2012 Mudfest SUV of the Year HD Video

Normally I look at one new car every week.  This time it’s a couple dozen.  Yes it’s time for Mudfest, the SUV competition held at Dirt Fish Rally School in Snoqualmie, WA.  This is the 17th time Mudfest has been held.  The folks that organize it, the Northwest Automotive Press Association have it down to a well oiled-machine.

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The purpose of Mudfest is to choose the best sport utes and crossovers in four different categories, and anoint one of them with the coveted Northwest SUV of the Year title.  It is judged by 24 Northwest automotive writers, the kinds of people that do Northwestie things like hiking, camping, biking, off-roading and Big Foot reconnaissance.  These writers know their stuff.

What’s the Best Sport Ute?

No one model is right for everyone so at Mudfest, a Subaru Forester does not compete with the Land Rover Range Rover Sport.  The four categories are Compact, Family, Luxury, and Off-Road. We then all vote for our choice of SUV of the Year.

The driving courses include an on-road loop to judge performance and handling plus an off-road course.  The most rugged SUVs traverse a special severe trail designed to show how capable it is.  The others are directed toward the lighter trail, which again most owners would try to avoid.

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I highly suggest watching the video since it shows how hard we push these vehicles in testing.  And that brings up a significant point- All of the vehicles in the Mudfest competition did well on their respective off-road courses. I would be willing to bet my Gore-Tex rain jacket that few owners subject their cars to these kinds of trail condition.  Even if they did, it would be at a much slower velocity.  People tend to over buy when it comes to their all-wheel drive systems.

The Beauty of Getting Dirty

The best part of this event is that there’s the opportunity to drive this rigs back to back so they’re fresh on our minds.  Normally it would take weeks to get to all of them.  With Mudfest it all happens in two days.

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For comparison’s sake, here are last year’s winners

Compact-  Kia Sportage

Family- Ford Explorer

Luxury- Volvo XC90

Off-Road and SUV of the Year was Jeep Grand Cherokee


Meet The New Players

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For 2012 they’ve all been invited back, the Volvo XC90 has declined.  The newcomers are-

Acura RDX, BMW X3, BMW X6, Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Suburban, Dodge Durango, Honda CR-V, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, Kia Sorento, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Mazda CX-5, Mercedes ML 350 BlueTec, MINI Countryman ALL4, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Juke AWD, Nissan X-Terra, Subaru Forester, Subaru Impreza, Volkswagen Tiguan, Volkswagen Touareg, and Volvo XC60.

Also, let it be know that even though they did not field a vehicle, Toyota provided a heated tent shelter which was much appreciated, especially by the California based PR folks.  A friendly little dig there.

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Image Is Everything

There’s solid research done by the auto companies that show very few of these vehicles ever leave pavement.  It can be argued then that the on-road handling course is most important.  The autocross style loop is set up to show handling, acceleration, braking and all around performance.  Driving like we do through the cones and slaloms would not set a good example for the kids.  We are trying to punish then to see how they do in extreme evasive situation.

The clear trend is that as a group they handle quite well.  Electronic stability control and the use of lightweight high strength steel has a lot to do with it.  Reading the buzz, it seems like Nissan Juke, Subaru Forester, BMW X3, Kia Sportage and Mazda CX-5 are the vehicles the writers like to toss around in the corners.

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In between runs, we all check out the interiors and the features.  Livability is part of the scoring, as is fuel economy.  It’s a modern world and operating costs are an important factor in choosing a car.  Some of these vehicles excel in seating, others are better at cargo hauling.  A few look good on paper but don’t work all that well in the real world.

Time To Get Dirty

On day two when it’s time to hit the off-road courses, there’s no doubt where this competition gets its name.  Both runs are full of water and mud and it never stops dumping down rain the entire day.  It makes for great visual and testing but soggy photographers.

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The lighter course is like a poorly maintained forest service road.  Some writers drive it easy, others take this opportunity to test out their rally driving skills.  These SUVs are driven fairly hard by 24 different writers, and it wouldn’t surprise any of us to find one or two pulled due to damage.  All make it through the day with no problems, again proving how rugged they are.

That brings up another important point.  Many of us auto writers believe that shoppers overbuy when they look for a crossover.  For instance, the new 2013 Honda CR-V, which is the most popular crossover in America, has little trouble navigating the rough trail and standing water of this course. No need to buy a truck-based rig (which are becoming more and more rare anyways).

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The severe course is reserved for the more capable vehicles such as Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and Grand Cherokee, Nissan X-terra, and Land Rover Range Rover Sport.   The course at Dirt Fish Rally School has grades to check for approach and departure angles, deep ruts, thick mud, and a narrow bridge to traverse. All the SUVs tackle it without blinking, though there is the occasional underbody scrape.  And just to prove that it can, the Subaru folks take the Forester on the same path as the big boys with little drama.  Yes, the big boys are supremely secure in nasty decision.  Very few of them every wind up in these situations though.

Anytime you get to drive somebody else’s car through the mud and do terrible things to it, that’s a lot of fun. But at the end of the two-day event, there’s a real benefit to what we do.  These are the winners of the Northwest Automotive Press Association’s Mudfest 2012

Best compact- Mazda CX-5

Best family- Acura RDX

Best Luxury- Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

Best Off-Road- Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

Northwest SUV of the Year- Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

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It’s a clean sweep for the muddy newcomers. May they enjoy their year in the sun… and the rain.  Because there will be fresh competitors in 2013.

That’s What the Collective Voted

In case you’re wondering, my votes were very similar to the group.  CX-5 and RDX were my top picks in their category.  Same with Evoque in Luxury and Wrangler for Off-Road.

SUV of the Year? The Evoque is very impressive, especially its design. However, I voted for the incumbent Jeep Grand Cherokee because of its all-around balance and a price mere mortals can afford.   nwapa-mudfest2012-247

As a second place choice I’d go for the Range Rover Sport.  Its drivetrain is certainly the most impressive in term of refinement and smoothness.  The interior rocks too.  But then again, at its price point, it darn well should.  I chose the Jeep because of the practical mid-west upbringing coming out in me.

Special thanks- The members of NWAPA work very hard to make Mudfest a success and there is no better event to judge these kinds of vehicles. From the organizers to the photographers, to the manufacturers that bring the vehicles we beat up on, I offer up my most sincere thanks.

PHOTO GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILL IMAGES PROVIDED BY NWAPA AND A VERY SOGGY PHOTOG.

9 Comments

  1. fatbaldandhappy says:

    The Posh Spice-Mobile wins the mudfest SUV of the year award? Rod Serling couldn’t come up with this stuff. I guess when you cross Beckham suave with Land Rover off road prowess you get a winner. While I don’t doubt it is highly capable, and it’s clearly the best, or at least one of the best looking motor coaches around- I’d also dare bet it’s the most unlikely of all the breeds tested to be in a situation simulated in your tests. A “fest”? Probably. Mud? No.

    All that aside, if I had my choice of the litter… “I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want…”

    • TV says:

      Oh, admit it. You’re just mad because we don’t get the Poshmobile edition this side of the pond.

  2. CalgaryGuy says:

    Tom, which Wrangler Unlimited did they test? Because Jeep keeps adding off-road capabilities to the Unlimited models as the buyer moves up the price-ladder.

    Or is the point that all Jeep Wranger Unlimiteds are kings of the mountains?

    P.S. Did you spend more time driving — or shining the cars? Somehow they look cleaner than my vehicles do and I’m hardly ever off-road.

    • TV says:

      To be honest, I don’t remember the model and I can’t find my book at the moment. Shooting a story and driving a couple dozen SUVs makes for a very busy day and I wasn’t paying attention to specific models in every vehicle.

      All of the vehicles were dirty 10 minutes into the competition. The camera must have been very forgiving. The first day had just light rain, the second day was a downpour all day long. Not a lot of fun to shoot in.

    • motorstreet says:

      It’s a Rubicon, because it says Rubicon on the hood. I think that’s the most capable version. I think the point was still that the Wrangler is the king of the mountains.

      • TV says:

        D’oh! Of course it is. I remember having to adjust the framing of John Vincent’s interview to avoid the huge product placement look. I really need to get some sleep. Thanks motorstreet!

  3. kenwenzel says:

    Not surprised about the Evoque being one of the top contenders. I haven’t read a terse word against the thing. I looked at it in Austin, and saw the new Escape in Dallas. With the new Escape topping out at about $36k and the Evoque around $43, the more common Ford is getting awfully close to the cost of the LUXURY marque. Still not feeling sorry for you. I’ve seen Dart drives on multiple web sites today, looking forward to your opinion of the Dodge.