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Sexy beast: getting to know the two sides of the tough-as-nails, smooth-as-silk Range Rover.

"Follow that car," says the gatekeeper, pointing down the entrance lane at Shady Canyon Golf Club in Irvine, Calif. Which car? The Range Rover, of course. With its distinctive lines, the mother of all SUVs is impossible to miss. At a base price just south of $73,000, it generally roves alone, so it's eye-opening to turn into the parking lot and see a whole line of Range Rovers. In and out of the big, brawny vehicles a delighted stream of people arrives, departs, arrives, departs. It's all part of the Range Rover Experience, a lavish afternoon's fun that shows off file SUV's dual identities as an awesome off-roader and a luxurious voiture-about town.

As I take the wheel for my first-ever off-road course, Fran and James--my intrepid Advocate teammates--buckle up in back while instructor Lee Magee starts me off with a lesson on the Range Rover's automatic, sport, and Command-Shift modes. I don't get all the details--I'm having a traumatic flashback to high school drivers ed--but Magee is so calm on the brief highway ride over to the course that l find myself settling down too. Turning off the road, we arrive at an innocuous area with three dirt tracks leading off in different directions out of sight over the hill. Piece of cake, I figure.

"We're going up," says Magee. But first, he says, "we'll need this." At his request, I touch a dial on the dash--and I feel the car rise. The Range Rover's Electronic Air Suspension system is raising us to Off-road Profile, an extra 1.9 inches of clearance. From the back James reminds me that this feature is standard. While other popular off road vehicles need lots of after-market customizing, Range Rovers just come this way. Another touch of a switch and we're in low-range gear, ready to take on--what?

"Both hands on the wheel," Magee says. Cresting the hill, I see why. Dead ahead is a pothole that would stand my Mustang on its little horse hood ornament.

"Slow and steady wins the game," Magee advises. Slowly, steadily, we inch forward. Slowly, steadily, we tilt right. Farther. Farther. Now we're at "slide screaming down the Titanic deck" tilt. A curious silence has descended over the back seat. And then ... the Range Rover calmly rights us, and we're through.

The 4.4-liter, 282-horsepower V-8 engine is just one of the refinements that go into a stunt like that. When the Range Rover senses off-road terrain, it readjusts the relationships between wheels for almost supernatural traction.

"Let the car take you," Magee suggests. As we climb over or descend into impossible obstacles, the Range Rover cheerfully takes charge. Flicking a switch to Hill Descent Control, we crawl at a sure-footed 2.46 miles per hour, determined by computer and enforced by precise bursts from the brakes. It's dreamlike: Outside, the dusty landscape tilts and rolls. Inside, we're surrounded by leather and walnut and soft strains of classical music.

As we nose back onto the highway, Magee chuckles. "And now, the most dangerous part of our drive."

Back in my office, I phone Land Rover's Alan Holtschneider with a few of my own pesky SUV questions. First off, what kind of gas mileage does this mighty vehicle get? Not surprisingly, we're talking low: 12 miles per gallon in the city, 15 on the highway. Size and strength are the causes: The Range Rover weighs around 6,700 pounds and pulls 1,000 pounds more than that. Horses, boats, trailers, toys--you get the idea. As Holtschneider reminds me, "Our customers tend to have one car for the city and country rather than multiple vehicles. The Range Rover's off-road ability is extraordinary, and yet so is its highway performance. We really have no competitors."

As Alan is speaking, I suddenly have a vision of the arrivals at Women's Night, an annual Los Angeles black-tie gala fund-raiser. There's always at least one lesbian couple that clambers out of a pickup truck in strapless gowns. Good on ya, sisters--yet I bet they'd have loved tooling up in a Range Rover. There's something about this sexy beast that perfectly expresses the lesbian soul. Who better to appreciate one outrageous ride that lets you adventure all day and vogue all night, with barely a car wash in between?
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:The driver's seat
Author:Stockwell, Anne
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Date:Nov 9, 2004
Words:716
Previous Article:The auto repair closet: Advocate associate news editor John Caldwell is ready to admit that he once donned overalls and wielded a socket wrench,...
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