2017 NWAPA Run to the Sun – Part 1

Part 1 – Acura NSX to Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk

By Bill Schaffer

Mount Hood — Driving 24 different cars and SUVs over a two-day period on some of the most challenging and scenic roads in the northwest, is certainly an eye-opening experience. Oh, did I mention that the 24 cars had an average price of $75,000 each and an average 414 horsepower?

Such is the life of an automotive journalist attending the annual Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) Run to the Sun.

My wife Barbara and I have been members of NWAPA for more than a dozen years and the Run to the Sun is one of three premier programs put on by the association. This year Barb opted out of the event, but I represented us…someone had to do it.

This year 24 participating journalists drove 24 of the most interesting cars and performance SUVs available in the U.S. market on the 24 legs of a 525-mile route.

The event was based out of a resort in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Hood and the drive took us through the Cascade mountain range where we passed 10 volcanic peaks, traversed deep canyons, crossed spectacular prairies and ended by winding our way back to Portland, OR down the famous Columbia River Gorge.

Here is a list of the participating vehicles from Acura NSX to Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk in alphabetical order with a bit of information about each. (The prices are rounded to the nearest thousand.)

Acura NSX — $202,000, 570-horsepower.
This is the long-awaited reincarnation of Acura’s famous supercar. It uses a hybrid drive train with a twin-turbo V-6 engine and three electric motors. The NSX accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.1 seconds and has a top speed of 191 mph. Plus, it’s probably the easiest supercar there is to drive.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio — $54,000, 280-hp.
I hadn’t had a chance to drive the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan, but heard great reports on it. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is like the SUV equivalent of the Giulia. The small SUV was fun to drive, very responsive and it felt solidly built. It’s quick, making the 0 to 60 mph run in 5.4 seconds. I look forward to spending more time in this one.

Audi SQ5 3.0T quattro tiptronic — $61,000, 354-hp.
I’ve always thought the Audi Q5 was one of the best of the smaller SUVs, but the higher performance SQ5 adds a new dimension with a big boost in performance and drivability. With its 5.1 second 0 to 60 mph time and a top speed of 127 mph the SQ5 feel more like a high-performance sport sedan.

BMW M550i xDrive — $99,000, 456-hp
BMW wrote the book on performance sedans with the M series and this one is the patriarch of the line. The twin-turbocharged V-8 engine is wickedly fast accelerating to 60 mph in a mere 3.8 seconds (the top speed is limited to 155 mph). I don’t always agree with the way BMW sets up their controls, so I often get frustrated when I drive one, however, I must admit, there is nothing that drives like a BMW, and the M550i is an outstanding example of the “Ultimate Driving Machine.”

BMW X4 M40i — $67,000, 355-hp.
With its sweeping roofline, it’s hard to tell if the BMW X4 is an SUV or a tall Sport Sedan. Either way I like the compact size and the typical BMW handling and performance. Because it’s an “M” it gets the engine, suspension and other upgrades that pop it up to the level better suited for serious drivers. It takes only 4.4 seconds for a 0 to 60 mph run, and its top speed is limited to 150 mph.

Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport — $99,000, 460-hp.
More than ever, the Corvette shows that the classic sportscar design can compete with the sophisticated supercars. The event car was a limited-edition model (650 units) with an intensive use of carbon fiber in 65 visible locations to celebrate Corvette’s 65th anniversary. It’s fast, producing a 0 to 60 mph run in 3.7 seconds and a top speed of 170 mph.

Dodge Challenger Hellcat Widebody — $76,000, 707-hp.
Where else can you get a 707-hp coupe that accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and tops out at 199 mph? WOW. It’s a brute, but very drivable. Sitting up on massive wheels and tires I expected it to be more tentative in the corners, but it handles beautifully and goes like a bullet in the stretches.

Dodge Durango SRT 392 — $73,000, 475-hp.
Don’t be fooled by the 392 nomenclature, it’s a 475-hp Hemi under the hood and it acts and sounds like one. The distinctive big 6.4-liter V-8 engine sounds powerful and it is, accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds (top speed 155 mph). That’s impressive for a full-size six-passenger, 5,400-pound SUV. It’s beautifully appointed and quick like the Dodge Boys want it to be.

Ford Focus RS — $40,000, 350-hp.
The Focus RS borders on race car with its highly modified 2.3-liter turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. I think this is a car you could use for big time rally racing by just adding the required safety equipment. It’s a fascinating car and it was an experience to drive. It accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds and has a top speed of 165 mph. It’s an amazing car for the money but certainly not a car I’d want as an everyday driver.

Genesis G80 AWD 3.3T Sport — $59,000, 365 hp.
I must admit a bias here. Barbara and I are thinking about buying a car for the first time in 29 years, and the one we are leaning toward is the Genesis G80 Sport. We like it because it’s luxurious and has all the features we want (which is a bunch) as standard equipment. The 10-year, 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty and concierge service are another big plus. The G80 Sport accelerates for 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds and has a top speed of 135 mph.

Honda Civic Type R — $35,000, 306-hp.
Imagine a Honda Civic with a 306-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. I couldn’t believe it either, plus it is also very civilized and didn’t act like some super-modified hot rod…although it performed like one. Imagine accelerating for 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds or climbing to a 170-mph top speed in a Honda Civic!

Infiniti Q60 Red Sport 400 — $57,000, 400-hp
The Q60 is a remarkably sophisticated luxury sedan with all the features and technologies Barb and I love. Add twin turbochargers to the super smooth 3.0-liter V-6 engine and suddenly it becomes an Autobahn racer. It’s a refined sedan that just happens to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, and has a top speed of 155 mph.

Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk — $101,000, 707-hp.
This is the OMG vehicle of the Run to the Sun. Can you believe a $101,000 Jeep and 707 horsepower? This is the ultimate on-road Jeep – it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in only 3.5 seconds and has a top speed of 180 mph. Don’t think it’s lost its “Jeep-ability” either, it has a 7,200-pound towing capacity and can still do some serious off-road trekking. Even with the engine, brake and suspension upgrades it still very comfortable and civilized. This is taking Jeep to the max.

Watch for Part 2 with cars from Lexus to Volkswagen in a few days.

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