By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
Snoqualmie, Wash. ? After driving the 23 SUV/Crossover vehicles, with a combined worth of nearly $1.2 million, the 31 automotive journalists that made up the jury for the 18th annual Mudfest have picked their favorites. Below, we will give our impressions of the Luxury Class and Off-road Classes.
Taken as a group this was one of the most impressive gatherings of vehicles we have driven for this event. Often in past years, there has often been a vehicle or two that didn?t quite measure up to the rest. This year everything we drove was impressive?there was nothing even marginal in our minds.
For the voting this year, we found ourselves giving more emphasis toward value that we had in past years, and we think that was an underlying theme for the jurists as a whole. That might be, in part, because all the vehicles were so good, and value was one of the only ways to cull out the winners.
If you missed Mudfest Part 1, go to https://ourautoexpert.com/mudfest-13/
A listing of all the winners is also at the beginning of part 1.
BMW X3 xDrive28i ? Before we drove the BMW X1 a couple of months ago, the X3 had been our favorite BMW SUV. However, with just the two of us the smaller size of the X1 has a strong appeal. Never the less, the X3 is no giant in the SUV world, it?s about the same size as a Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.
The X3 does everything well, and is especially well equipped as an everyday driver, that is agile and fun to drive. It also handles adverse conditions and is a great for mild off-road conditions.
The X3 earns its Luxury Class designation with BMW?s elegant drivetrains and suspensions. BMW truly does build the Ultimate Driving Machine. The X3 in this event had the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 240 horsepower. Fuel economy is listed at 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined.
The base price of the X3 is a non-luxury $38,500, but a combination of seven packages, metallic paint and the destination charge brought the price up to a luxury level of $52,345. However, that also adds an amazing list of impressive features, too.
Buick Enclave AWD ? Premium Group ? If NWAPA was giving prizes for the best-looking Outdoor Activity Vehicle; the Buick Enclave is the winner on our scorecard. Inside and out the Buick looks good. The interior is comfortable, super-quiet and spacious making it a great vehicle for road trips. The Enclave has a three-row seating configuration, so it will carry seven passengers, although you would be much more comfortable to avoid the middle seat in the third row.
A 288-hp 3.6-liter direct injection V-6 engine with six-speed automatic transmission drives the Active Intelligent all-wheel drive system. The AWD monitors conditions and automatically transfers torque to the wheels with the best traction. It also has most of the technological upgrades like hill start, brake assist, adaptive headlights, parking aids, power liftgate, etc. Fuel economy is listed at 16 mpg city, 22 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.
The 2013 Buick Enclave AWD ? Premium is a vehicle more suited for adverse road conditions, trips to the cabin or ski hill as opposed to slogging through the mud or going far off the beaten track. Pricing starts at $47,625 and includes a boatload of standard features. A rear seat entertainment system, navigation, power sunroof and destination charge bumped the as tested price up to $52,090.
Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4 ? Jeep is the shining star of the Chrysler/Fiat brand and for good reason ? the products. All new in 2010, the Jeep Grand Cherokee got a major makeover again for 2014 along with some interesting new features including a diesel engine.
We think the latest styling qualifies the Grand Cherokee as a head turner, and when taken with the upscale interior appointments the new Jeep is impressive. Available in five different models priced from $28,795 for the Laredo up to $47,995 for the Summit, there is to a Grand Cherokee for nearly every budget.
The optional V-8 is a 360-hp 5.7-liter V-8 engine with fuel saving technology (cylinder deactivation) is mated to the new Jeep eight-speed automatic transmission making a smooth, responsive combination. Fuel economy is rated at 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined.
The Mudfest Grand Cherokee Overland we drove was the Overland, fitting just below the Summit on the menu at $45,995. With a Technology Group, Off-Road Adventure II package, V-8 engine option and destination charge the Overland had a price as tested of $51,875.
The Grand Cherokee was impressive on- and off- road with an excellent combination of good handling, strong acceleration and comfort.
In the comparisons, we both ranked the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee as our favorite in the Luxury Class and our Choice for Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year. Evidently we were of like mind with the other members of NWAPA, because the Grand Cherokee won the Class plus the top prize overall.
Mercedes-Benz GL450 4Matic ? The new Mercedes-Benz GL started off the year by picking up the coveted Motor Trend magazine SUV of the Year award and it has received high acclaim from the automotive press. We love the larger Mercedes SUV, too, but when it comes to value, the near six-figure price tag left us a little weak in the knees.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GL is impressive any way you look at it from styling to comfort to technology to performance. The big Benz drives beautifully on road with sure-footed handling, virtually no body sway in the corners and excellent acceleration.
Under the hood of hood is a 362-hp Direct Injected 4.6-liter V-8 hooked to the super smooth seven-speed automatic transmission. Traction is courtesy the Mercedes 4Matic full-time all-wheel drive system. There are no gaps in this vehicles resume, which is filled with nearly every safety, performance and comfort device known to SUV buyers.
The GL450 has an EPA fuel economy rating of 14 mpg highway, 19 mpg city and 16 mpg combined. (As a side note, the GL is available with a 240-hp, 3.5-liter BlueTEC diesel engine. We recently spent a week in the diesel version and observed 24.1 mpg in mostly highway driving.)
Base price on the GL450 4Matic is $63,900. Loaded, with 21 different options and option packages, plus the destination charge, the price as tested was $98,165.
Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid ? The only hybrid vehicle in the Mudfest ?13 roster was the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid. This SUV was surprising because of its excellent acceleration. We didn?t have the equipment to test it, but the buff magazines say the Hybrid goes from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds ? that?s impressive for a vehicle that weighs more than 5,100 pounds.
Under the hood is a supercharged 333-hp, 3.0-liter direct injection V-6 engine. The VW hybrid has an eight-speed automatic transmission driving the 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive system. Combined with the 47-hp electric motor, the Hybrid has 380-hp. Fuel economy is rated at 20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined.
Like all the Mudfest luxury class competitors, Touareg is loaded with standard features that give it a feeling of opulence.
The Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid has a base price of $61,995 and price as tested was $63,790 with a few accessories and the destination charge.
When you have three of the world?s best off-road vehicles competing against each other you need a special playing field. The talented staff at DirtFish Rally School created an extra challenging course for these three off-road heavy weights to demonstrate their skills. It was one of those courses where wheels are going in unnatural looking directions as the vehicles maintain amazing traction.
The Off-Road Class was especially interesting based on prices alone. It was like having two NFL tackles up against a high school linebacker.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 10th Anniversary 4X4 ? The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited has been one of Jeep?s most successful creations since it debuted 10 years ago as the first four-door Wrangler. The Unlimited was just what the consumer ordered and as such became one of the few vehicles where buyers were on waiting lists to get one.
Like the iconic Wrangler, the Unlimited is available in four models with the Rubicon holding down the top slot. As we expected, Rubicon has a high level of features with a heavy emphasis on functional off-road and safety equipment. Base price of the 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon is $34,195. The special 10th Anniversary Package of significant cosmetic and functional upgrades adds $5,400. That, several other options and the destination charge took the as tested price to $43,400.
The Wrangler is a fantastic off-roader with equipment like an electronic front sway bar disconnect, special axles, a multitude of skid plates and all the equipment that makes it look easy to do the impossible.
Under the Wrangler hood is the new 285-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. The four-wheel drive system is Jeeps 4:1 Rock-Trac? part-time system. The EPA rates the Wrangler Unlimited at 16 mpg city, 20 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.
The Jeep may have had a shade less ability than the two competitors, but value was a big factor over the. We both picked the Unlimited as our favorite in the Mudfest Off-Road Class. The members concurred and rated it the Best Off-Road vehicle for the Northwest.
Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged ? The King of off-road vehicles is still the Land Rover Ranger Rover, no matter what wins what award. All new for 2013, the Ranger Rover is an example of the ultimate in comfort, styling, performance, appointments and ability. Unfortunately, the price of such excellence puts it out of range for all but the very rich.
Starting price of the Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged is $99,100. Add a fancy audio system, climate system and a few other premium features and you are looking at a price as tested of $111,120, including the destination charge.
The new Range Rover has a redesigned body, mostly in aluminum, an aluminum chassis, some fascinating new technologies including a 12.3-inch transistor Screen with virtual instrumentation and a significantly improved navigation system. The beautiful and comfortable interior rivals any other vehicle you can buy.
A 510-hp, 5.0-liter supercharged engine is tucked under the bonnet (it?s British) and mated with a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Controlling the off-road mechanicals is the famous Terrain Response System ? turn the dial to the type of terrain you want to drive on, and it sets the vehicle up to perform magic. The EPA rates the new lightweight Range Rover (it lost about 700 pounds in its new iteration) at 13 mpg city, 19 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined.
Mercedes-Benz G550 ? This was our first time behind the wheel of the legendary Mercedes-Benz ?G-Wagon.? This vehicle is rare, in fact, there are more Ferraris sold in the U.S. annually than Mercedes G-Class vehicles.
Designed originally for the military, the Mercedes G has had many styling updates over its 33-year history, but it maintains the distinct look of two boxes with a Mercedes star on the grille. It looks and feels as if it has been carved from a solid block before being given the typical Mercedes luxury treatment.
The drivetrain and superstructure is a dichotomy of old style heavy-duty ladder frame with rigid axles and a high tech propulsion system and all the electronic bells and whistles. The result is a distinctive hardcore off-roader.
With a 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8, seven-speed automatic transmission, Mercedes 4Matic permanent all-wheel drive, two-speed transfer case and three independent differential locks, the Mercedes-Benz G550 has a go anywhere attitude and it just about can. Fuel economy is a weak link registering 12 mpg city, 15 mpg highway and 13 mpg combined, but if you can afford the initial price, you can probably afford the fuel for this truly unique and highly capable off roader.