By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
Shelton, Wash. – One of our favorite events each year is the annual Northwest Automotive Press Association’s (NWAPA) Mudfest. We were involved in the creation of the annual SUV evaluation and have participated in a majority of the programs during the event’s 22-year history.
Mudfest has evolved through the years and is technically now called the Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of Year, and includes crossovers and pickups in addition to the SUVs. The event received its ‘dirty’ nickname after the first year where the vehicles were literally wallowing in deep mud on an off- road course near Olympia, Wash. The event has been toned down from the original to cleaner, but still muddy, two-day program with day one devoted to paved roads and day two off-road.
This year’s program was held at the Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Wash., which is about 28 miles northwest of Olympia, Wash. Ridge Motorsports Park is only a few years old and the owners are in the process of developing a complex of facilities including a beautiful road course and full complement of racing motorsports racing facilities.
This year we used the Ridge’s curvy go-kart track for the on-road testing and the Ridge owner’s created a special off-road course on another section of their property. The tight cornered go-kart course allowed journalists to ‘feel’ vehicles acceleration, braking, cornering and road worthy attributes. The off-road section showed the vehicle capabilities including climbing, hill descent, wading and wheel articulations.
This year 26 NWAPA members from several western states drove each of the 28 vehicles on both venues over two-days and then voted for their favorites in each of six categories and for an overall winner which becomes the 2016 Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year.
The vehicles were 2016 models, except the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport which were 2017 models. All vehicles were equipped with all- or four-wheel drive. The EPA fuel economy is listed city/highway/combined miles per gallon. The Base price is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and the as tested price includes any optional equipment and the destination (freight and handling) charge.
Here are the participating vehicles by category, with some basic information and review notes:
Compact Utility Vehicles
Fiat 500x Easy – 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with 9-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy 24/30/21 mpg. Base price $24,510. As tested $27,005. Good handling and brakes. Nice design. Excellent value.
Kia Sportage SX – 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA 20/23/21 mpg. Base price $34,000. As tested $34,895. Very well equipped, Smooth powerful engine and excellent on-road handling. One of our favorites.
Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring – Skyactiv 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with Skyactiv 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA 27/32/29 mpg. Base price $26,240. As tested $27,640. Another of our favorites and it was voted the Best Compact by NWAPA members. Excellent balance, fuel economy and value. Best on-road handling in the group.
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport GT – 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine with Sportronic CVT with shift paddles. EPA 22/27/24 mpg. Base price $27,395. As tested $28,245. Good styling and on-road handling.
Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium – 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder engine with Continuously Variable Transmission and 6-speed manual shift mode. Base price $22,395. As tested $26,240. Outstanding equipment package. A top performer on- and off-road.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited – 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with electric (hybrid) motor and Continuously Variable Transmission. EPA 34/31/33 mpg. Base price $33,610. As tested $36,231. The only hybrid in the category, which makes it the most expensive, but it has good fuel economy and performance.
Premium Compact Utility Vehicles
Acura RDX Advance – 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA 19/28/22 mpg. Base price $43,420. As tested $44,340. Very refined with a high level of content and the latest technologies. One of our favorites.
BMW X1 xDrive 28is – Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. EPA 22/32/26 mpg. Base price $34,800. As tested $45,370. Agile, fun-to-drive.
Volkswagen Tiguan SE – Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA 20/26/23 mpg. Base price $33,365. As tested $35,050. Good performance. Best value in the segment, but not as plush as some competitors.
Volvo V60 Cross Country– Turbocharged 2.5-liter 5-cylinder with 6-speed Geartronic automatic transmission. EPA 20/28/23 mpg. Base price $41,000. As tested $49,775. Our category favorite and NWAPA’s Best Premium Compact. Sophisticated, attractive, good performance on- and off-road. Very comfortable.
Family Utility Vehicles
Ford Explorer Platinum – Turbocharged V-6 engine with 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA 16/22/18 mpg. Base price $52,970. As tested $54,760. High level of equipment and technology. Nice styling and excellent EcoBoost engine.
Honda Pilot Elite – 3.6-liter V-6 engine with 9-speed automatic transmission. EPA 19/26/22 mpg. Base price $46,420. As tested $47,300. Well configured with latest technologies and comfort features. Good on- and off-road handling. One of our favorites in the category.
Hyundai Sana Fe Sport Ultimate – Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with Shiftronic 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA 19/24/21 mpg. Base price $38,250. As tested $40,820. Best value in the class. Very good on-road handling.
Jeep Grand Cherokee 75th Anniversary Edition – 3.0-liter Turbocharged EcoDiesel engine with 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. EPA 21/28/24 mpg. Base price $39,365. As tested $51,315. Refined interior and exterior styling. Best in class on- and off-road performance and fuel economy. Our class favorite and NWAPA-voted Best Family Vehicle and overall named 2016 Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year.
Kia Sorento SXL – Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with Sportmatic 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA 19/25/22 mpg. Base price $41,700. As tested $45,095. Another of our favorites in the category. Impressive on-road performance. A nicely outfitted family SUV.
Mitsubishi Outlander SEL — 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with Continuously Variable Transmission. EPA 24/29/26 mpg. Base price $26,995. As tested $33,095. Good design and value.
Read NWAPA Mudfest 2016 – Part 2 at http://ourautoexpert.com/?p=18180&preview=true