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.
This 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.
It 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 Compact and Premium Compact categories.
Each vehicle is listed with its base price — price as tested (including destination charge,) EPA fuel economy numbers (city/highway/combined mpg) and horsepower.
2014 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD
Price as tested: $30,850 –$35,030
EPA fuel economy: 21/28/24 mpg
Engine: 240-hp, 2.0-liter EcoBoost 4-cyl.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
An all-new version of the Escape debuted in 2013 and it pushed the small Ford SUV in to a new league with cutting-edge styling and exciting performance thanks to the turbocharged EcoBoost powerplant. The Escape stands out on the challenging autocross maneuvers and local roads. It has important technologies like Active Park Assist and Blind Spot Detection along with a reasonably priced optional navigation system. We?re still not fans of the upper level SYNC communications and entertainment system with the MyFord Touch, but lower level versions are quite user friendly now. Barbara doesn?t care for the ?boom-box? looking dash area. The Escape was one of Bill?s favorites.
2014 Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD
Price as tested: $27,995 –$28,700
EPA fuel economy: 20/25/22 mpg.
Engine: 182-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cyl.
Transmission: 6-Speed automatic
The Hyundai Tucson Limited ranks as one of the best values of the 23 models in this year?s Mudfest. In additional to handling all the elements of the drive test with flying colors, the Tucson has an amazing list of standard features like heated leather seats, Hyundai Blue Link? Telematics and all the power features we love. Helping with off-road duties are Downhill Brake Control and Hill Start Assist systems. In addition Hyundai still has the best warranty in the business.
2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 4×4
Price as tested: $29,495 –$38,710
EPA fuel economy: 19/26/21 mpg.
Engine: 271-hp, 3.2-liter V-6
Transmission: 9-Speed automatic
(See Barbara?s first drive review at https://ourautoexpert.com/2014-jeep-cherokee-test-drive/)
The Jeep Cherokee is impressive and the group gave it the top prize in the Compact category and named it the Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year. The Cherokee was a standout in all the drive tests and even went on to the extreme course where it competed favorably with all the Extreme Capability Vehicles. It has a new fresh look while maintaining all the Jeep family attributes. More than $9,000 in options pushed the Cherokee to the top of the price ladder for this category, but also made it one of the best equipped of the 23. We especially like the navigation system which is very user friendly.
2015 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD
Price as tested: $29,220 — $31,760
EPA fuel economy: 24/30/26 mpg.
Engine: 184-hp, 2.5-liter Skyactive 4-Cyl.
Transmission: 6-Speed automatic
Mazda?s new Skyactiv technology is more than an interesting name; it?s the company?s new way of building vehicles in a lighter and more efficient way. The result is some excellent new products like the CX-5. Mazda was certainly one of the top models in the category, but unfortunately tends to be something of a lightweight in a tough category.
2014 Nissan Rogue SV AWD
Price as tested: $25,580 — $29,215
EPA fuel economy: 25/32/28 mpg.
Engine: 170-hp, 2.5-liter 4-Cyl.
Transmission: Xtronic CVT
Like the Mazda CX-5, the Nissan Rogue does great in the handling and road driving, but is a little weak in the off-road. It?s does have features like Hill Start Assist and Descent Control that help, but it doesn?t feel as capable as some of the others. The Rogue is, however, one of the better values in the category and one of the most fuel frugal of the bunch, plus it?s a great everyday driver.
2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
Price as tested: $29,295 — $30,120
EPA fuel economy: 29/33/31 mpg.
Engine: 160-hp, 2.0-liter Horizontally-Opposed 4-Cyl.
(See our recent review at https://ourautoexpert.com/2014-subaru-xv-crosstrek-hybrid-test-drive/)
As Subaru?s first foray into the hybrid market, the XV Crosstrek is an interesting new model that was one of our favorites. It?s pure Subaru and felt right at home in all the driving tests. The hybrid doesn?t give it a big advantage in fuel economy, but it was enough to be the best of the whole group. It?s also strong in the value column.
Premium Compact Utility Vehicles
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC 4Matic
Price as tested: $38,590 — $57,635
EPA fuel economy: 24/33/28 mpg.
Engine: 200-hp, 2.1-liter 4-Cyl. Biturbo Diesel
Transmission: 7-Speed automatic
It was odd having a 2013 model, but it?s unchanged for 2014. We both like diesel powered vehicles, and this one is impressive ? clean, quiet, powerful. The handling, acceleration and agility make it fun to drive and it bounced through the off-road and the sampling of mud confidently. It?s not cheap, but then again, it?s a Mercedes. It had all the extras that make it even more special with features like Distronic Plus (active cruise control) Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping, and several others. The GLK tied for first place with the Volvo XC60 in the category.
2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD
Price as tested: $41,550 — $52,215
EPA fuel economy: 17/24/20 mpg.
Engine: 300-hp, 3.0-liter Twin-Scroll Turbo In-line 6-cylinder
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic
Volvo has a great heritage at Mudfest. The XC90 was named SUV of the year for three consecutive years in the early 2000s. Through the years Volvo XC models have won more than their share of category awards. We like the XC60, but it?s starting to show its age. Still a good performer on all types of surfaces the XC60 is fast and fun to drive. Bill especially likes the clean Scandinavian designs. The XC60 tied for with the Mercedes GLK as the winner of the category.
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.