I well remember the first time I drove a Nissan Qashqai. Not for anything positive about the car's lacklustre dynamic performance, but because the PR guy who called after the story was published was nearly in tears about how negative it was. The Qashqai itself was a mushy not-quite-anything that fell between every stool. The group test that followed saw it losing to both hatchbacks and SUVs. It would never catch on.
More fool me. A decade later and the crossover segment has expanded like an e-coli outbreak.
For all car companies like to boast about how exciting and imaginative they are, the industry's default position on product planning is always "me too!" Ideas are contagious, both good and bad, for the simple fact that development of any new model starts around three years in advance of a car going on sale. No manufacturer wants to miss out on what, if it fails to act at the first opportunity, might have turned out to be a hot new niche.
So when the Peugeot 206 CC and its low-cost retractable hardtop came out it took about five minutes for the chief exec of almost every rival manufacturer to order his boffins to "build me one of those", and five years later the market was flooded with overweight, ungainly folding roof cabrios. Go back a bit further and a similar mass hysteria followed the launch of the original Renault Megane Scenic, the first compact people-carrier, and the one that spawned a starting grid of mostly lacklustre rivals: remember the Nissan Almera Tino or Toyota Corolla Verso?
But this is bigger, and worse, crossover overload. Many are already out in the wild, dozens more of these not-quite SUVs set to hit the market in the next couple of years. The official logic is that buyers like them (fair enough) and that they can be sold around the world, even in territories that don't like hatchbacks. But they're also a sign of a startling lack of imagination.
Many are fractionally altered from each other. Volkswagen Group has stirred its MQB porridge pot to produce the very similar Volkswagen T-Roc, Skoda Karoq, Seat Ateca and Audi Q2, all of which understudy slightly bigger 'utes spun from the self same architecture.
Having just experienced the T-Roc I can report that it's a well engineered product that drives just as you'd expect, like a taller Golf or a slightly more agile Tiguan. It's well-equipped, reasonably practical, inoffensive to look at and - being a Volkswagen - set to be sold with some enticingly low monthly payments. The company reckons it will become its third biggest seller in the UK, behind Polo and Golf.
But it's also depressing. The T-Roc (and its ilk) trigger precisely none of the want-one buzz that proximity to shiny new metal normally sets off in me. In the same way that I never considered buying an MPV even when I really needed a car with more than five seats (opting for a 120,000-mile seven-seat Merc E-Class wagon instead) I've got no desire for any modern crossover, and doubt that will change even when the inevitable performance versions follow.
The fact that they tend to be taking the engineering resources that would normally be directed to create more interesting models adds insult to injury; the T-Roc has effectively taken the place in the VW hierarchy of the Scirocco. The market decided that one: the Coupe was selling in ever decreasing numbers and still sat on the Golf V platform, but it still feels like a loss. Maybe not liking crossovers will become a petrolhead shibboleth, a way of spotting a kindred spirit like the fetishization of manual gearboxes in unlikely vehicles in the 'States.
I'm not blaming manufacturers for following the money, but the groupthink means that crossovers are going to start to feel old quickly. People are being drawn to them because they are different, taller and more rugged than hatchbacks. But, at current rates, it won't be long until they become the norm, nothing more than default vehicles. At which point punters might opt to switch back to the lower, lighter cars that - as basic physics dictate - are always going to handle better.
That's what I'm hoping. But I've been wrong before.