Mudfest: Two days spent slinging 4x4s and AWD machines through the mud

Each year the Northwest Automotive Press Association (otherwise known as NWAPA) hosts an event that collates the latest and greatest AWDs and 4WDs for two days of on-road and off-road judging. Automakers bring their top-of-the-line vehicles to duke it out for category wins or the coveted overall title, the NW Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year. It’s a two day power review of current AWD or 4×4 models, to see who will come out on top. Which is the best adventuremobile for you? This event is known as Mudfest.

We drove, tested, and rated each vehicle via a plethora of categories and segments to judge. On- and off-road ride quality and handling, powertrain strength and braking ability, interior creature comforts and technology, as well as handling or efficiency ratings—just to name a few.

In addition to the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon taking top honors as the overall 4×4 NW Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year, it also got top ratings as our favorite in the Pickup Truck and Extreme Capability categories. The 2020 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD walked away with the Mid- and Full-Size Family win, whereas the 2019 Subaru Forester Sport showcased a win in the Subcompact and Compact Family. These rigs are shoe-ins for adventure: the Gladiator Rubicon for stock off-road prowess and the Forester Sport and Kia Telluride for family AWD capability.

While the following rigs didn’t win, they still received great marks in my book and should be considered when looking for a new adventure rig. They’re my unsung favorites of the 2019 Mudfest. Each has their place as a great all-wheel-drive city run-about, family cruiser across the country (in just about any kind of weather), or a truly capable 4×4 that can supply solid off-road performance to get to remote camp spots or slice through snow on the way to skiing epic powder. These are great adventuremobiles, yet are dependent on what you’re looking for in an outdoor companion.

2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate AWD

Competing in the Subcompact and Compact Family category, I gave the Hyundai Kona great marks for on- and off-road ride/handling, technology, safety, efficiency, and overall design features. While the Kona is smaller than the 2019 segment winner, the 2019 Subaru Forester Sport, it’s agility to quickly maneuver its way around each course, and sprightly engagement both on- and off-tarmac was impressive. The 1.6L turbocharged 4-banger generated 175 peppy horses, ready and willing to take drivers on future adventures. I’d have full confidence driving the Kona on hard-packed dirt or gravel roads, or cross-country ventures.

Along with its power, the Hyundai Kona has quite the list of safety features like forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist with driver attention warning, as well as several airbags. These features are quite handy to avoid collisions with pedestrians or other vehicles in front of you if you’re all crowding around a popular trailhead, and can keep the Kona in your lane if you are distracted as you head home from a 16-mile-long hike. Also showcased are blind spot and rear cross-traffic collision warning, which are other safety warnings to keep you from crashing into others. Hyundai stepped up their game to allow its passengers to be safe while driving, as well as pedestrians and other vehicles secure when around them.

Add to this technology goodies like an eight inch color touchscreen navi system and an Infinity premium sound system; you now have a fun cross-country or gravel road ready AWD rig. You can listen to the Stones or Bob Marley the entire way without skipping a beat. The Kona also features wireless charging so you can drop your phone on the flat pad and charge away, without fumbling for all those cords.

For just over $30,000, the 2019 Hyundai Kona Ultimate is a great bang for the buck.

2019 Ford Edge Titanium AWD

I’ve not had much time behind the wheel of a Ford Edge. I’ve always liked the looks, but didn’t think I’d like it as much as I did after completing on- and off-road testing with the Edge. I gave it high marks across the board. From its powertrain, braking ability, and handling, to the sure-footed prowess tackling dirt curves, hills, and off-camber situations, the Ford Edge was a surprise at Mudfest. It gripped the tarmac as I zoomed around the paved short track and grabbed the hard-packed dirt course as I navigated over steep inclines, tight turns, and un-even bumps.

This Ruby Red Metallic gem had tons of bells and whistles. From a cold weather package and niceties like evasive steering assist, adaptive cruise control with lane centering, and enhanced park assist, the Ford Edge can just keep you warm and toasty on a cold winter’s day, while keeping you centered on roadways with enough distance between the vehicle in front of you so you’re not tailgating.

In addition to keeping your bum toasty, the Ford Edge Titanium boasts a voice activated touchscreen nav system, as well as a panoramic roof; this vehicle has a multitude of advanced systems to keep you comfortable and safe. Add to this a bunch of carefully placed airbags and several additional safety features—this AWD Ford can take you places in both style and comfort.

2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite

Honda has long been known as an auto manufacturer that has details and engine longevity dialed in. Case in point? The 2019 Passport AWD Elite. This mid-size five-passenger SUV is a comfortable and stable cruiser on-road, but can also handle dirt, gravel, as well water-logged roadways and sand (as long as you’re not climbing sand dunes the size of your house with it).

Off-roading a soft-roading Honda Passport

The Passport Elite’s 280 HP 3.5-liter engine was coupled to a nine-speed automatic transmission; it effortlessly shifted during its testing period with me. The suspension easily gobbled up divets and ruts. It felt solid, even if it was three-wheeling around off-camber situations. This stylish mid-size SUV seats five occupants and sits larger than the CR-V, yet smaller than its three-row seven-passenger cousin, the Pilot. The new iteration of the Passport boasts an all-wheel drive system that offers up normal, sand, mud, and snow drive settings. A quick flick of the wrist switches drive modes to suite current conditions. The Passport’s suspension was relaxed yet supportive when tackling uneven and washboarded terrain and is at home on the road, no matter if it’s tarmac or hard-packed dirt. With safety features like forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, and lane keeping assist, this Honda will keep you on the straight and narrow. These feature can assist drivers when someone suddenly turns in front of them (by applying the brakes and slowing down), will help them stay in their lane, and will alert you if you’re not paying attention.

The Passport Elite is the top-of-the-line trim level, enticing potential buyers with an oversized interior, oodles of technology and safety features, as well as a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. This AWD would make an ideal cross-country tarmac warrior as well as an adventure rig to hit up various trails. MSRP: $44,725. Fuel economy: 19 city, 24 highway, and 21 combined. This family oriented adventure mobile is ready for action.

2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro 4×4

The Toyota 4Runner is iconic, especially in the brightly appointed Voodoo Blue paint color. This 270 HP 4.0-liter 4×4 SUV has been a crowd favorite for many years. It’s extremely capable in stock form and even more off-road worthy in customized fashions.

The 4Runner boasts many off-road features, like a rear differential locker (which when engaged in certain off-road terrain like thick mud or loose dirt, can create extra traction). The 4Runner also has multi-terrain select and crawl control. Multi-terrain select allows drivers to choose certain terrain settings like mud & sand, and loose rock etc. when navigating those types of terrain. Those settings mate the 4Runner to each type of terrain, hence, making the course easier to navigate. Crawl control is recommended when going up challenging uphill or downhill terrain, where the driver would like the vehicle to take control. Crawl control works via a turn-dial. The slower speeds are meant for navigating over rocks or very uneven terrain, whereas the faster settings are for snow, gravel, or some mud if you’re headed uphill. You may hear some grinding noises as it navigates you over tricky terrain, but have no fear as this is normal.

Also showcased on the 4Runner are TRD-tuned (TRD = Toyota Racing Development) Fox shocks and springs (for enhanced off-road performance), and TRD-embellished front skid plate (that will protect your underbody from stumps and large rocks). The 2019 4Runner is up to tackle just about whatever terrain challenge you want to throw at it. It has fuel economy ratings of: 17 city, 20 highway, and 18 combined. It’s less than others in the Mudfest line-up, but when you figure in off-road prowess and availability of aftermarket parts, you’ll be sure to hit a home run with this Toyota. MSRP price tag is $47,460—but, it just may be worth it.

2019 RAM 2500 Power Wagon Crew Cab 4×4

Even though the new 2019 Jeep Gladiator took top honors in the Pickup Truck category, RAM continues to impress its customers via its line-up with heavy duty capability, stamina, and looks. The 2019 RAM 2500 Power Wagon’s 6.4-liter Hemi V8 rumbled its way through the on- and off-road courses confidently. Although it’s best off-road in my opinion, on-road performance was admirable. It handled like a truck in tarmac corners, but it took off like a bat out of “you-know-where” from a dead stop and braked nicely.

Off-road performance was sure-footed and excitable. The 2019 Power Wagon boasted off-road amenities like a 12,000 pound WARN winch with synthetic rope and WARN Epic hook to help pull yourself (or others) out of stuck situations.

Also offered up were Bilstein front and rear tuned shocks, RAM Articulink Suspension for upgraded off-road performance, skid plates to protect the truck’s underbody, as well as RAM’s Tru-Lok front and rear locking axles. It was the most self-sufficient 4×4 at Mudfest. I’d take the Power Wagon any day on a gnarly off-road trail. Rocks, off-camber issues, steep inclines or declines, or even loose ground would be no match for the RAM 2500 Power Wagon.

Add to the above, and abundance of safety, technology, and creature comfort features—you have yourself a great 4×4 adventure package. MSRP is $67, 220. Well above the rest dollar-wise, I’d add, but if you’re looking for another king of off-road adventure, then the RAM 2500 Power Wagon should be looked at.

Even though these peruse-worthy vehicles weren’t winners of Mudfest titles, they should be considered as adventure-ready rigs. Each of these vehicles have loads of amenities and personalities to offer, test drive each of them and decide which is right for you.

[Images courtesy of Ryan Douthit, MediaSpigot LLC]

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3 responses to “Mudfest: Two days spent slinging 4x4s and AWD machines through the mud”

  1. Christopher Tracy Avatar
    Christopher Tracy

    This is 100% my jam.

  2. Christopher Tracy Avatar
    Christopher Tracy

    This is 100% my jam.

  3. Zentropy Avatar

    It surprises me that one can buy a TRD 4Runner for roughly the same price as a top-trim Passport, when there’s absolutely no comparison with regards to capability. While I’d pass on the garish blue paint (I saw one this weekend and my retinas are still burning), I can’t see any argument that wouldn’t favor the Toyota.