Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

And The Winners Are...

Mudfest 2013: Tom's Hardware Helps Test 23 SUVs
By

There were a lot of excellent SUVs and crossovers at Mudfest 2013. After the driving portions were finished, all 31 automotive journalists were required to vote for their first, second, and third choices in each class, and then select the best overall. But there was one that truly stood out, and at the end of the day, Jeep's 2014 Grand Cherokee Overland won the 2013 Northwest Activity Vehicle of the year.

We weren’t surprised by the results. The Grand Cherokee was our first choice for the best overall vehicle. It has great looks, a well-appointed interior, plenty of tech features, good driving dynamics, a spacious trunk, and real off-road capabilities. The almost-$52,000 MSRP is pretty high compared to the family-class entries. But the Jeep has more capabilities and a couple of other distinguishing features, such as adaptive cruise control and the Quadra-Lift air suspension system. In the Pacific Northwest, where outdoor activities are big, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is a vehicle that can get you up a mountain in snow or through rough trails to get to a campsite. 

Best Compact

Hyundai took the compact class win with the Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T. We've spent a lot of time in the Santa Fe Sport at previous events and agree that it’s a great compact crossover. Hyundai does a great job combining features and functions that are nice for a daily driver, such as driver-selectable steering, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, good interior materials, and the large panoramic sunroof. The Santa Fe Sport’s updated infotainment system is also very nice, sporting clean graphics and crisp text.

Anyone looking for the same outdoor time camping or snowboarding, the Santa Fe is fit for that task, too. Locking the car in 4-high gives you the extra bit of traction needed for dirt-, gravel-, and snow-covered roads, rather than letting the Santa Fe's electronics to react on your behalf. This is a solid choice for adventuring, especially in the Pacific Northwest, where you might encounter anything from heat that results in dry gravel to torrential rain.

Best Luxury Compact

It was a tough three-way fight, but Acura's RDX took home the title of Best Luxury Compact, and we agreed with the collective vote. While the other two vehicles are excellent, the RDX provides a comfortable ride for $10,000 less than the other two. Honda's driving dynamics are great, albeit not as fun as BMW's X1. But the RDX also offers a spacious trunk to pack enough gear for a weekend trip.

I personally took the RDX on a two-day trip to snow- and ice-covered mountains, and it fit everything that me, my wife, and our two-year-old needed. We even got a medium-sized kennel in there. Acura's RDX handles snow well, and the reactive AWD system is perfectly adequate for the majority of its buyers. 

Best Family

It was a close race in the family segment, but Subaru's Forester 2.0XT took home the class win. All manufacturers provided tough competition. However, the Forester’s combination of SUV packaging with sporty response and handling gave it enough of an edge to prevail. It also helps that the Forester represents an excellent bargain for families coming in with budgets around $10,000 less than the other contenders.

We were smitten with the Forester and its smooth new 2.0-liter turbo motor and CVT powertrain combination. The Subaru Symmetrical AWD was icing on the cake that provided excellent traction and control through both courses. It’s a sporty crossover with plenty of space for a family of four (maybe five if you count the dog).

Best Luxury

Jeep took home a second win in the luxury class with its 2014 Grand Cherokee. Kudos to Chrysler for putting together a luxurious SUV that is comfortable on-road and highly capable off-road. For the $52,000 MSRP, you actually get a lot of car for your money. It doesn’t have high-grade leather, Dinamica microfiber headliner, or a spiffy-looking Bang & Olufsen sound system, but we’re not quite sure those extras are worth nearly double the price of Jeep's Grand Cherokee.

Best Off-Road

The final win goes to Jeep for its 2013 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 10th Anniversary 4x4 in the off-road class. It’s truly a remarkable vehicle and an excellent bargain with its $43,000 MSRP. Mercedes and Land Rover sell great alternatives that are also very capable when you take them through extreme conditions. But let's be honest. When you pay more than $100,000 for an SUV, it probably isn't going to see much time in the muck, even if the owner wants you to think it will.

Jeep maintains the off-road nature of the Wrangler, while giving it much-needed upgrades that include power windows, locks, and navigation. But the important Jeep parts, such as the heavy-duty Dana 44 axles, two-speed transfer case, Rock-Trac 4WD, and removable top and doors, remain. It’s a great off-road vehicle that we know pleases the Jeep faithful, while bringing late-90s-era standard features to the mix.

Closing Notes

Mudfest 2013 was a great two-day experience packed with fun. Congratulations to all the winners; it was tough to pick them because there were so many great vehicles present. We would like to thank the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) for putting the event together, the automotive manufacturers that submitted vehicles and had representatives present, and Armin Ausejo for the amazing photography. Also a special thanks goes out to Ryan Douthit of DrivingSports TV for planning and organizing the event this year.

Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 38 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 4 Hide
    Super_Nova , June 13, 2013 11:51 PM
    Very slow newsweek
  • 3 Hide
    flong777 , June 14, 2013 4:12 AM
    Interesting but with so little time per vehicle, the results are obviously suspect. I believe the Wrangler is the best off-road vehicle, not sure about the rest. But that conclusion come from more in depth reviews which actually "review" the vehicle.
  • 0 Hide
    Johnny_C13 , June 14, 2013 5:16 AM
    Well, at least the Grand Cherokee can (literally) run (on) Crysis... but I wonder if it starts faster with an SSD?
  • 8 Hide
    MU_Engineer , June 14, 2013 6:12 AM
    Anybody find it funny that the vehicle largely based on WWII era technology does the best in the offroad tests while the newer, high-tech "tall wagons with AWD" get stuck in more than a couple inches of snow? Just like tablets, phones, and laptops aren't going to make desktops go away, unit-body transverse-engine four-banger cars aren't going to replace body-on-frame trucks with solid axles and leaf springs when you need to do real work. The even funnier thing is that an "ancient" carbureted pushrod V8 and manual transmission would have made the Wrangler perform *better* in the offroad tests than the 8-speed slushbox and fancy twin-cam V6 car engine.
  • 1 Hide
    ammaross , June 14, 2013 6:36 AM
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
  • -1 Hide
    ammaross , June 14, 2013 6:37 AM
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 14, 2013 8:09 AM
    Quote:
    Interesting but with so little time per vehicle, the results are obviously suspect. I believe the Wrangler is the best off-road vehicle, not sure about the rest. But that conclusion come from more in depth reviews which actually "review" the vehicle.


    Its a great offroad vehicle for the price. The other two are capable vehicles, but the buyer demographic will never take them offroad.

    Quote:
    Anybody find it funny that the vehicle largely based on WWII era technology does the best in the offroad tests while the newer, high-tech "tall wagons with AWD" get stuck in more than a couple inches of snow? Just like tablets, phones, and laptops aren't going to make desktops go away, unit-body transverse-engine four-banger cars aren't going to replace body-on-frame trucks with solid axles and leaf springs when you need to do real work. The even funnier thing is that an "ancient" carbureted pushrod V8 and manual transmission would have made the Wrangler perform *better* in the offroad tests than the 8-speed slushbox and fancy twin-cam V6 car engine.


    Mechanical technology has its uses but the WWII Era vehicles are awful for comfort and driving feel. Not going to lie though, the G-wagen is one sexy beast IMO. The Wrangler is only a 6-speed auto iirc, but there's a company that offers HEMI conversions :D .

    Quote:
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.


    Toyota didn't submit any vehicles, disappointingly. Was hoping the 5th Gen 4Runner and new RAV4 would be there :( .
  • 1 Hide
    joe gamer , June 14, 2013 8:15 AM
    Holy crap these are expensive vehicles, who is buying these monsters? I make $60k a year and live comfortably but there is no way I could afford any of these. The HYUNDAI clocked in at over $35k....The painfully anemic Subaru(with what has to be the worst manual I've ever used) is still over $20K and it's terrible, poor power, poor gas mileage, poor off road performance, ugly styling, shitty electronics, and only moderate interior room...but that's the only one in my price range? How poor am I exactly?

    Seriously the WRX transmission is quite nice, how the hell did all of their others end up to be so godawful?

    Guess I'm stuck with my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo until I can win the lottery...oil burning, gas guzzling eyesore it may be but hey the money I saved will buy me a decades worth of gas.
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 14, 2013 8:19 AM
    Quote:
    Holy crap these are expensive vehicles, who is buying these monsters? I make $60k a year and live comfortably but there is no way I could afford any of these. The HYUNDAI clocked in at over $35k....The painfully anemic Subaru(with what has to be the worst manual I've ever used) is still over $20K and it's terrible, poor power, poor gas mileage, poor off road performance, ugly styling, shitty electronics, and only moderate interior room...but that's the only one in my price range? How poor am I exactly?

    Seriously the WRX transmission is quite nice, how the hell did all of their others end up to be so godawful?

    Guess I'm stuck with my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo until I can win the lottery...oil burning, gas guzzling eyesore it may be but hey the money I saved will buy me a decades worth of gas.


    Nothing wrong with an old Isuzu, before GM raped and pillaged them :( . Cars are so expensive nowadays, you're about as poor as I am, but add in two kids and a wife. The WRX has a nice manual because its a performance vehicle. Manuals in economy cars are usually sloppy. long throws and not very exciting, which is why I hate to say to get the auto in economy cars. But, the XV Crosstrek could probably be fixed with a short throw shifter, that usually does wonders.

  • 3 Hide
    JPNpower , June 14, 2013 9:23 AM
    Why are you using SUVs in the mud!!! These things belong in parking lots at the mall!
  • 0 Hide
    internetlad , June 14, 2013 10:08 AM
    Tom's Carware
  • 0 Hide
    brenro12 , June 14, 2013 10:43 AM
    Mechanical technology has its uses but the WWII Era vehicles are awful for comfort and driving feel. Not going to lie though, the G-wagen is one sexy beast IMO. The Wrangler is only a 6-speed auto iirc, but there's a company that offers HEMI conversions .

    My Wrangler has a 6 speed manual and AEV can only do engine swaps on 2011 and older Jeeps. Not that there were many takers. 20 grand, an extra 500 lbs. in an already porky vehicle, and a peaky engine that doesn't really have the grunt an off roader needs. Even on road a 392 hemi Wrangler is less than a second quicker to 60 than a stock Pentastar due to aerodynamics and that heavy duty drive train. Waste of money.
  • 2 Hide
    slomo4sho , June 14, 2013 10:47 AM
    Since when do people come to Tom's to formulate a decision on which vehicle to purchase?
  • 2 Hide
    JPNpower , June 14, 2013 11:14 AM
    Quote:
    Since when do people come to Tom's to formulate a decision on which vehicle to purchase?


    CPU=Engine
    Cores=cylinders
    Hyperthreading=DOHC
    OC=Turbo
    SLI/CF=4WD/AWD
    Motherboard tech=Gearbox tech

    see it's more related than you think.
  • 0 Hide
    troyellisonjr , June 14, 2013 11:48 AM
    Very strange that no Toyotas were in this...
  • 1 Hide
    slomo4sho , June 14, 2013 12:06 PM
    Quote:

    CPU=Engine
    Cores=cylinders
    Hyperthreading=DOHC
    OC=Turbo
    SLI/CF=4WD/AWD
    Motherboard tech=Gearbox tech

    see it's more related than you think.


    I'll stick to Car & Driver :) 

  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 14, 2013 1:00 PM
    Quote:
    Very strange that no Toyotas were in this...


    I was told they changed PR agencies to one that has never done a car company before and don't quite understand what they should do with the auto press.
  • 2 Hide
    trumpeter1994 , June 14, 2013 1:07 PM
    Need a Land Cruiser in the mix.
  • 0 Hide
    brentsv , June 14, 2013 1:07 PM
    Great article, and very timely considering I just wrapped up 4 months of research on SUVs before purchasing a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. I test drove about everything out there (Land Rover, Audi, BMW, etc.) and the new Jeep GC just did everything that I wanted from an SUV, and for thousands $$ less then it's competitors. People who down-play the Grand Cherokee should stop comparing the versions earlier to 2011. Remember that Mercedes owned Chrysler/Jeep at that time and put a lot of engineering into the new GC. The Jeep GC even shares the same platform and air-suspension as the Mercedes ML350. The Summit trim level that I bought has the upgraded leather seating, nicer head-liner, and an 825 W Harmon Kardon stereo system that was mentioned as lacking in the article. (BTW, I think the Harmon Kardon system is the same one they offer as an upgrade on the Mercedes M and G class SUVs). I actually think the UConnect is fantastic, and think it is easier to use than most of the systems out there. Besides handling all the entertainment duties, it really cleans up and simplifies managing a lot of the other features in the car (e.g. heated and vented seats, etc). When I test drove a Porsche Cayenne I was just over-whelmed by all the buttons in the car. Just too much to manage and too much to clean!! What initially attracted me to the GC was the new diesel engine option. But after tons of analysis on my part, I actually decided to go with the V6. Matted to the new 8-speed transmission the V6 really has plenty of power for most drivers (and is also several hundred pounds lighter than V8 and diesel). I've achieved 25 mpg on some trips with the V6, which makes the $5k premium for the diesel (and it's 28 mpg) just not worth it. The only reason I'd recommend getting the V8 is if you need the 1 second faster 0-60 and top-end speed (sorry, if I need a sports car I'll buy one) or if you need the towing capacity of the diesel. Since I also drive a 2007 Corvette and previously owned an Infiniti FX (also a great handling SUV), I can tell you the V6 gives you ample power for this vehicle. The biggest drawback of the V6 is that it does not come with the rear electronic limited slip, nor does it have the hill-ascent feature (both these features are limited to V8 and diesel). This car has tons of tech in it for the $$. My only complaint would be that Uconnect is limited to 3G, so downloading aps or using it as a wifi hot-spot will be slow compared to 4G/LTE. It also has integration limitations with iPhones compared to Android. I'm hoping Apple's announcement of better integration with vehicles will be backwards compatible with my 2014 GC. In closing, don't dig on the Grand Cherokees until you have gone out and test drove one of the new 2014s!!

    Note to Author: Why in the h?!? was the GC Overland not rated for the hard off-road course? With the terrain select, 2-speed gear box and air suspension, it will go everywhere the Range Rover will go. I've done the "Land Rover Experience" at Quail Lodge in a new 2013 Range Rover, and I honestly feel like my GC can go anywhere that car can go, and for half the price!!!

    Comment to those missing the Toyota 4Runner: Have you stepped into one of those lately? That SUV feels incredibly dated! Toyota is long overdue for a complete refresh of that car...
  • 0 Hide
    tuanies , June 14, 2013 1:15 PM
    Quote:

    Note to Author: Why in the h?!? was the GC Overland not rated for the hard off-road course? With the terrain select, 2-speed gear box and air suspension, it will go everywhere the Range Rover will go. I've done the "Land Rover Experience" at Quail Lodge in a new 2013 Range Rover, and I honestly feel like my GC can go anywhere that car can go, and for half the price!!!


    Because Jeep already had enough firepower to embarass the uber expensive ones with the Wrangler :) .

    Its ok though, I took the Jeep for a week and had some fun with it. Impressive car. Here's a preview of what we did with it.


    P1040212 by tuanies, on Flickr

    That's my buddy's lifted WK with beefy off-road tires. I made it just as far up the remnant snow that he was comfortable going up (it was mostly packed snow and ice). This is with a bone stock 2014 GC with stock tires. I am in love with the air suspension.
Display more comments