Best AWD/4WD Cars of 2021: Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year Awards


The Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) has held a Mudfest event every year, for over 25 years now, to evaluate the latest generation of AWD/4WD vehicles. Each year, it crowns its Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year.

The 2021 NWAPA Mudfest winner is the 2022 Genesis GV70. A surprise winner for sure, but worthy.

“The all-new 2022 GV70 stood out with its excellent on-road handling, surprising off-road capabilities and premium interior,” NWAPA said. “This new model from the Genesis brand demonstrated an unbeatable combination of performance, features, capabilities and technology at the 26th NWAPA Mudfest competition.”

This also sums up my experience at the event with the vehicle. All in all, an impressive vehicle with unique styling, great comfort and value.

However, I didn’t pick the GV70 as my winner. More on that below.

Northwest Outdoor Vehicle of the Year

Eighteen automotive journalists, including myself, evaluated 19 different CUVs, SUVs and 4×4/AWD trucks over 2 days at Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, Washington.

We spent the first day on the pavement and the second off-road. Evaluations took place on the property’s go-kart track and off-road course. Each journalist drove each vehicle on the two test runs and had the opportunity to spend more time with the vehicles on local roads.

The narrow kart track kept top speeds down, but offered a great mix of elevation changes, fast turns and tight hairpins. I squealed more than a few tires and had a blast doing it!

(All Photos/Doug Berger for NWAPA)

The off-road course consisted of a steep hill, a small rocky water crossing, some inclines, logs, and a series of alternating large holes to test articulation.

The little CUV performed a go-around on the first steep obstacle, as it would have been centered on the berm, but otherwise completed the course without issue.

For the more capable among the test fleet, a set of steeper, looser hills was also offered, which worked well for testing off-road driving modes, descent control and surround camera systems.

The journalists in attendance specialize in a wide range of automotive sectors and most have decades of industry experience. I will say that most are not super active outdoor adventurers, so you have to take that into account when looking at the results of this review. Everyone has their own idea of ​​what’s best for outdoor adventure, as everyone has a different perspective and personal needs in a mobile adventure.

Evaluations took place at the end of each day with an online poll that tallied the votes. Along with an overall Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year category, there were also vehicle type categories.

The contest included six sub-categories: Subcompact and Compact Family Utility Vehicles, Midsize and Full-Size Family Utility Vehicles, Compact and Midsize Luxury Utility Vehicles, Full-Size Luxury Utility Vehicles, Pickup Trucks and Extreme Capability Vehicles.

Mudfest_2021_-63912021 Mudfest Winners

Here are all 19 vehicles tested:

  • MazdaCX30
  • Hyundai Tucson
  • Toyota RAV4 Premier
  • Genesis GV70
  • Mercedes-Benz GLB 250
  • Acura MDX A-Spec
  • Kia Telluride
  • Jeep Wrangler 392
  • Ford Bronco Badlands
  • Kia Sorento
  • Subaru Backcountry Desert
  • VWAtlas
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee L
  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Jeep Wagoner
  • Honda Ridgeline
  • Hyundai Santa Cruz
  • RAM 1500 TRX
  • Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

And, based on all the votes tallied, the winners are (drum roll, please):

Winners of the Northwest 2021 Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year

  • Subcompact and compact family: 2021 Toyota RAV4 Premium XSE AWD
    • Finalist: 2022 Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD
  • Medium and full size family: 2022 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392
    • Finalist: 2021 Ford Bronco 2-Door Advanced Badlands 4X4
  • Compact and mid-size luxury: 2022 Genesis GV70 AWD 3.5T Sport Prestige
    • Finalist: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLB250 4MATIC
  • Full-Size Luxury: 2022 Jeep Wagoneer Series II 4X4
  • Vans: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD
  • Extreme capacity: 2022 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon 392
    • Finalist: 2021 Ford Bronco Advanced Badlands 2-Door 4X4
  • NW Outdoor Vehicle of the Year: 2022 Genesis GV70 AWD 3.5T Sport Prestige
    • Finalist: 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz Limited AWD
Best AWD/4WD Cars of 2021: Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year Awards
Best AWD/4WD Cars of 2021: Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year Awards

During its long Mudfest, the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) crowned its Northwest Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year. Read more…

“The 2021 NWAPA Outdoor Activity Vehicle of the Year competition brought together a diverse group of vehicles that reflects the evolution of the SUV and light truck markets,” said NWAPA President John Vincent.

“The 2022 Genesis GV70 luxury crossover has brought together phenomenal handling, sleek technology integration and an unexpected ability to overcome off-road obstacles with little drama.”

Mudfest_2021_-13001Our picks for the best AWD/4WD vehicles

While it’s hard to argue with the winners that came out of the vote by this diverse group of seasoned automotive journalists, I have a slightly different perspective than most of the journalists in attendance. I see vehicles like this as tools to take me to places of outdoor adventure and hopefully have fun and be comfortable along the way.

Although I could give you an overview of exactly how I voted, that would be boring and irrelevant. However, I want to share with you my top picks and a few vehicles that surprised me, both good and bad.

It’s hard not to smile at the wheel of the RAM TRX!

I chose the TRX-RAM truck as the number one outdoor activity vehicle of the year. While it’s not cheap, around $87,000—and really big—it far outperforms almost anything tested on and off the road.

The interior is amazing, the ride is comfortable, and overall it’s ready for any adventure you can throw at it.


My second overall pick is the Jeep Wrangler 392. Why not love a V8 Hemi-powered luxury Wrangler Rubicon?

Well, there’s the wind noise and the $83,000 price tag, but otherwise it was really fun on and off road. It was the only vehicle tested that could outperform the TRX off-road.


My third-place pick came as a bit of a surprise to me, the Mercedes-Benz GLB 250. It was the best performer on the road, has one of the best interiors and driver ergonomics, and did far better than expected. you expected. -road.

The version we tested had a bunch of AMG parts, which not only made it look better, but also performed better. While a small SUV for $50,000 isn’t cheap, the GLB 250 is actually a bargain and would be a great adventure companion for those who don’t need extreme off-road capabilities.

For sure, this Benz would be the easiest of my day-to-day picks, especially in urban settings.

Other prints

There were a number of vehicles that really impressed in these tests. The Acura MDX A-Spec is a super precise and fun SUV on the road, offers an impressive luxury interior and has plenty of room for all passengers and gear.

the MazdaCX30 is compact, yet impressively valuable and offers some of the best on-road driving dynamics of any vehicle tested.

And the Hyundai Santa Cruz offers a better interior, much better on-road handling characteristics and slightly lower off-road capabilities than the Honda Ridgeline.



There were also a few vehicles in testing that didn’t impress me. The Ridgeline, as noted above, especially due to the cheap interior, is one of them. And the Outback Wilderness was really good at a lot of things, but I just can’t get past all the plastic bits and the horrible drivetrain.

VW’s Atlas and KIA’s Telluride look really good on the outside and on paper, but both don’t suit me in terms of performance, as well as interior quality and ergonomics.

And the 2022 Tacoma TRD Pro is the capable off-road machine you expect, but it still has a clunky drivetrain, unimpressive power, and horrible ride ergonomics (especially the seating position).

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Ultimately, the opinions of NWAPA members and mine come from educated backgrounds, but each individual will have their own specific needs outside of an outdoor activity vehicle.

Each of you will also have your own brand and style preferences, which will undoubtedly guide your buying decisions. We can’t forget budgets either, because while I’d love a TRX in my driveway, I just don’t have that kind of room to spend on my adventuremobile.



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