2015 ‘Mudfest’ — Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGreat Muddy Debate
Every year members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association gather the latest SUVs and crossovers to determine the top performers of the model year, in what is commonly referred to as “Mudfest.” The vehicles get put through their paces in both on- and off-road situations, in some pretty extreme conditions. This year pickup trucks joined the field for the first time in the event’s history — a logical addition considering the widespread popularity of trucks, not only in the Northwest but throughout the U.S.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWide Range of Vehicles
A total of 27 vehicles competed in the event, ranging from the tiny Honda HR-V to the monstrous Ram 2500 Power Wagon — but it was the all-new Jeep Renegade that took top honors as Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year. Before the Jeep could win, all vehicles went through two days of testing at the hands of 25 automotive journalists. Here’s a look at how the event went down, and which vehicles emerged at the top of their respective classes.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn-Road Performance Testing
The first day of testing took place on a decommissioned runway at Sanderson Field in Shelton, Washington. Journalists put the 27 vehicles through a prescribed course and ranked the vehicles based on how they performed everyday tasks, including parking, emergency maneuvers and braking.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceParking Test
Although parking in a designated spot seems like a simple feat, journalists confirmed that some activity vehicles are much easier to park than others. Try backing a Ram Power Wagon into a narrow parking spot without the benefit of a rearview camera — a potentially nerve-racking task. Not surprisingly, most of the vehicles tested have rearview cameras; some even have an all-around view, which makes squeezing into tight spots a breeze. Our friendly inflatable dinosaur let us know if we backed up too far.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSlalom Test
Although most SUV and pickup drivers won’t be doing such extreme side-to-side maneuvering, a slalom course provides some indication of how the suspension, tires and stability control systems handle emergency maneuvers. The goal was to drive through the slalom course at 40 mph — some vehicles were more successful than others. As expected, smaller vehicles such as the Mazda CX-5 or Ford Edge negotiated the cones at higher speeds than larger entries such as the Cadillac Escalade, but ultimately the high-performance sporty offerings such as the BMW X5/X6 M really excelled.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBraking Test
The end of the runway at Sanderson Field became a braking zone. Journalists accelerated each vehicle to 40 mph, and at a designated point they stomped the brakes and cohorts measured the distance to full stop. All participating vehicles have anti-lock brakes, which made even the longest stopping distances relatively short. It was reassuring to confirm that every vehicle performed well during emergency braking.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff-Road Testing
On the second day of testing, the fleet of outdoor activity vehicles gathered at the Tahuya Offroad Area near Tahuya, Washington. In typical Northwest fashion, the weather was cold and rainy — perfect for checking out the capabilities and comforts of these vehicles in an off-road setting. Testing took place on two courses — one that the lightest crossovers could handle, and another that required considerably more ground clearance and off-road capability.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLight Off-Roading
The course most vehicles experienced consisted of a pothole-ridden gravel/muddy road that could be driven at speeds up to 40 mph, as well as a trail through the woods. The woodland route featured some tight turns, slick surfaces and deep water — some of the “puddles” were more than a foot deep. We fully realize many of the small crossovers tested, such as the Buick Encore and Mercedes GLA, will never be driven through such mucky conditions, but it’s nice to know they have the capability if ever called upon to do so.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDifficult Off-Roading
The harder off-road section featured uneven terrain, steep hills and some very narrow sections. The rain came down steadily all day, which meant surfaces were extremely slick and some very deep water pooled on the course. The vehicles with hill-climbing and hill-descending abilities demonstrated their superior agility on the loose, wet trails. Automaker representatives determined which vehicles were able to take on the tougher route — this group included the Ram 1500 Power Wagon, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Renegade, Land Rover Discovery Sport and Toyota 4Runner TRD. These vehicles have sophisticated 4WD systems and plenty of ground clearance, as well as hill-descent control and terrain-response systems.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWinner —- Best Compact
The all-new Jeep Renegade Trailhawk earned the top spot among the compact SUVs. The vehicle we tested was priced at $30,195. Although most compact SUVs are often referred to as “cute utes,” the Renegade easily handled the tougher off-road course, thanks to higher ground clearance, skidplates and its Selec-Terrain traction system. Renegade’s small size makes it more agile and maneuverable both on pavement and off-road. Other competitors in this group were the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Mazda CX-5 and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWinner — Best Premium Compact
Land Rover’s sole entry in this year’s competition was the new Discovery Sport. Discovery Sport is the first in a new line of affordable (relatively speaking) Land Rovers that combines an expected premium interior with impressive off-road capability. Priced at $50,250, the Discovery Sport was the most expensive in a class of competitors that also included the Buick Encore, Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and Volvo V60 Cross Country.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWinner —Best Family SUV
Jeep has a well-deserved reputation for building capable SUVs, so it’s no big surprise that two Jeeps earned the top spots in their respective classes. The Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, priced at $37,614, took top honors among Family SUVs. Cherokee was the overall winner at Mudfest 2014. Other vehicles in this group included the Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Nissan Murano and Subaru Outback.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWinner — Best Premium SUV
This year’s group of Premium SUVs varied most in price and size. After all votes were tallied, the Acura MDX claimed victory in this competitive category. Priced at $58,000, the MDX feels very high tech, from its jewel-eye LED headlights to the multi-screen display inside. Like most vehicles in the Premium class, it feels more at home on the road than in the mud. Other Premium competitors were the BMW X5 M, BMW X6 M, Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz ML400 and Volkswagen Touareg.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWinner — Best Pickup
The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel Outdoorsman Crew Cab earned the top spot in the first-ever Mudfest pickup truck class. It certainly isn’t cheap — this one we tested retails for $50,790 — but it offers a roomy, comfortable and versatile cabin. The diesel powerplant also impresses; it’s quiet, powerful and rated at 27 mpg on the highway — unheard of mpg for a full-size 4X4 pickup truck. The rest of the pickup truck lineup included the Ford F-150, GMC Canyon and Toyota Tundra TRD Pro.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWinner — Best Extreme Capability
There were only two entries in this category for 2015; the Ram 2500 Power Wagon Crew Cab took top honors. This truck has bold looks to match its extreme capability, and with a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 engine, 14 inches of ground clearance, a standard front-mounted winch and off-road suspension, the Power Wagon feels like it can go anywhere. The only other entry in this class was also impressive: the Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro.

© Northwest Automotive Press AssociationWinner — Best Overall
The new Jeep Renegade earned the most first-place votes from participating journalists, and is the 2015 Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year. The small vehicle’s great combination of on-road drivability, off-road capability, comfortable interior and attractive packaging helped it earn the top spot among many strong contenders. Renegade only recently arrived in showrooms, and it promises to be a big hit for Jeep — in the U.S. as well as worldwide.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMore from Mudfest
Continue on for more photos from Mudfest 2015.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceToyota 4Runner TRD Pro

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLand Rover Discovery Sport

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMercedes-Benz ML400

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMitsubishi Outlander Sport

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceVolvo V60 Cross Country

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda CX-5

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBMW X5 M

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Cherokee Trailhawk

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceToyota Tundra TRD Pro

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFord F-150

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceToyota 4Runner TRD Pro

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceVolvo V60 Cross Country

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceHonda HR-V

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMercedes-Benz GLA250

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGMC Canyon

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFord F-150

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceVolkswagen Touareg

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience BMW X6 M

© Northwest Automotive Press Association Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLexus NX F Sport

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceKia Sorento

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRam 2500 Power Wagon

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNissan Murano

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience Nissan Murano

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceKia Sorento

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMercedes-Benz CLA250

© Northwest Automotive Press AssociationJeep Cherokee Trailhawk

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRam 1500 EcoDiesel

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRam 2500 Power Wagon

Tagged under

1 Comment

  1. Baba M

    That looked like it was lots of fun. Amazing that none of the vehicles
    “drowned” in all that deep water.

Luxury

Most Expensive New Cars in America

Feast your eyes on these high-priced rid…

Read more

SUV

Most Fuel-Efficient 4WD SUVs

These 25 4WD utility vehicles are miserl…

Read more

Enthusiast

2017 Frankfurt Motor Show: High-Performance Rides

Big power continues to command attention…

Read more