Do luxury automakers really need to be in the CUV business?

Simply put, yes.

Not much to look at but loaded with space for growing families, the CUV has become a cash cow for premium automakers – hence Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati and Lamborghini on the verge of getting into the game.

CUVs are among the best-selling vehicles for Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Cadillac and, surprisingly, Porsche.

Could the premium German sports car maker have survived without the Cayenne? It makes up 40% of the brand’s U.S. sales (7,413 units through May), according to WardsAuto data, and is popular in China. The Cayenne outsells every other Porsche nameplate in the U.S. by a wide margin.

CUVs have become for luxury brands what pickup trucks are for the Detroit Three – essential. Exterior styling is not a major selling point for fullsize pickups, and yet three of them ranked among the six best-selling light vehicles in the U.S. in May.

The rising popularity of the luxury CUV demonstrates an important evolution among deep-pocketed consumers, who basically had two car flavors to choose from not long ago: They could opt for sporty good looks or sophisticated comfort.

The BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class and Lexus RX, which together ignited a new segment some 15 years ago, were a little of both, but bigger and more practical. The first batch of these lux-utes was trucky, awkwardly upright and lacked personality.

But each model redesign – along with the arrival of additional brands – found these vehicles growing comfortable in their own skin.

The new third-generation ’14 X5, which launched last fall, is a prime example. Relative to the prior model, the new CUV appears more wedge-like and benefits from a slightly lower roof and an amazingly short front overhang, and its sheet metal is deeply drawn.

Straight character lines have been replaced with ones that ebb and flow, particularly on the liftgate and surrounding the taillamps.

The front end of the previous model was disjointed, suffering from a perfectly horizontal line that left the lower fascia detached from the grille and headlights. The new front end is styled with emotion – without any horizontal separation – and the pinched headlamps convey more anger and tension. The X5 has a powerful presence.

The flowing aesthetic carries into the cabin, where familiar BMW interior styling cues and instrumentation layout are freshened up with more metallic trim, accent stitching and the availability of three new upholstery colors and a larger, brighter central display screen.