to three-point turns on many of the narrow hairpin turns. After several gruelling hours, we reach the bottom - sweaty, exhausted, but grateful we survived with no damage to the undercarriage or the tires. The LR4's 5.0-litre V-8 engine with 375 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque is overworked, but you'd never know it.

It's not surprising that only 5 to 10 per cent of Land Rover customers go off-roading. But that's not the point, according to Finbar McFall, vice-president, marketing, Land Rover North America. "Obviously if you're buying this sort of product it's a combination of want and suits your lifestyle.

"Chances are you're going to use it - maybe not to do everything we've been doing, but at some point you're going to use it because of its capability. You can store stuff in the back if you want to go skiing. It has good cargo space, good towing capability, and on top of that they're luxury vehicles."

If you want to tackle the great outdoors, both the 2011 Range Rover Supercharged ($112,280; the base HSE is $94,290) or the 2011 Land Rover LR4 ($59,990) will do the trick. But personally, I'd stick to the more affordable LR4 for off-roading and the super-stylish Range Rover for my on-road ride.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

2011 LAND ROVER LR4

Type: Four-door, mid-size luxury SUV

Base Price: $59,990

Engine: 5.0-litre, DOHC, V-8

Horsepower/torque: 375 hp/375 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Four-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 17 city/11.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Lexus RX, Acura MDX, BWW X3, Audi Q5, Lincoln MKT

Follow on Twitter: @PetrinaGentile

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