Mudfest ?13 ? Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year – Part 1

1-Driver MeetingPhotos by “NWAPA/Armin Ausejo”

By Barbara & Bill Schaffer Snoqualmie, Wash. — Take 23 new SUV/Crossover vehicles; add 31 automotive journalists, 14 automotive manufacturer representatives and a dozen or so event support staff. Then add a hundred or so breakfasts, lunches and dinners, a cocktail party or two, a hotel sitting at the top of a waterfall and stir it altogether with a bit of rain at the DirtFish Rally School and you have the recipe for the 18th annual Mudfest.

Officially titled ?Mudfest ?13 ? Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year?, the annual event is cooked up by the North West Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) to select a vehicle we believe to be the best suited for northwestern families.

The vehicles were divided into five classes, Compact, Luxury Compact, Family, Luxury and Off-road, slicing the group into appropriate segments to determine sub winners and then choosing one to best represent the event title.

After two days driving the 23 vehicles the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4 was named Mudfest ?13 ? Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year, and it was also picked as the Best Luxury vehicle. The other class winners are as follows: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T ? Best Compact; 2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech ? Best Luxury Compact; 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium CVT ? Best Family; and 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 10th Anniversary 4×4 ? Best Off-road.

Here?s is our assessment of each of the participating vehicles, which we drove through a modified autocross style course, on county highways and through a specially prepared off-road course on the DirtFish Rally School property about 30 miles east of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Each vehicle is listed with its base price, horsepower, price as tested and EPA fuel economy numbers.



Compact Class

Ford Escape On-roadFord Escape Titanium 4WD ? All new for 2013, the Ford Escape has a stylish new look that sets it apart from the crowd and the new EcoBoost turbocharged power makes its perform as good as it looks. Escape is an excellent example of a vehicle designed for the Northwest urban environment, but fully capable of slogging through the mud when the driver or conditions demand. We appreciate some of the innovative features like the system that helps you park, the sophisticated MyFord Touch communications and blind spot detection. We both ranked the Escape in our top three favorites for the Mudfest Compact Class.

The 2013 Ford Escape is powered by a 240-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and it has a six-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive. The EPA rates fuel economy at 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. Base price on the top model, the Titanium 4WD, used in the competition is $32,120. The price as tested, including options and destination charge was $35,630.Ford Escape Off-road




Hyundai Santa Fe Sport On-roadHyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T ? We both especially liked the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and in the competition it surprised us by being even better than expected. We both rated the Santa Fe Sport first in the class, and so did NWAPA making it the Best Compact in the competition.

There were actually two Hyundai Santa Fe?s at Mudgfest, the five-passenger sport and the six or seven-passenger Santa Fe Limited, which was segmented into the Family Class.

The Santa Fe Sport has a noticeably solid and upscale feel that translated into an especially quiet comfortable ride and excellent handling in all conditions. The 264-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with its six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftlock manual shifting, was much more powerful than we expected making it especially fun to drive on the road. The EPA fuel economy rating was the lowest in the class at 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T has a base price of $29,450. The Leather and Premium Equipment Package, Technology Package and destination charge brought the price to $35,925.?Hyundai Santa Fe Sport off-road





Mazda CX 5 Grand TouringMazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD ? Mazda?s 2014 CX-5 Grand Touring AWD is one of the first to integrate Mazda?s new Skyactiv technology. Skyactiv isn?t just a fancy name, it involves a new way of thinking about vehicle design and drivetrains that makes the vehicle more efficient and responsive. The result is obvious when you drive one and feel the strength and agility of the system. For this reason, the CX-5 was also a top choice in both of our votes.

The Grand Touring model has a very extensive level of standard features that contributes to its high value. It also gets high markets for the way it drives on- and off-road.

The 184-hp Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter engine with a Skyactiv six-speed sport automatic transmission, powers the Mazda CX-5. EPA fuel economy is listed at 24 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. The top level Grand Touring CX-5 AWD has a base price of $28,870 and an as tested price of $31,890 including the Tech Package, a few small options and the destination charge.Mazda CX-5 Off-road





Mini Cooper S Paceman On-roadMini Cooper S Paceman ALL4 ? The cute little Mini certainly doesn?t seem like a vehicle that should be participating in an Outdoor Activity Vehicle, but if you haven?t kept up with the brands expansion you might not be aware that there are now eight distinctive Mini models, including two all-wheel drive variations, the two-door Paceman, and the four-door Countryman. The Paceman was one of the most agile, fun-to-drive vehicles in the on-road segments and did fairly well wallowing in the mud.

A 181-hp, turbocharged direct injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine powers the Mini Cooper Paceman, driving all four wheels through a Getrag brand six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy numbers are 23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined.

The 2013 Mini Cooper Paceman All4 is well equipped with a base price starting at $28,500, however the long list of options (13) ran the as tested price up to a staggering $38,050. Nice car, but expensive.Mini Cooper S Paceman Off-road





Subaru XV Crosstrek On-roadSubaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Premium 5-door Manual? The latest addition to the Subaru brand was the only vehicle at Mudfest with a manual transmission. The little five-door isn?t as flashy and opulent as most of the other competitors but it is easily the best value and most economical. The XV Crosstrek was also fun to drive in all the conditions and even has 8.7-inches of clearance to help it run through the mud.

A little 148-hp, 2.0-liter Boxer (horizontally ?opposed) four-cylinder engine attached to a five-speed manual transmission provided plenty of power for the 3,087-pound car. Like all other Subarus, except for the BRZ sports car, the XV Crosstrek is full time all-wheel drive. It also had the best fuel economy numbers, 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined.

Pricewise, the Subaru wins best price coming in $6,000 below the next lowest price vehicle, another Subaru. Base price for the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Premium 5-Door Manual is $22,790 including the destination charge. It had no options.Subaru XV Crosstrek On-road

Luxury Compact Class

Acura RDX On-roadAcura RDX AWD Tech ? Acura made a surprising change to their smaller SUV in 2013. While many manufacturers are replacing V-6?s with four-cylinder turbocharged engines, Acura went the other direction, replacing their four-cylinder turbo with a V-6. The result was better fuel economy, performance and drivability. The Acura RDX fits the compact luxury mode with a nod toward luxury and comfort, plus it was one of the most user-friendly vehicles in the entire event.

The new V-6 engine is Acura?s 273-hp, 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 attached to a six-speed automatic transmission, which is also new for 2013. The new drivetrain is exceptionally smooth and responsive, and produces an EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.

Obviously, the NWAPA voters liked the Acura RDX because they picked it as the Best Luxury Compact for 2013.

We like the way Acura prices their vehicles – one price, no options. The 2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech (Tech adds navigation, communications system, hard disc, power tailgate, premium audio, etc.) is priced at $40,315 including the destination charge.Acura RDX AWD Tech off-road





BMW X1 xDrive 35i On-roadBMW X1 xDrive35i ? This was our first time in the new BMW X1, and we both loved the demur size ? it felt just right for a couple. Plus you could carry a couple adults more in the rear seats, if you wanted. The X1 perfectly fits with BMW?s slogan as ?The Ultimate Driving Machine?? and as such, it was probably the most fun to drive vehicle in the on-road portion of the event. Like all BMWs, the X1 is very business-like, a bit firm in the ride and comfort department.

A 300-hp 3.0-liter twin-turbo in-line six-cylinder engine is under the hood attached to a six-speed steptronic automatic transmission, which in turn drives all four wheels directing the power to the wheels with the most bite. The BMW X1 lists an EPA fuel economy rating of 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined.

Base price for the 2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i is $38,600. Six options and the destination charge put the final price at $48,095.BMW X1 xDrive35i Off-road





Land Rover LR2 On-roadLand Rover LR2 ? The entry-level Land Rover, the LR2, received a major makeover for 2013 including engine, interior and bodywork. The result is a major step up from the previous generation in performance, luxury and sophistication. We were especially impressed by the effect the new turbocharged four-cylinder engine had on performance and fuel economy. The LR2 picks up on the technologies added to the brand when the Evoque was introduced last year.

The 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is the same as that used in the Evoque. The engine is derived from the Ford EcoBoost family. The transmission is a smooth, positive six speed automatic, and the four-wheel drive system has Land Rover?s innovative Terrain Response System that allows the driver to turn a switch on the console to select the type of driving conditions, and the system sets the LR2 to best handle the road ahead.

The LR2 gets an EPA rating of 17 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined. The LR2 has a base price of $36,400 with five options, including the $5,100 HSE Lux package and the destination charge taking the bottom line price to $48,295.Land Rover LR2 Off-road

To go to the Mudfet Family Class comments, click here?

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