While they rule the roads and dominate car parks, modern SUVs have these legends to thank for the popularity of the high-riding family car. Yes, we've picked out 10 of the most iconic SUVs of all time, presented here in no particular order...
1. Range Rover Classic
The brainchild of Charles Spencer King, the Range Rover was intended to blend the comfort of a regular car with the off-road ability of a Land Rover. Development work began in 1967, as a response to the burgeoning off-roader market in the United States. In 1970, the Range Rover went on sale, marketed as “a car for all reasons”. Initially, the Range Rover was available only in three-door guise, powered by the 3,5-litre Rover V8 (an underpowered diesel came later). As the years went by, the British SUV became more luxurious, offering burr walnut interior inlays, an automatic gearbox and a larger 3,9-litre V8. Eventually, the three-door would fall away thanks to the popularity of the five-door model. Discontinued in 1994, the Range Rover Classic enjoyed an exceptionally long production run, with just over 325 000 examples sold worldwide.
2. Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen (G-Class)
Back in the mid 1970s, the Shah of Iran suggested Mercedes-Benz design and manufacture a capable off-roader. With the help of Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the first G-Class 4x4's started rolling off the production line in 1979. Initially available with an assortment of Mercedes-Benz petrol and diesel engines, the Geländewagen was an instant hit with armed forces across the world. However, like the Range Rover Classic, as time went by the G-Class became increasingly luxurious. Pretty soon, AMG laid their hands on the Austrian-built mountain climber. The popularity of the Geländewagen really took off with the introduction of the G55 AMG, which packed a 5,4-litre V8 under its vast bonnet. The year 2005 saw a power increase, from 270 kW to 350 kW, thanks to the standard fitment of a supercharger. Production ended in 2018, with Mercedes-Benz introducing a new model that manages to retain the original iconic styling and legendary off-road performance but infuse it with much needed on-road refinement.
3. Ford Bronco
Spanning three decades and the same number of models, the Ford Bronco became hugely popular, thanks to capable underpinnings and a competitive price. While the third generation found fame as O.J. Simpson's getaway car of choice, it was the first-generation Bronco that started the craze. To keep production costs down, all Broncos were four-wheel drive, fitted with a transfer case and locking hubs, which allow the front wheels to spin independently from the front axle when four-wheel drive is not needed. Between 1966 and 1977, the Bronco was offered with a straight-six (2,8-litre, upgraded to 3,3 litres in 1977) or the optional 4,7-litre Windsor V8. This, too, saw an increase in dsiplacement, growing to 4,9 litres in 1969. A three-speed manual was the only available transmission until 1973, when consumers demanded a two-pedal option. Just under 205 000 units of the first-generation Bronco were produced over 11 years, enjoying great popularity in its home market. The Blue Oval brand plans to bring the Bronco back to life later in 2020, ready to fight the new Jeep Wrangler.
4. Mercedes-Benz ML-Class (W163)
On face value, the original Mercedes-Benz ML doesn’t seem particularly remarkable. However, the original W163 can be credited for starting the luxury SUV craze. In 1997, the ML was launched into a marketplace with virtually no rivals. BMW’s X5 was still two years away, and Audi’s Q7 nearly a decade behind. Initially available with a 160 kW 3,2-litre V6, various diesel models and high-powered V8s such as the ML430 were later introduced. Tested in the May 1999 issue of CAR magazine, the ML430 impressed the team with its ride comfort and smooth V8, however the build integrity was questioned. Sadly, the original ML was never built to the standards Mercedes-Benz was then famous for and, as a result, various trim issues plagued the first American-built Benz. Thankfully, the W164 successor saw the return of the legendary three-pointed star quality. The AMG-tuned ML55 still has a special place in the heart of many motoring enthusiasts and can be considered a bargain AMG, with most examples selling for under R200 000. Even though the ML badge is no more, the spirit now lives on in the GLE.
5. BMW X5 (E53)
While the first-generation ML may be the original luxury soft-roader, it was the E53 X5 that brought athletic driving dynamics to the segment. Originally developed while BMW was in control of Land Rover, the E53 blended the best of BMW’s handling expertise with the ride height of the increasingly popular SUV. Despite the lofty X5 utilising all-wheel drive, most of the power was sent to the rear wheels. A number of engines were available; the sensible 3,0-litre straight-six petrol and diesel being the most popular choice. A 4,4-litre V8 was also made available. The year 2001 saw the introduction of the X5 4,6is, a 254 kW V8 that was more interested in carving mountain passes than gravel roads. Despite being the most dynamic SUV on sale back then, BMW went back to the drawing board and presented the 4,8is in 2004. An uprated V8 now sent 265 kW to all four wheels. Tested in the February 2005 issue of CAR magazine, it managed to reach 100 km/h in 7,46 seconds before topping out at 238 km/h. Middling figures in 2020, but impressive in 2005. New, the 4,8is would have set you back an eye-watering R748 000 (about the same as three Audi A4 2,0 models in Executive trim) but for most owners, the 4,8is must have been well worth it. After all, "the combination of size, crushing performance and luxury makes the driver feel invincible," as one tester described it.
6. Land Rover Series I
Introduced to the world at the 1948 Amsterdam Motor Show, the original Series I Land Rover boasted a humble 1,6-litre four-cylinder engine producing 37 kW. Engineered and designed by Maurice Wilks (known for his work with gas turbine engines), the Series I was intended to be a bare bones, practical off-road vehicle. A short wheelbase of just 2 032 mm and an overall length of 3 353 mm meant the original Land Rover was perfect for scaling inclines in the hilly English countryside. While many appreciated the utilitarian approach of the Series I (even the doors and roof were optional extras) there were some customers who preferred a few more creature comforts. Just a year after its debut, Land Rover turned to Tickford coachbuilders, who were tasked with adding an element of civility to the Series I. A wooden-framed body now had space for seven people instead of two, incorporating interior features such as a heater and leather seats. The year 1958 saw the Series II replace the original Land Rover, a car that eventually morphed into the ever-popular Defender.
7. Toyota Land Cruiser (J80)
Widely regarded as the best Land Cruiser of them all, the 80 redefined what the large off-roader was. Rugged, dependable and hugely capable, the J80 was also blessed with unburstable mechanicals and refinement never before seen in a Land Cruiser. Available with either a petrol or diesel straight-six, the Land Cruiser was at its most powerful with a 1FZ-FE 4,5-litre petrol engine under the bonnet. Some 157 kW and 373 N.m of torque didn't send it racing down the road, but rather wrestling rough terrain with ease, or happily negotiating rocks and boulders on a mountain track. The J80 was (and still is) unstoppable. Enjoying great success in Australia, the J80 is still a firm favourite Down Under, with many racking up hundreds of thousands of kilometres in the Outback. Available for those who preferred the finer things in life was the LX 450, the Land Cruisers' twin brother from Lexus. Aside form a few minor exterior and interior treatments, the vehicles are identical. Interestingly, the J80 was manufactured in Venezuela until 2008, due to its popularity as a workhorse.
8. Land Rover Discovery Series I
It was the late 1980s and Land Rover was doing well. The Range Rover was gaining popularity in the US, appealing to well-heeled customers who needed something equally at home on their estate as it was shuttling them to the opera. On the other side of the coin, the Defender was satisfying those with the need to explore the Sahara or tackle the Amazon rainforest. But what about those in the middle? Enter the Discovery. For the first time in the marque's history, the new boy was designed as an on-road family car that happened to have the off-road ability of its siblings. When launched, the Discovery was three-door only, with a more conventional five-door model arriving in 1991. Pre-94 models were available with either the 2,5-litre 200 Tdi or 3,5-litre petrol V8. Later updates saw the uprated Rover 4,0-litre V8 fitted. It may not have been sprightly, but it emitted a wonderful V8 growl. The Discovery earned the affections of deep-pocketed families and explorers the world over, and is currently in its fifth generation. Interestingly, the Discovery I was sold as the Honda Crossroad in the Japanese market.
9. Willys Jeep CJ-2A
"America's greatest contribution to modern warfare" is how US army General George Marshall described the tough off-roader that had come to be known as the Jeep. During World War II, just under 648 000 units of the Willys Jeep had been built. While very popular as a classic car amongst enthusiasts, the original was never actually for sale to the general public. With the war coming to an end, Willys engineers started to look at how the army hero could be adapted for civilian life. Between 1944 and 1945, a number of CJ2 protypes were produced and not long after that came the CJ-2A. A 45 kW 2,2-litre inline-four sent its power to all four wheels via a three-speed manual gearbox. Due to the utilitarian design, many were fitted with only a mirror and seat for the driver. Even today, the practical design lives on in the Wrangler and various other Jeep models.
10. Nissan Patrol (Y61)
Whether it's trekking through the hot Australian Outback, serving as transport for the United Nations or blasting up sand dunes in the Middle East, the Patrol is recognised worldwide. First seen in late 1997, the Patrol was made available with a range of diesel engines and two petrols. At the top of the line-up sat the TB48DE, a 4,8-litre straight-six. While examples may have left the factory with 185 kW and 420 N.m of torque, many in the Middle East have been tuned to produce in excess of 1000 kW. These are mostly used for off-road races and tearing up the dunes. Built to an exceptionally high standard, the Patrol has found favour with many off-road enthusiasts and people who require a hard-working vehicle. To this day, the Y61 Patrol is still produced in many countries, a testament to their popularity.
Which SUV do you think has attained legendary status? Let us know below in the comments...