Mudfest puts SUVs to a true Northwest test

Kids aren’t the only people who play in mud, but when adults do it their toys are way more expensive.

“Mudfest” is the name of the Northwest Automotive Press Association’s (NWAPA) annual Sport Utility Vehicle of the Year competition, in which automakers are invited to enter their newest SUVs to compete in a two-day event that tests the vehicles on a skidpad, on paved roads, and off-road. Participating NWAPA members do the driving and scoring, then turn in their individual ballots for tallying at the end of day two. A winner is selected in each of five different categories, and one vehicle is declared the overall winner.

To reflect consumer and industry trends away from true SUVs in favor of crossover vehicles, this year the competition’s explanatory title was changed to the Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year competition.

Mudfest 2013 took place April 17-18 at the 310-acre DirtFish Rally School site in Snoqualmie. This was the third consecutive year at DirtFish and the 19th year for Mudfest, which has been held at various locations in Washington and Oregon throughout its history.

Twenty-three vehicles were entered this year, and 31 NWAPA members participated. The five vehicle categories were Compact Class, Luxury Compact Class, Family Class, Luxury Class, and Off-road Class. Vehicles were evaluated for their on-road ride and handling, powertrain, braking, exterior design, interior comfort and function, application of technology, off-pavement handling and capability, fuel efficiency, and value.

A moderate off-road course with bumps, ruts, gravel and tight turns was created for vehicles in the first four categories. Vehicles entered in the Off-road Class competed on a much more difficult course designed specifically for evaluating axle articulation, approach angles, 4×4 technology, and general ability to soldier on regardless.

Both off-road courses also included lots of mud. I’ve participated in 17 Mudfests, and have loved them all. But too much rain, or no rain and therefore no mud, cuts into the fun. For Mudfest 2013, conditions were ideal: some rain before the event and some rain overnight during the event – ensuring plenty of mud – but mainly dry skies and even full sunshine while we drove and tested.

As it is every year, competition was fierce, with near ties in a couple of categories. But the scoring system prevents ties by having all drivers list their first, second and third choice in every category.

And now for a wince-worthy cliche: The envelope, please.

The category winners are:

  • Compact Class: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T
  • Luxury Compact Class: 2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech
  • Family Class: 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium CVT
  • Luxury Class: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland
  • Off-road Class: 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 10th Anniversary 4×4

And the overall winner, the Northwest Automotive Press Association’s 2013 Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year: the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland.

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