It would take a while to unfurl, though. When BMW bought the Rover group in 1994, it was Land Rover (and Mini) the company grandees really wanted. Everyone loved the Defender (now more than ever, weirdly). R&D boss Wolfgang Reitzle also sensed potential in the Range Rover’s singular sense of purpose, although BMW arrived too late to do much about the P38A iteration. When Ford bought JLR in ’99, Reitzle left BMW to run the group’s premier division (PAG, including Volvo and Aston Martin, is ancient history now), and sank more than £1bn into 2002’s all-new Range Rover.
Some numbers: in 1996, Land Rover sold 125,222 cars worldwide. Last year, it shifted 434,583. There’s the SUV boom in a nutshell. The Discovery also came of age, and we’d nominate 2004’s third-generation car as a definitive piece of contemporary automotive design. Its architectural surfaces hid a vehicle of monumental off-road ability and such a supremely relaxed on-road character that it became the de facto 21st-century family car – and not necessarily one that lived in a Wiltshire manor house or had an SW3 postcode. Inevitably, LR gentrified the Disco as it evolved and improved the quality, but even now a well-used LR3 is one of those classless cars that makes a serious case for itself – even if it does weigh a ridiculous 2.7 tonnes, and can do things few owners will ever ask of it.
In fact, the corpulence of modern SUVs, in tandem with their increasing ubiquity, soon made them hate figures for the Left and environmentalists. It would be remiss of us not to mention current London Assembly member and Green Party activist Sian Berry, whose anti-SUV campaigning – remember the fake parking tickets? – briefly made her a household name in the mid-Noughties. She’s got other things on her mind now, but one wonders what she’d make of the SMMT’s current stats: in 2016, UK SUV sales were up 28 per cent year-on-year to 437,931, setting a new record in the process, and only superminis and small family vehicles eclipse them in the public’s affections. You can decide if this is progress or not: you’re buying the things… Other milestones? Porsche’s Cayenne v1.0 was iffy, but bankrolled the 911’s continued brilliance. BMW’s first X5 has faded somewhat in the collective memory, and time has been unkind to its Frank Stephenson-designed shape. Back in 1999, though, the X5 was practically revolutionary. Although the Mercedes M-Class was a year earlier to market, BMW’s inaugural SUV was also the first to emphasise the “sport” part of the acronym, and actually delivered a modicum of handling as a result (primarily because it was a jacked-up 5 Series Touring).