2018 NWAPA Mudfest, aka Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year

For more than 20 years, members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) have put trucks, SUVs, CUVs, and other 4WD/AWD vehicles through their paces at the group’s annual Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year competition, also known as Mudfest.

This year’s Mudfest took place at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Washington. The first day was on-road testing, including slalom, braking, a back-up challenge (testing each vehicle’s back-up technology), as well as a quick jaunt driving on the tarmac go-kart track. Day two included off-pavement potentials, from steep inclines to rutty turns, a giant mud pit to hard-packed dirt. The off-road track even included an extreme 4×4 section, in which certain rigs could showcase their capability as well as technology assistance like hill descent control and push-button sway bar disconnects.

There were a total of 26 vehicles and they fell into one of these categories:

  • Subcompact
  • Compact and Midsize
  • Family
  • Luxury
  • Pickup
  • Extreme
BMW X2 iDrive 28i luxury
The 2018 BMW X2 iDrive 28i was my favorite vehicle in the Luxury Class.
Ford EcoSport Titanium FWD
The 2018 Ford EcoSport Titanium’s size was surprisingly small, but felt roomy inside.
Mercedes-Benz 2500 Sprinter van
One of my top favorites of the 26 rigs there, the 2017 Mercedes-Benz 2500 Sprinter van.

In each category, winners were chosen based on numerous factors. From on-pavement ride/handling and fuel efficiency, to powertrain, technology, and interior comforts; journalists analyzed, test drove, and rated each vehicle.

I’ve never driven so many rigs in one sitting. It was fascinating to see how the various auto manufacturers handle items, such as rear-view cameras, how to disable traction control, and even how to adjust the driver’s seat. It took me a few embarrassing minutes to find where Mercedes stashed the electronic buttons for seat adjustments in the G550 (otherwise known as the G-Wagon). I couldn’t slip my hand between the door and seat to find them as there wasn’t room. Only after fiddling around did I see the buttons arranged in the shape of a “seat” near the top of the door. Doh!

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT-S AWC
Me driving the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV GT-S AWC on the go-kart track. Photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.
BMW X3 xDrive 30i rearview camera
Analyzing the various back-up technologies: this set-up is from the BMW X3 xDrive 30i.
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz G550 was a beast! Photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.

I also took note of which AWD or 4x4s felt most planted when hurdling down the tarmac course, and which were most capable on the extreme off-road sections. This included things like best approach, break-over, and departure angles.

Chevy Colorado ZR2 Short Box diesel
I had the chance to drive a 2018 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Short Box diesel during Mudfest. This is a great rig. Photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.
RAM 1500
The RAM 1500 testing its off-road prowess. Photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.
AWD Hyundai Kona Ultimate
The 2018 AWD Hyundai Kona Ultimate was arguably the crowd’s favorite ride during the event. Photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL
The 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL gettin’ muddy! Photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.

After the two-day test drive of all 26 rigs, ballots were completed and turned in: Which vehicle would win each category and the most coveted title, the Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year? The competition among each grouping was fierce, but only one winner could be named. Alas, the moment we are waiting for! Below are the victors for each category.

  • Subcompact SUV: 2018 Hyundai Kona
  • Compact & Midsize SUV: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
  • Family SUV: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
  • Luxury SUV: 2018 BMW X2
  • Pickup: 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel
  • Extreme: 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

The NW Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year:

  • 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited
 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon JL mud
A very muddy Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year winner.
Wrangler door
Jennifer with the lightweight JL door.

The overall winner, the 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon JL, has been vastly improved from its predecessor, the JK. From a better hardtop design to a simplified system to lower the windshield; easier to remove and lighter weight doors, to a much improved on-road experience, the JL is where it’s at. Fully capable off-road and at home traversing the extreme course, this Wrangler walked over the obstacles like they were nothing. It handled rutted corners with ease, gracefully trotted over large logs, and ate up the mud hole. On-road testing proved notable results, with especially high marks for ride and handling improvements, as well as its technology offerings.

A few specific SUVs, trucks, and a particular van stood out for me as well. The Hyundai Kona got top marks in my book. Handling both on- and off-road was impressive. You could really engage with this 175 horsepower turbo-charged four-wheeled bundle of excitement.

Although the Mercedes Sprinter van didn’t win its class, it was a stand-out for me. It was the largest rig there and the easiest thing for me to “park” during the back-up challenge. Go figure. This van handled the extreme course effortlessly, even the muddy log section. Impressive! Essentially the Sprinter went everywhere I pointed it! Sprinter photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.

VW Golf Alltrak wagon
VW gets the 2018 Golf Alltrak wagon right. Photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.

Although the AWD VW Golf Alltrack TSI didn’t win the compact & mid-size utility class, it was a hoot to drive and did well on dirt. Perhaps the six-speed manual-transmission helped its case as I’m a die-hard stick-shift lover.

No matter what type of AWD or 4×4 vehicle I test drove there, each of these rigs had an abundance of accoutrements on display. From tons of technology and safety offerings to stylized exteriors that turned our heads, they all had special something to offer.

AWD Hyundai Kona Ultimate
The 2018 NWAPA Subcompact SUV winner: the 2018 AWD Hyundai Kona Ultimate.
AWD Hyundai Kona Ultimate
The front end is stylistically solid: the AWD Hyundai Kona Ultimate.
Honda Ridgeline
You know it’s been a trail good day when mud covers the roof of your truck.
Chevy Colorado ZR2 Short Box diesel
Another shot of me testing out the 2018 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Short Box diesel during Mudfest. Photo courtesy of Ryan Douthit/NWAPA.

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