Sport utility vehicles have come a long way. No longer are they warmed-rigs work rigs that bounce over bumps and steer like a battleship.
In fact, there are loads of good offerings if you’re looking for a SUV that’ll haul more than cargo. But in my experience, nothing does it with quite the gusto and style of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. And that’s why it won the Performance SUV category at Northwest Automotive Press Association’s 13th annual Run to the Sun.
Whenever I’m behind the wheel of this Italian stallion, I can’t help but thing of my first assessment of this glorious Alfa. Namely, that it’s an attractive, practical people mover which has been wholly — and enthusiastically — possessed by Satan. Because there’s just no way this vehicle should handle as well as it does, or provide such fantastic feel through the wheel.
That’s to say nothing of the otherworldly shriek of the 505 horsepower 2.9-liter V6 when you select race mode from the performance settings, it truly is magical, in a black magic kind of way.
After banging through the gears and listening to it snarl and bark like some kind of demonic emissary, all I could do when I got out was laugh. And I wasn’t alone. The mischievous glee this machine inspires is as contagious as it is bottomless. What an absolute hoot it is to drive.
2019 Run to the Sun: Performance SUVs
2020 Acura RDX A-Spec
Out of all the Performance SUVs at this year’s even, the Acura RDX A-Spec was my second favorite. I think the exterior lines look sharp, the cockpit has a performance feel, and in the bends, it was easy to make it hustle, thanks the trick all-wheel drive system. Folks who opt to buy one of these babies also get the benefit the rock-solid build quality which Acura has built its reputation on.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged motor good for 272 ponies, and while I think the chassis could handle more poke, the RDX certainly never feels slow. Overall, this is a great machine for people looking to balance the practicality of a crossover with engaging driving dynamics.
2019 Ford Explorer ST
The Explorer ST is the first performance SUV from the Blue Oval, and the engineers didn’t mess around. Under the hood, there’s a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 which pumps out 400 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque. According to Ford, that’s enough to propel it 60 mph in a scant 5.2 seconds, and hit a top speed of 143 mph.
For those keeping score at home, those are serious numbers. In the ST, the grunt gets send to all four corners via a ten-speed automatic, though standard models are rear wheel drive. While it didn’t actually feel light on its feet, all the power on tap made the latest generation Explorer move forward with authority, and the new styling makes it my favorite version of the venerable SUV yet.
2019 Mercedes-AMG G63
There’s no doubt about it — for 2019, the wizard at Mercedes-Benz have improved the handling of the G-Wagen in a way that almost defies belief.
The last time I drove a G-Class was at Mudfest, and I was blown away by how it was completely unconcerned with any of the obstacles on the extreme course. Seriously, this is one of the most capable off-road machines I’ve ever experienced. Outside of a natural disaster or the apocalypse, it’s unlikely most buyers would ever witness exactly just how well it’ll traverse tricky terrain. That said, the last version I drove more like a tractor on pavement — and I’m happy to report that’s been corrected.
A corner carver, the G-Class is never going to be. But the latest version is a revelation, in how well it balances on- and off-road manners. It’s also done it without sacrificing any of the beefy good looks that have made it an icon.
2019 Mini Countryman JCW
It says a lot that the designers at BMW have been able to continuously increase the side of the Mini, while keeping the stylish looks. Next year, this maxi version of the John Cooper Works Mini will get a serious power bump, to 301 horsepower, though the version I drove was only packing 228 ponies.
Still, it was fun to drive along Oregon’s twisty roads, though I think something with relatively modest power and — given the company — proportions is far better suited to a three-pedal set up than the automatic my tester featured. I also appreciated the funky interior design, and just generally plucky style of the Mini.
With nearly 300 horsepower the forthcoming version should be an exhilarating machine to drive, so I’m itching to get my hands on it.
2020 Volvo XC90 T8
Full disclosure: I learned to drive on a Volvo, so I have a soft spot for the company. And I’ve also liked what they’ve been up to in recent years, in regards to their style and interior appointments.
So while the hybrid T8 doesn’t have some of the driving chops that other vehicles on this list have, I still found lots to like. It’s beautiful, comfortable, and thanks to its hybrid powertrain, will save you at the pump. Overall, the cabin was a nice place to be, and the material quality and fit and finish were excellent. With the XC90, Volvo has proved it’s not just a niche manufacturer looking to populate the faculty lot at your local liberal arts college, but a proper luxury player.
That rounds out the competitors in the Performance SUV! But there are plenty more where that came from! Head here for a full list of cars and categories from 2019 Run to the Sun!
NWAPA (www.nwapa.org) is a professional organization of automotive journalists and media members from throughout the Pacific Northwest and Southwest Canada. Founded in 1991, NWAPA includes 54 voting members representing more than 700 newspapers, magazines, radio stations, media groups, and the internet. Members of the organization have been testing SUVs and crossovers since the advent of the modern sport-utility vehicle in the mid-1990s. Non-voting NWAPA members include representatives from automotive manufacturers and related industry professionals.