Mudfest- NW SUV of the Year Competition


Driven Car Reviews comes to you from the center of the automotive universe…Seattle.  Alright, maybe Michigan, Germany or Japan edge this soggy city out.  However, we do know and love our SUVs.  Northwesterners actually use these vehicles to go skiing, hiking, and climbing in the outdoor paradise that we live in.  To get to the backcountry you often need something on the rugged side.

NWAPA Mudfest 2011

How popular are sport-utes and crossovers here?  When my wife and I were car shopping recently a Subaru salesperson informed us that 60 percent of the companies entire worldwide production is sold in the Pacific Northwest.  Seems a smidge high to me…  Let’s just say they are very popular in this neck of the woods.

All of us enjoy a good comparison competition so to judge how these rigs perform in our soggy environment, the Northwest Auto Writers Association holds an annual competition called Mudfest.  This year it’s at Dirtfish Rally School.  There are 26 automotive journalists, 20 different vehicles, and three specially designed courses.


The goal is to determine four class winners and bragging rights for one lucky truck to be named Northwest SUV of the Year. There’s a wide range of vehicles this year covering the affordable, family, luxury and hard core off-road markets.  Some fall into two or more of those categories. We are smart people and deal with them accordingly.

The Mudfest competition has been going on since 1994.  The weather doesn’t always cooperate.  Sometimes, it’s sunny.  This year, the event lives up to its name with constant driving rain for the last five days.  No one can say they attend this event for the tropical weather.


NWAPA Mudfest 2011Tarmac handling course- It could be argued that this is the most important course we drive since it’s where these vehicles spend 99 percent of their lives.  I think we can all agree on that point.  This series of corners and slaloms shows how these rigs handle everyday driving tasks though again, most parents will never drive this way on the way to the kid’s piano lessons.  Here we can grade cornering, braking, plus road and wind noise.  It’s also good for judging the wet weather capabilities since most of the day is pretty damp.

NWAPA Mudfest 2011Light off-road course- Simulates a poorly maintained forest service road.  Most consumers would think twice about trying to traverse the sloppy conditions on this trail, the 100 yards of moderate mud alone would cause many people to turn back.  In reality even the most car-like of the bunch (talking to you Suzuki SX-4) will have little trouble navigating this trail.  In other words, we journalists believe that most consumers over buy when it comes to sport-utes and crossovers.

NWAPA Mudfest 2011Severe off-road course- Reserved for the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Discovery 4, and Toyota FJ Cruiser.  On this trail the undulations are severe, and the mud and water nears knee deep in places.  Basically these are conditions a seasoned off-road driver would hit if he or she were trailblazing without a winch.  In other words, you hard-core drivers might sneer a little but in the end the test is a decent one.

NWAPA Mudfest 2011

Remember that it’s not just off-road capability we’re looking for.  All of them are graded on many aspects such as interior quality, storage, amenities, value and design.  Here’s the list in alphabetical order.


Dodge Journey

Ford Explorer

GMC Acadia Denali

Honda Pilot

Infiniti QX 56?

Jeep Compass

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Kia Sorento

Kia Sportage SX

Land Rover Discovery 4

Land Rover Range Rover Sport

Mazda CX-7

Mercedes R Class

MINI Countryman

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Subaru Outback

Suzuki SX-4

Toyota FJ Cruiser

Volvo XC90

If you don’t want to watch the video to find out who wins check out the results below.  Congrats to the winners. There are links to my reviews where applicable.

Best Affordable SUV- Kia Sportage SX

Best Family SUV- Ford Explorer

Best Luxury SUV- Volvo XC90

Best Off-Road SUV- Jeep Grand Cherokee

NW SUV of the Year- Jeep Grand Cherokee

NWAPA Mudfest 2011Special “Most Muddy” award goes to the GMC Arcadia Denali.  Don’t know if it’s the white paint or the driving style of the journalists but it was absolutely covered (much more than shown).  I desperately wanted to drive it to a suburban grocery store and get out of it like nothing happened and watch the looks on people’s faces.



  1. kenwenzel says:

    As an outsider visiting your part of the woods I’m not surprised by the Subaru comment. I’ve never seen so many Subaru s per capita anywhere. Y’all are full time Subaru buyers.

  2. TV says:

    It was certainly a topic of conversation. Volvo is now showing drawings of what the new 2015 XC90 might look like. That tell me they know it’s time to get going on a new one. They’ve been kind of busy the last few years with the sale and all.

  3. raschmidt says:

    The oldest SUV out there won best Lux Ute? Guess that’s why volvo hasn’t replaced it yet!