At every prodigal SUV and crossover launch this year I was told about the same things: "sportiness," and "car-like qualities." Now that we've seen the 2016 Audi Q7, I'm almost convinced automakers are going to make SUVs sleeker and sleeker until they just turn into wagons again.
There was a time when the wagon was the de facto family hauler. It was the obvious leap from the "car" you impregnated the woman you shared a milkshake with and nine months later needed more space for little Diane, Jimmy Junior, and Spot the dog.
Then vehicles like the International Scout, early CJ Jeeps, and Ford Broncos fucked it all up by popularizing the utility vehicle. I reckon this this might have had something to do with America's obsession with beating nature into submission, but I'm keen to hear other theories.
Anyway the floodgates were wide open by the time companies started making body-on frame trucks with leather seats and big cargo bays. Enter: things like the Jeep Wagoneer and the first Suburbans stout enough to get over the woods and through the river to grandma's house.
The industry's basically been riding that wave ever since, with a big dose of dilution on the "off-road" side of capability with every revision.
The AMC Eagle, effectively a lifted station wagon, is probably what I'd call "the first crossover" but the CUV movement really started building momentum with the first Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. I think Subaru coined "SUV tough, car easy" to sell the first Forester.
Meanwhile in a parallel market, Mercedes-Benz led the charge to turn luxury cars into "sporty" SUVs with the first M-Class with BMW, Porsche, and Audi eventually following suit.
The Marlboro Man machismo attached to a 4x4 sold off-roady family cars to a generation of dads and moms, but as the internet generation starts having kids of their own they want their own look, and it's more about accessibility, connectivity, and economy.
Will (/should?) the off-road performance market still exist? Hell yeah; but as enthusiast vehicles... not pitched as practical alternatives for getting your kids to school.
I posit that people are starting to value performance and technology over any semblance of off-road ability or pretenses in their family daily driver. Obviously automakers agree... how many truly off-road capable family SUVs still exist?
With the introduction of the 2016 Audi Q7, visually a station wagon on steroids, I think we're seeing the first footholds of the crossover trend's next phase: just being big cars again.
Images (Rambler ad and AMC ad) both via Alden Jewell/Flickr, Audi