Northwest Automotive Press Association?s Mudfest 2014 – Part 3

County roadBy Barbara & Bill Schaffer

Photos by NWAPA/Josh Mackey & Bill Schaffer

Snoqualmie, Wash. ? Even though the springtime is traditionally a rainy season in the Seattle area, the location used for the annual Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) Mudfest was dry ? in fact it was dusty.

Mudfest 2014 could have easily been called ?Dustfest,? if it hadn?t been for the big watering truck from the DirtFish Rally School that was continually watering down the courses.

It was late April and time for the 20th Annual Mudfest.

Officially titled ?NWAPA 2014 Mudfest — Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year?, the annual event was created in 1994 by the North West Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) to select a vehicle we believe to be the best suited for northwestern families. That first year happen to be overly wet and muddy, very muddy, so the nickname ?Mudfest? was given, and it stuck – literally.

2014 Dust on dashThis year, the utility vehicles were divided into five classes, Compact, Premium Compact, Family, Premium Standard and Extreme Capability. Winners were chosen in each category and an overall winner was crowned 2014 Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year by the panel of 26 Northwest-based automotive journalists.

Here is our assessment of each of the 23 participating vehicles, 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. (Extreme Capability Vehicles used a special extreme course.) The 315 acre facility is on the 97-year old site of the old Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co., which was renamed Weyerhaeuser after the war and now it?s the home of the DirtFish Rally School.

2014 coffee and food trucksIt is interesting getting to drive 23 vehicles back-to-back, but it?s also time consuming, so NWAPA brought in a special coffee beverage truck to help the judges keep alert and a food truck so we didn?t have to leave the judging area to eat. Even with that, we just barely finished driving all the vehicles on the prescribed courses.

We have divided our assessments of the Premium Standard and Extreme Capability catagories.

Each vehicle is listed with its base price — price as tested (including destination charge,) EPA fuel economy numbers (city/highway/combined mpg) and horsepower.



Premium Standard Utility Vehicles

Mudfest AC-Acura MDX

2014 Acura MDX SE S-AWC Tech/Advance/Entertainment Packages
Price as tested: $56,505 – $57,400
EPA fuel economy: 18/27/21 mpg.
Engine: 290-hp, 3.5-liter V-6
Transmission: 6-Speed automatic

Built on a unibody platform rather than a body on frame, like most of the early SUVs, the MDX has always leaned toward the comfort and luxury the crossovers do best. We also like the Acura marketing strategy of selling fully equipped models with different levels of equipment; it just makes it seem like you?re not paying for a long list of extras, so you don?t go into shock when the listed is tallied. The newest MDX drives nicely and rides great plus it features some good technologies.

Mudfest OR-Acura MDX




Mudfest AC-BMW X5

2014 BMW X5 xDrive 35d
Price as tested: $56,600 — $69,925
EPA fuel economy: 23/31/26 mpg.
Engine: 255-hp, 3.0-liter Turbocharged in-line 6-cylinder diesel
Transmission: 8-Speed automatic

We expect BMW to be among the best handling and fun to drive vehicles, and the X5 did not disappoint. We like the seats which seemed to be more comfortable than some of the firm brand seats we?ve experienced. The diesel engine is amazing producing outstanding power and good fuel economy, and the new eight-speed transmission is a nice match. There?s still some mystery for us in BWM controls — we have trouble with things like shutting the vehicle off and the iDrive, but that?s more due to lack of seat time.

Mudfest OR-BMW X5




Mudfest AC-Jeep Grand Cherokee
2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4
Price as tested: $37,795 — $49,185
EPA fuel economy: 21/28/24 mpg.
Engine: 240-hp, 3.0-liter Turbocharged ECODiesel V-6
Transmission: 8-Speed automatic

The Jeep Grand Cherokee was one of our two favorites in the Premium category. It was also a judge?s favorite too earning the title of Best Premium Standard vehicle at Mudfest. The combination of drivability (both on and off road), rugged styling, performance and fuel economy makes it a winner. It?s very well equipped and enjoyable to drive, plus the fuel economy is impressive.

Mudfest OR-Jeep Grand Cherokee



Mudfest AC-Lexus GX460

2014 Lexus GX460
Price as tested: $60,715 — $62,770
EPA fuel economy: 15/20/17 mpg.
Engine: 301-hp, 4.6-liter V-8
Transmission: 6-Speed automatic

Lexus offers three different SUV style vehicles and they cover a broad spectrum. The GX falls in the middle between the sporty RX and the rugged, but opulent LX. The GX still uses the body on frame structure and matched up with a powerful V-8 engine, full-time four-wheel drive and a sophisticated Adaptive Variable Suspension. The result is a posh on- and off-road that fits the traditional SUV format. Perhaps not as exciting or stylish as some of the others in the category, it?s an excellent machine that embraces the Lexus promise of the ?The Pursuit of Perfection.?

Mudfest OR-Lexus GX460




Mudfest AC-Volkswagen Touareg


2014 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Sport 4Motion
Price as tested: $51,035 — $51,945
EPA fuel economy: 20/29/23 mpg.
Engine: 240-hp, 3.0-liter Turbocharged V-6
Transmission: 8-Speed automatic

The Volkswagen Touareg has always had a great appeal for both of us, and once again this TDI Sport version in the competition was a favorite of ours. We like the lean clean styling, the user friendly attitude and the performance on the road and at the diesel pump. We were especially impressed by the seats, which actually rival the Volvo?s for most comfortable.

Mudfest OR-Volkswagen Touareg



Extreme Capability Vehicles

Mudfest AC-Jeep Wrangler Unlimited


2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport 4×4
Price as tested: $26,195 — $36,050
EPA fuel economy: 16/20/18 mpg.
Engine: 285-hp 3.6-liter V-6
Transmission: 5-Speed automatic transmission
(See our recent review at?

For an affordable, off the shelf off-road rig, a Jeep Wrangler is the ultimate. About a dozen years ago Jeep expanded the Wrangler lineup adding the Unlimited model, a four-door version and it?s been a runaway success. Not the best handling in the autocross and a tad rough on the road, the Wrangler makes up for it off-road, where it was easily the best value. The Wrangler was Barbara?s favorite in this category, too.

Mudfest OR-Jeep Wrangler Unlimited




Mudfest AC-Range Rover


2014 Land Rover Range Rover HSE
Price as tested: $82,650 — $91,995
EPA fuel economy: 17/23/19 mpg.
Engine: 340-hp, 3.0-liter Supercharged V-6
Transmission: 8-Speed automatic

When it comes to the ultimate, the Range Rover is about as good as they get. Short of climbing trees or swimming, the Range Rover offers unbelievable abilities. What?s really interesting is that it?s also cool in the city where it?s a real status symbol to be driving one ? if you are into that. The Range Rover looks like a million bucks and the interior exemplifies fine British tailoring. We all know that the Land Rover Range Rover is as good as it gets when it comes to sport utility vehicles, but some years the Mudfest judges play the value card and the Land Rover gets dumped because of a six-figure price tag. This year Rover added a new less expensive and more efficient supercharged V-6 model and the judges liked it making it the Best Extreme Capability Vehicle this year. It was Bill?s favorite.

Mudfest OR-Range Rover



Mudfest AC-Toyota 4Runner

2014 Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium 4×4
Price as tested: $38,645 — $42,175
EPA fuel economy: 17/21/18 mpg.
Engine: 270-hp, 4.0-liter V-6
Transmission: 5-Speed automatic
(see or recent review at

With the exception of the FJ Cruiser, we normally don?t think of Toyota as having a hardcore off-roader. Driving the Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium demonstrated otherwise as it crawled through all the obstacles especially set up to test the vehicles in the Extreme Capability category. The 4Runner takes a more basic approach to its off road prowess combining some of the good old four-wheel drive technologies with a some new features like Crawl Control, Active Traction Control and Multi-Terrain Select to make this attractive SUV a strong off-road contender. It also does a pretty good job on back roads and highways.

Mudfest OR-Toyota 4Runner



We can?t remember a Mudfest competition where we had so many closely matched entries. As a recap here are the winners.

* Best Compact: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4
* Best Premium Compact: (Tie) Volvo XC60 T6 AWD
and Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC
* Best Family: 2015 Kia Sorento SX AWD
* Best Premium Standard: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4×4 ECODiesel
* Best Extreme Capability: 2014 Land Rover Range Rover HSE
* Best Overall: 2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4

Each year NWAPA uses proceeds from the entry fees to provide several scholarships students at several northwest college and universities. This year, in addition to the scholarships, NWAPA donated $1,000 to a local K9 Search and Rescue organization in support of its tremendous contribution to the recent Oso, Washington landslide recovery efforts.


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