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Mudfest 2013: Tom's Hardware Helps Test 23 SUVs

Tom's Hardware At The NWAPA Mudfest

Every year, the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) hosts Mudfest, a gathering of regional journalists and manufacturer reps to evaluate more than 20 off-road-capable vehicles on pavement and dirt courses. For 2013, the event was held at DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, Washington. The 310-acre playground with three specially-designed courses simulated extreme driving conditions the entrants might be expected to encounter out in the wild.

I was inducted into the NWAPA shortly before the event, garnering a spot amongst 30 other automotive journalists present for the two-day event. There were 23 vehicles present for Mudfest, broken down into five different classes: compact, luxury compact, family, luxury, and off-road.

Testing was spread across two days. The first day included on-pavement testing. DirtFish put together an autocross course on their skid pad and kept it wet on a rare beautiful sunny day in Washington, allowing everyone to test performance with common weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest. Drivers were required to leave the DirtFish grounds and test their vehicles on the street to get a feel for them on the road.

The second day was filled with off-road testing on a dirt course put together by DirtFish. It included plenty of mud, ruts, and gravel. There were actually two off-road courses. One simulated the worst of dirt service roads, trails, or a leisurely camping trip. The harder course required real piloting skill to take advantage of locking differentials, great axle articulation capabilities, and approach angles. Only three vehicles qualified for the more difficult setup.

All of the journalists were required to drive every vehicle in both scenarios. As there were only 23 vehicles and 31 journalists, it was a game of musical cars. Each member of the press spent about 20 minutes in each car per day.

Because our time was limited, the automotive testing we'd normally do for Tom's Hardware had to be brief. We did, however, bring along a fourth-gen iPad to test compatibility with the Lightning connector and an HTC Droid DNA for Bluetooth pairing and Bluetooth MAP compatibility testing.

Our autocross playground at DirtFish Rally School

The vehicles entered are listed below and organized by class.

Compact Class

  • 2013 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD
  • 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport AWD 2.0T
  • 2014 Mazda CX5 Grand Touring AWD
  • 2013 Mini Cooper S Paceman ALL4
  • 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Premium

Luxury Compact Class

  • 2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech
  • 2013 BMW X1 xDrive35i
  • 2013 Land Rover LR2

Family Class

  • 2013 Honda Crosstour 4WD EX-L Navigation V6
  • 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD
  • 2014 Kia Sorento SX AWD
  • 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander SE
  • 2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL FWD
  • 2014 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Premium
  • 2013 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Executive

Luxury Class

  • 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i
  • 2013 Buick Enclave AWD Premium
  • 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4x4
  • 2013 Mercedes GL450 4Matic
  • 2012 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

Off-road Class

  • 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 10th Anniversary 4x4
  • 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged
  • 2013 Mercedes G550
  • Super_Nova
    Very slow newsweek
    Reply
  • flong777
    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.
    Reply
  • Johnny_C13
    Well, at least the Grand Cherokee can (literally) run (on) Crysis... but I wonder if it starts faster with an SSD?
    Reply
  • MU_Engineer
    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.
    Reply
  • ammaross
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
    Reply
  • ammaross
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    10968917 said:
    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.

    10969315 said:
    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.

    10969432 said:
    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 :(.
    Reply
  • joe gamer
    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.
    Reply
  • tuanies
    10969918 said:
    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.

    Reply
  • JPNpower
    Why are you using SUVs in the mud!!! These things belong in parking lots at the mall!
    Reply