Mudfest SUV of the Year Competition

May 24, 2016


Pushing a car to its limit is a great way to find its strengths and weaknesses. The only thing better? Doing it with someone else’s vehicle.

Let’s face it; a precious few take their crossovers and SUVs out into the wilderness to bounce off boulders and fjord streams. Buyers do want to know that it can be done though.

To discover this, the members of the Northwest Auto Press Association have organized a two-day competition called Mudfest. This event, now in it’s 20th year, is dedicated to finding the best crossovers and SUVs. For 2014, NWAPA rounded up 23 rigs from 16 manufacturers. 25 automotive journalists are on hand to critique every single dirt encrusted vehicle.

Here’s how it works- Day one is spent looking at exterior design, features, interior function, application of technology, and EPA fuel efficiency numbers. The vehicles are driven-flogged really- on a short autocross-style handling course to test braking and handling.

To rate comfort and wind noise, we trek along a scenic five-mile section of highway outside Dirt Fish Rally School in Snoqualmie, WA where the event is held. Many of these vehicles never see a dirt road, so this first day is probably most important.

Day two, dedicated to assessing off-road capability, is more fun though. A Nissan Rogue isn’t expected to take on the same severe terrain as a Jeep Wrangler so there are two off-road courses. Most vehicles are pointed towards the easier trail that is much like a poorly maintained forest service road. Many owners would think twice about driving their vehicles through ruts and standing water at the pace most of us keep. Remember, they’re not our vehicles.

The second more intense course challenges approach and departure angles, ground clearance, and wheel articulation. This is for the Jeep Grand Cherokee ECODiesel, Cherokee Trailhawk, Toyota 4Runner, and Land Rover Range Rover Sport, though I swear I saw the chartreuse Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid noodling around on it.

It is a herculean task to bring all of these vehicles to one place and have 25 fully caffeinated automotive writers hammer on them for two days. Not a single vehicle had to be pulled from the competition due to breakage. I highly suggest watching the video to get an idea of how thorough the testing is. Driving and assessing these crossovers back-to-back is a huge benefit for us because chassis dynamics, features, and prices remain fresh to mind. If only this opportunity were available for consumers…

It’s unfair for a Ford Escape to compete with a Land Rover Range Rover, so there are five different categories plus the coveted 2014 Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year award that goes to the overall winner.

Disappointed to find the crossover you’re interested in isn’t in the competition? That’s because the manufacture for some reason chose not to enter it into Mudfest. Notably absent are the new Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe (a winner last year).

Below you’ll find a list of competitors. The winners-with some surprises- are announced on the video. Hey, there will be no spoilers here.

NWAPA Mudfest 2014 Event Vehicles

Compact Utility Vehicle

Nissan Rogue SV AWD
Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD
Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD
Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
Ford Escape Titanium 4WD
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4

Family Utility Vehicle

Honda Pilot
Nissan Pathfinder PLT 4x4
Mitsubishi Outlander SE S-AWC
Dodge Journey Crossroad
Chevy Tahoe 4WD LTZ
Dodge Durango Limited AWD
Kia Sorento SX AWD

Premium Compact Utility Vehicle

Mercedes GLK25O BlueTEC 4MATIC
Volvo XC60 T6 AWD

Premium Standard Utility Vehicle

Lexus GX46O
Acura MDX Advance AWD
Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4x4
BMW X5 xDrive35d
VW Touareg TDI Sport

Extreme Capability Vehicle

Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport
Land Rover Range Rover HSE 

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