Photos courtesy of Doug Berger, DB Pics

Run to the Sun is about spirited and enthusiastic driving. An event for the sporty, high horsepower, sleek lined rides in our lives that chug gasoline like its going out of style. And for 2018, an SUV took home top honors. To be fair, though, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio perfectly fits into the Run to the Sun program.

The Northwest Automotive Press Association presents this three-day driving bonanza. Mt. Hood Oregon Resort in Welches served as base camp and more than 525 miles of driving terrain served as classrooms for learning the secrets of 18 vehicles. From steep mountain passes to barren deserts and the underpopulated township of Shaniko, Ore. (with fantastic ice cream), or down to river gorges and back up canyon climbs, the roads are meant to test out the performance handling capabilities of the cars at hand.

Several cars driving down curvy roads at Run to the Sun.

“We had three days of spectacular weather, amazing roads, and many of the best performance cars that you can buy,” said NWAPA President John Vincent, a Consumer Advice Writer with U.S. News & World Report.

The lineup varied from sub-$30K to over $130K. Most of the journalists agreed that finding a favorite was hard. Each vehicle did what they were designed for to perfection. Run to the Sun compared 18 vehicles across four categories: Most Fun in the Sun, Most Fun Coupe, Most Fun Sports Sedan, and Most Fun SUV with an overall winner to top off the event.

Run to the Sun Categories

Northwest Most Fun Coupe

  • 2019 Toyota 86 TRD Special Edition
  • 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
  • 2019 Dodge Challenger RedEye
  • 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt
  • 2018 Ford Mustang GT

Northwest Most Fun SUV

  • 2019 Acura RDX A-Spec
  • 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
  • 2019 Maserati Levante GTS
  • 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC63 AMG

Northwest Most Fun in the Sun (Convertible)

  • 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata
  • 2018 Fiat 500 Cabrio Turbo

Northwest Most Fun Sports Sedan

  • 2018 Kia Stinger GT
  • 2019 Lexus ES 350 F Sport
  • 2018 BMW M5
  • 2018 Buick Regal GS
  • 2019 Genesis G70
  • 2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA
  • 2018 Volkswagen Passat GT

While it was difficult to decide upon a winner with so many great vehicles, but there can be only one winner of Run to the Sun (besides the 18 journalists that got to attend the event…).

Northwest Most Fun Coupe

The 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt eagerly ascends mountain passes at Run to the Sun.

There are plenty of fun coupes, but the rip-roaring winner of Run to the Sun’s Most Fun Coupe was the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt. The 475-horsepower, 5.0 engine and raucous exhaust echoed off the mountain passes as trees smoothly blurred past, thanks to the Magne-Ride dampening system. A fitting tribute to Bullitt’s legacy from execution to experience.

“The Bullitt Mustang is the perfect balance of performance, machismo and Americana. You’ll feel like Steve McQueen every time you walk toward it,” Tom Voelk of Driven perfectly sums up.

Northwest Most Fun SUV

The 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio poses in front of an old airplane during Run to the Sun.

To win the Most Fun SUV category, the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio duked it out with some major competition from Acura, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati. While all manufacturers paid attention to detail, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio’s blend of Italian design, corner-happy drive and powerful engine made it shine above the rest.

“Enthusiasts that dismiss crossovers simply haven’t driven this Alfa. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio plugs directly into your synapses in a way few sport sedans manage to do,” Voelk said.

Northwest Most Fun in the Sun

2019 Mazda MX=5 Miata on curvy roads during Run to the Sun.

Run to the Sun’s convertible section had only two entries this year and the 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata came out on top. Mazda has been given the 2019 MX-5 Miata 181 horsepower and the extra oomph really makes it come alive when exiting corners. The light-weight sports car seems more eager to eat up the road. This model was also equipped with the GT-S Package, which includes a limited-slip differential and a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks.

“As great as all the vehicles were in this event, you always wanted to be in the Miata when the road got twisty. It’s so much fun to drive that it always puts a smile on your face,” said AutoNXT’s Perry Stern.

Northwest Most Fun Sports Sedan

2019 BMW M5 near an airplane during Run to the Sun.

BMW has been the reining champion of sporty vehicles for decades, and the new BMW M5 is no exception. Powered by a 4.4-liter, M TwinPower turbo V8 and filled with plush finishes, this refined sports sedan is equally fit for the symphony or the open track day. Plus, when returning home after tracking the car, one can use the heated massage seats to work out any kinks in the spine before the Monday commute.

“It’s hard to imagine a more perfect sport sedan – seemingly unlimited power and grip in comfortable, stylish four-door,” Stern said.

Northwest Most Fun to Drive

2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio near Mt. Hood during Run to the Sun.

Even through stiff competition, the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio came out on top. For an SUV to win a sports car-oriented event proves that these larger vehicles can still perform the way a driver’s-driver wants them to handle. The Stelvio’s 2.9-liter, twin-turbo V6 engine belted out 505-horsepower, giving drivers an exhaust rumbling good time. Listen to tunes through the Harmon Kardon Premium audio system while cruising down the street in a leather-refined interior. And, when the mood suits, pop the Stelvio Quadrifoglio into Sport+, put your foot down and unleash this Italian-bred beast upon the landscape.

“Sounding a rip-roaring exhaust note, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio announced it was the vehicle to beat in this year’s event,” said Vincent. “With 505-horsepower on tap, plus a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and an electronically controlled suspension, the Stelvio was well-suited to both the vast straights and twisty canyons on the drive.”

The Auto Reporter will continue coverage of Run to the Sun with the upcoming “Days of Sun” special report series. Stay tuned for more glorious shots!

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Deanna Isaacs the owner, editor-in-chief and lead journalist at The Auto Reporter. She graduated from the University of Washington's Communication department in 2014 with a BA in Journalism. She enjoys sports cars, working on her classic two-seaters and long drives where she can annoy the husband. You can reach Deanna Isaacs using the Contact Us form: https://www.theautoreporter.com/contact/.