A few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon, I drove down the A3 into deepest West Sussex. It was my first chance to take the car I’d just bought out of the city and on the back roads of the countryside.
It wasn’t new but buying second-hand meant I could have a car I had admired when it was launched five years ago.
That car was a Skoda Octavia Scout estate. I had attended the model's launch in Italy and was impressed by its combination of huge luggage space and genuine off-road ability.
Perhaps it’s because I was a member of the original mountain bike generation (I bought my first MTB in 1984) but dual-purpose, go-anywhere-in-any-weather machines have always been my favourite type of transport.
Anyway, as I wound southwards on the A3, I enjoyed a timely reminder of the history of crossover vehicles. I passed a 1997 Subaru Forester (a car I had run as a long-termer when it was new), and was in turn passed by an early Volvo XC70, and the original Audi Allroad.
I well remember the launch of the Audi, held around the top of a mountain in Austria. The car’s combination of full-time four-wheel drive and air suspension made it supremely capable.
Only the launch model’s showy twin-wall alloys spoiled the day. The gap between the alloy’s spokes filled with mud and threw the wheels so badly out of balance that I thought the Allroad was going to throw itself off the road.
Anyway, back to West Sussex in my Octavia Scout. I was on the way to visit somebody who lives deep in a forest and at the bottom of a very long and very steep track, so what better car than my Scout? When I got to my isolated destination, I parked next to an Audi A4 Allroad.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. How else would the person I was visiting be able to drive up a long and challenging track to access the local village in all weathers?
Sure, you might say that very few people need the higher ride height and greater ground clearance crossovers and SUVs offer. I mean, who really needs an SUV?
Well, 'want' and 'need' are two very different concepts, as premium car makers will tell you. The truth is that the crossover and SUV market is booming in Europe. Figures for 2014 suggest that around 20% of all new car sales in Europe were crossovers and SUVs. It looks like this figure will climb to 23% of all new car sales in 2015.
Industry analysts predict that Europe will follow the US market, where the crossover and SUV sector is now the biggest - just - in the new car market, accounting for around 36% of sales in 2015.
Look closer at the US market and you'll see the level of SUV sales alone is remarkable. In the first 10 months of 2015, Honda’s CR-V was the best-seller, shifting over 314,000 units. In second place was the Toyota RAV4 at 283,500.
In fact, there are 97 different crossover and SUV models on sale in the US, accounting for 5.55 million sales between January and October 2015. Mazda is predicting that over 50% of its US sales will be crossover models.
There are signs that crossovers are creeping up on Europe’s favourite model, C-segment hatchbacks, although German and Italian drivers have yet to be convinced.
For example, Vauxhall’s Mokka sold 127,000 units in 2014 and the Astra just 179,500. Sure, the Astra was ageing and in its last full year on sale, but the trend is marked.
According to number crunchers IHS Automotive, sales of small SUVs and crossovers in France should jump from 158,000 in 2014 to a predicted 270,000 in 2018. UK sales should leap from 130,000 to 202,000 over the same period.
There are plenty of good reasons why jacked-up hatches often masquerading as SUVs will continue to rise in popularity, even among urban dwellers.
The raised driving position is comfortable, makes for an easier view across traffic and is popular with stiff-legged older drivers. The higher cabin also makes it easier to load children into seats, and luggage into the boot. There’s also a sense that a crossover will be able to wade moderate flooding and negotiate the occasional field, which adds to its appeal and perceived value.
The UK is 18 years into the crossover trend (both the Forester and first Honda CR-V were launched in 1997) and 2016 sees a Jaguar crossover in the form of the F-Pace and an all-electric model from Tesla.
We’re also now in the era of the £200,000 uber-luxury SUV, and can you buy crossovers with road manners and performance that would scare a supercar.
The crossover and SUV can never be all things to all drivers, but I predict they’ll get pretty close over the next decade.