Every year, the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA), gets together for Mudfest, a competition that gathers a group of sport utility vehicles (SUV), crossover utility vehicles (CUV) and pickup trucks for two days of testing – a day of on pavement driving and a day of getting dirty in the mud. The vehicles are split across six categories and judged by 25 automotive journalists.
Mudfest holds a special place in my heart as it was my first event as a member in 2013. Since then, I've worked with Ryan Douthit of Driving Sports TV to organize the event. This year's testing took place at The Ridge Motorsports Park, a privately owned race track sitting on 170-acres of land in the middle of nowhere – Shelton, Wash – essentially a Disneyland for car enthusiasts.
On-pavement testing was performed on The Ridge's go-kart course, which is a 1:6 scale replica of its full-size race track. As much fun as driving a bunch of SUVs, CUVs and pickups would be on the main race track, we wanted the cars to survive for a second day of testing, unscathed, and for insurance reasons.
Off-road capabilities were testing on a custom-built dirt course built by the fine staff at The Ridge. There was plenty of deep mud, ruts and slippery terrain to test a vehicle's all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive capabilities. Rusty Gill, one of the owners of The Ridge, owns a construction company and was able to whip out the construction equipment and forge roads off the beaten track.
Vehicles with greater off-road capabilities were able to create-their-own route within the dirt playground at the discretion of the attending manufacture representative. The off-road testing goes beyond daily driving, but it's just so much fun to get cars dirty.
Every journalist was required to drive all the vehicles in two days. It might sound like a chore, but you don't need much motivation needed persuade attendees into doing donuts in the water feature with the RAM Rebel or get the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid sideways.
After two days of rigorous testing, everyone voted for the best car in each category and the best overall vehicle earns the Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the year. The individual categories include compact utility vehicle, family utility vehicle, premium compact utility vehicle, premium utility vehicle, extreme capability and pickups.
I won't go into too much detail of each vehicle, but there's an amazing amount of stunning photography of everyday vehicles getting dirty. I also think SUVs, CUVs and pickups look better covered in mud than clean, so continue on if you want to see cars getting dirty, continue on.
While NWAPA offered consultation with manufacturers over what vehicles to submit for testing, the manufacturers had final say as to what was entered into the event. Fortunately, there was a wide variety of vehicles in all classes this year.