2016 ‘Mudfest’ — Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMudfest
Every year for more than 20 years, the Northwest Automotive Press Association gathers the latest SUVS and crossovers to determine the utility vehicles at the top of their game, during an event commonly referred to as “Mudfest.” This year 26 automotive journalists from the Pacific Northwest region participated in two days of SUV testing under all types of weather and road conditions — including plenty of mud. Since pickup trucks are the best-selling vehicles in America each year — and considering their popularity among drivers in the Pacific Northwest — a pickup category was added to the mix last year.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRepeat Winner
A total of 28 vehicles entered the competition for 2016, ranging from small crossovers to full-size off-road pickup trucks. Ultimately the legendary Jeep Grand Cherokee 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 more than two dozen NWAPA journalists. Here’s how the event went down, and which vehicles emerged at the top of their respective categories.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCategories
Vehicles get divided into six categories: Compact, Premium Compact, Family, Premium, Extreme Capability and Pickup Truck. All of the models participating are either all-new or recently redesigned. A winner is chosen for each category, and finally an overall winner gets crowned.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNew Venue
Testing took place over two days at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Washington. During the first day of testing, journos put the vehicles through their paces on a paved handling course. Since many SUVs and trucks will never actually leave the road, this pavement portion has become just as important as the off-road testing on the second day.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn-Road Testing
Employing The Ridge’s freshly-paved go-kart track, NWAPA members had the opportunity to see how the vehicles handle acceleration, braking, cornering and emergency maneuvers on a closed course. The course had several elevation changes and some tight corners that provided a close proximity to the type of real-world situations these vehicles may encounter in the hands of a consumer.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceParking
Often considered one of the most difficult tasks of living with a large SUV, parking ease is part of the NWAPA’s scoring process. Most of the new models tested offer some type of backup camera — and in some cases multiple cameras — which makes the task considerably easier. NWAPA’s brave inflatable dinosaur was present to ensure we didn’t back up too far.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInto the Mud
The second day of Mudfest was designated for off-road testing. Typical of the Pacific Northwest in spring, heavy rains fell overnight and into the morning. The event’s muddy nickname was certainly earned this year. The off-road course was designed to showcase the comfort as well as the capabilities of these vehicles when the pavement disappears. For many of these SUVs and crossovers, this day of off-road testing probably presented the most mud their tires will ever track. The course was divided into two paths — one for more common crossovers and the other for those vehicles with more extreme capabilities.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOff-Road Light
The “light” off-road path was still pretty tough. It required 4-wheel drive since there were several sections containing extremely slick mud. The track included tight maneuvers, slippery conditions, hill climbing and steep descents. Many of the vehicles tested have hill-descent control, a feature that was thoroughly tested on the steep, slick downhill portions of the track.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceLow Ground Clearance
Every vehicle was able to make it through the course; although many smaller crossovers feature sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems, they often lack the ground clearance needed for muddy conditions. Several vehicles did a bit of plowing through the mud — but no test vehicles were damaged.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceExtreme Off-Road
Vehicles with high ground clearance, low-range 4-wheel drive and locking differentials followed a slightly different path. Inclines were steeper, water was deeper and there were a number of tasks set up for these vehicles to reveal how well they could handle rough terrain.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBest Compact — 2016 Mazda CX-3
Version Tested: Grand Touring AWD
Price as Equipped: $27,640
The smallest crossover in the Mazda lineup took the top honors in this hotly-contested class. On the road course the CX-3 stood out for its sporty handling and quick-shifting automatic transmission. When we took to the mud, the CX-3 benefited from its “predictive” i-ACTIV AWD system. This system takes into account 27 different types of data including outside temperature, wiper operation, incline, steering angle, individual wheel speeds, gas pedal position and more. The result is very little wheelspin — even when conditions get extremely slick. The Mazda’s only difficulty on the off-road course came from its low ground clearance — the small crossover kept digging into the mud with its lower fascia, but it still kept pushing through.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceCompact Utility Vehicle Entries
Fiat 500X
Kia Sportage
Mazda CX-3
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Subaru XV Crosstrek
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBest Premium Compact — 2016 Volvo V60 Cross Country
Version Tested: T5 AWD
Price as Equipped: $49,775
Granted, a Volvo wagon is THE archetypical family car, but this V60 Cross Country is so much more. The latest in a line of crossover wagons from Volvo that started with the V70 XC, the V60 brings a lot to the table. The attractive interior contains arguably the most comfortable seats in the industry, and of course this Volvo offers the latest in safety technology. The XC has almost 8 inches of ground clearance — which was a definite plus in off-road testing — but didn’t take away from the Volvo’s performance on the handling course. Off-road the electronic all-wheel drive with “Instant Traction” worked flawlessly, and the standard Hill Descent Control enabled easy, controlled descents.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePremium Compact Utility Vehicle Entries
Acura RDX
BMM X1
Volkswagen Tiguan
Volvo V60 Cross Country

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBest Family — 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Version Tested: Limited 75th Anniversary Edition Diesel
Price as Equipped: $51,315
The Jeep brand is synonymous with off-roading, so it’s no surprise to see the Grand Cherokee winning its class. The 5-passenger SUV has been offering great 4-wheel drive capability since it was introduced back in 1993. This current Grand Cherokee makes use an impressive 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 engine that delivers up to 28 mpg, and has a towing capacity of more than 7,000 pounds. An added bonus — it runs so quietly most drivers may not even realize it’s a diesel. With plenty of torque available at low rpm, the Grand Cherokee has plenty of power for on-road as well as off-road activities. The 75th Anniversary package adds a stylish interior, a number of extra features as well as special 20-inch wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFamily Utility Vehicle Entries
Ford Explorer
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Kia Sorento
Mitsubishi Outlander

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBest Premium — 2016 Volvo XC60
Version tested: T6 AWD Drive-E
Price as Equipped: $52,505
The second Volvo to win its class at this year’s Mudfest, the XC60 is a contemporary 5-passenger crossover with an attractive interior and a very unusual powertrain. The XC60’s 2.0-liter engine puts out an amazing 302 horsepower because it is both supercharged AND turbocharged. This unique setup allows for smooth power from a standstill with no turbo lag, and a fuel-efficient 27 mpg for the all-wheel drive version. With excellent handling and performance — in addition to a comfortable ride both on and off pavement — the Volvo XC60 is a great option for the premium SUV shopper.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePremium Utility Vehicle Entries
BMW X5
Lexus LX570
Mercedes-Benz GLE450
Volvo XC60
Volkswagen Touareg

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBest Extreme Capability — 2016 Jeep Wrangler
Version Tested: Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition
Price as Equipped: $48,035
When it comes to tackling the toughest terrain, there aren’t many that can compare to the Jeep Wrangler. The iconic off-roader comes with two or four doors and can be set up as the ultimate summer vehicle with a removable roof, removable doors and a removable windshield. Wrangler is not what one would call a performance vehicle when it comes to paved roads, but with best-in-class approach and departure angles as well as almost 10 inches of ground clearance, the Wrangler performs well when climbing a few rocks or entire mountains. A relatively short wheelbase makes the Wrangler highly maneuverable — a paramount asset when tackling extreme terrain.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceExtreme Capability Entries
Jeep Wrangler
Nissan Titan XD Pro 4X
Range Rover Sport HSE Td6

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBest Pickup — 2016 Ram 1500
Version Tested: Rebel Crew Cab 4X4
Price as Equipped: $53,150
The Rebel was an all-new model in 2015, offering a full-size pickup truck option to those buyers wanting to head off-road. Easy to spot with its bold Ram grille, the Rebel also turns heads with its throaty V8 exhaust note emanating from its 5.7-liter HEMI V8 engine putting out almost 400 horsepower. With so much power on tap, the Rebel was easily the most fun vehicle to drive at this year’s Mudfest. Rebel excels off-road with air suspension and a raised ride height, new 17-inch aluminum wheels with 33-inch Toyo Open Country A/T all-terrain tires and skidplates. A nice touch inside is the Rebel’s tire tread pattern integrated into the seats.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperiencePickup Entries
Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Diesel
Nissan Titan XD Platinum Reserve
Ram 1500 Rebel
Toyota Tacoma TRD

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBest Overall — 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep has dominated NWAPA’s Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year awards, winning the 2016 overall crown for the fourth year in a row. Grand Cherokee won in 2013, followed by Cherokee in 2014 and Renegade in 2015. The Grand Cherokee earned the top spot with its comfort and drivability as an everyday vehicle, combined with its ability to handle extreme off-road terrain. An excellent combination for a thoroughly modern SUV.
Continue on for more photos from Mudfest 2016.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRam 1500 Rebel

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceToyota Tacoma TRD

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRange Rover Sport HSE Td6

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRam 1500 Rebel

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceToyota Tacoma TRD

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBMW X5 xDrive-40e

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRam 1500 Rebel

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceChevrolet Colorado

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Wrangler

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceVolvo XC60

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceHyundai Santa Fe Sport

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRange Rover Sport HSE Td6

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Wrangler

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFiat 500X, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler , Ram 1500 Rebel, Nissan Titans

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRam 1500 Rebel

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda CX-3

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Wrangler

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMercedes-Benz GLE450

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNissan Titan XD Pro4X

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceChevrolet Colorado

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFord Explorer

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceVolvo V60 Cross Country

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMercedes-Benz GLE450

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceJeep Wrangler

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceVolkswagen Touareg

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda CX-3

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBMW X1

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceHonda Pilot

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRange Rover Sport HSE Td6

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear-View Camera

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMudfest 2016

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