Last week I tried to convince you that the new Volkswagen Passat Wagon was worth $31,000 even though the VW monicker has long been synonymous with the low-cost, entry-level segment of the auto market.

You'll hear no such pleadings this week for Land Rover's latest edition of its Range Rover marque. I can't think of any reason to spend $70,000 on a sport-utility vehicle other than that you can afford it and covet the "Rule Britannia!" image it conveys (a rather shaky image considering its former German parent company, BMW, last month sold it to America's Ford Motor Co. Imagine trying to explain this to Winston Churchill?)I mean let's get real here. You can buy any number of highly competent SUVs for less than half the Range Rover's price, so any attempt on my part to present this vehicle as something other than a rich person's status symbol would be pointless.

But having said that, the 2000 Range Rover is pretty practical as status symbols go. Compared to Ferraris , Dodge Vipers and Porsche Carreras, for example, the RR is a model of no-nonsense utility. Those three status symbols will transport only two people on very smooth roads (albeit at felonious speeds), while the Range Rover will take five folks and all their sporting gear way beyond where the pavement ends.

The Range Rover is capable of serious off-roading, particularly if you know what you're doing and you don't mind putting a very expensive rig in peril. If you're not squeamish about that, then Land Rover is willing to help you hone your off-road driving skills.

Last summer, Land Rover opened its second driving school at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., patterned after its first institution of higher SUV education -- Dirt Driving 101? -- at the Equinox in Manchester Village, Vt., where more than 3,000 Range Rover and Land Rover Discovery owners have been taught the fine points of mountain climbing in a leather and wood-trimmed luxury car.

The school's not free, but what's $150 an hour if you can afford $70K for the car? To its credit, the Land Rover school also emphasizes the tenets of "Tread Lightly! Inc.," the not-for-profit group that tries to make automotive off-roading a bit more palatable to those who think internal combustion is the devil's handiwork.

You can check out the schools at www.best4X4.landrover.com. (How's that for a subtle Web address?)

Still, like all other sport-utilities, only 10 percent of Range Rover owners ever go dirt dancing. But if you are among the one in 10, you owe it to yourself to get some instruction before you go bounding through the boondocks. There are techniques to serious off-roading that will save your car and perhaps even your life.

I recall a time in the mid-1980s when I was evaluating a Range Rover for the first time. I'd read about what a mountain goat the car was, and I decided to find out for myself. I learned three things: (1) Driving up a rock-strewn mountainside requires techniques not required for negotiating I-15; (2) the Range Rover's rock hopping abilities make even novices look good, at least to a point; (3) getting sideways on a mountain in a 5,000-pound vehicle will give you nightmares for a week.

Even though the Brits don't actually own Land Rover anymore, they still design and build them and they aren't big on change for its own sake. The 2000 Range Rover doesn't look much different from the one I drove 17 years ago, but mechanically it was completely redesigned in 1995 and was further refined just last year.

There are currently two versions of the Range Rover: the 4.0 SE, the "base" model, which makes do with a 4-liter V8, and my tester, the 4.6 HSE whose power plant bumps the displacement to 4.6 liters, which produces 222 horsepower. That would be plenty of oomph for most cars but is only adequate for propelling the 2.5-ton Rover.

Like Ford and its "Eddie Bauer" edition, Range Rover has its own designer versions, including the "Holland & Holland" (the legendary British makers of shotguns and rifles that cost more than most of us will earn in the next five years). This is the kind of vehicle that appeals to people like the Sultan of Brunei.

Or even good ol' boys like singer Jimmy Buffett, who is said to own several Range Rovers, including a stretch-limo version he uses to take his buddies hunting. Can't you just see Jimmy and his pals sitting around the campfire singing "Wasting Away in Margaritaville"?

Judging by its price, you might think my RR tester was laden with options. You would be wrong. The panoply of luxo goodies that make up the HSE is standard and should be at a base price of $67,300. The only option was the J.A.M.E.S. satellite navigation system for $2,999, which is similar to others I've tested except instead of a computerized woman's voice they use a man who sounds remarkably like the Prince of Wales.

The HSE's delivery charge added $625, bringing the bottom line to $70,920.

Fuel mileage is rated at 12 mpg in city driving and 15 mph on the highway. Range Rovers prefer premium gasoline, currently going for around $1.75 per gallon.

E-mail max@desnews.com or fax 801-236-7605. Max Knudson's car column runs each Friday.