MOST FUN SUVS
A great way to evaluate new cars and SUVs is to drive them back-to-back on fun roads. Most consumers don’t have that luxury, but members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) get that experience on their annual Run to the Sun (RTTS) event.
This year journalists spent three days driving two-dozen highly varied cars and SUVs (as tested prices ranged from $28,985 to $427,875) hundreds of miles over stunningly scenic roads across Washington and Oregon.
The routes covered twisty mountain passes, the windy Columbia River Gorge, and the wide open Central Oregon high country. Venues varied from busy cities to desolate ghost towns.
Besides the mandate to have fun driving, the group was tasked with picking winners in four categories plus an overall Northwest Most Fun to Drive Vehicle. The categories were convertibles, coupes, sedans, and SUVs. This post covers the SUV class.
There was agreement among all drivers that coincidentally matched this author’s picks for overall category winners. I’ve gone further and listed my second and third choices. The remaining vehicles are listed alphabetically. There weren’t any bad choices—all six of these sport utility vehicles were fun for different reasons.
It wasn’t too long ago the sport utility vehicles were considerably more utilitarian than sporty, but these days 500-horsepower, big brakes, and athletic suspensions make many SUVs more like very large sports
cars that can also perform in nasty weather and accommodate the whole family.
WINNER: NORTHWEST MOST FUN SUV—2019 ALFA ROMEO STELVIO QUADRIFOGLIO AWD
MY FIRST CHOICE: 2019 ALFA ROMEO STELVIO QUADRAFOGLIO AWD
PRICE AS TESTED: $94,340
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is the sports car of SUVs. A twin-turbo V-6 produces a whopping 505-hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. It wasn’t too long ago that these numbers would have stunned sports car fans. The Alfa is much more than raw power—it also handles extremely well, far better than its size would suggest. As an SUV the Stelvio is also all weather, all-occasions practical–a combination that’s hard to beat.
MY SECOND CHOICE: 2020 FORD EXPLORER ST AWD
PRICE AS TESTED: $62.020
Ford has extended its performance ST moniker to the popular 2020 Explorer. It’s not as nimble as the Focus ST or Fiesta ST, but it’s plenty aggressive for a big SUV. The go-fast fun comes from the excellent twin-turbocharged 3-liter V-6 that produces 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. A 10-speed automatic and AWD get the power to the pavement. A roomy interior is a big plus.
MY THIRD CHOICE: 2020 ACURA RDX SH-AWD A-SPEC
PRICE AS TESTED: $46,795
The Acura RDX with the A-Spec trim adds 20-inch wheels plus unique interior and exterior touches. Even though Acura is Honda’s premium brand the RDX was actually the most affordable SUV at the event. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine only produces 272-hp, but it’s well managed thanks to the
excellent 10-speed automatic transmission. The RDX is very nicely balanced.
THE OTHER CONTENDERS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
2019 MERCEDES AMG G63
PRICE AS TESTED: $172,195
The Mercedes AMG G63 is a stunning engine (4.0-liter V-8 with 577-hp and 627 lb-ft or torque), an engineering marvel, luxury a plenty and an off-road superstar cloaked in a big, boxy body. As sleek and sexy as the Mercedes AMG GT 63 S is, the AMG G63 isn’t. The styling killed it for us, but it was powerful, luxurious, and fun pretending to be among the Hollywood/Beverly
Hills crowd that owns G63s.
2019 MINI JOHN COOPER WORKS COUNTRYMAN ALL4
PRICE AS TESTED: $50,610
Mini Coopers have been putting the fun in motoring for sixty years. We’ve owned several first
generation Minis and still have a strong emotional attachment, but their ever-expanding size puts us off. This JCW Edition is very nimble, especially compared to full-size SUVs and it’s still fun, athletic, and all-weather capable. The rally car decals were a bit much,
but they do relate to John Cooper.
2020 VOLVO XC90 T8 E-AWD INSCRIPTION
PRICE AS TESTED: $86,990
The Volvo XC90 is a beautiful car with a gorgeous interior. It would be an ideal long distance touring vehicle, because it’s so ergonomically attractive. The XC90 has impressive technology/safety
features and it’s very handsome. It handles twisty roads very well, but it put us in a more relaxed mood than it’s 400-hp and 472 lb-ft of torque would suggest.