By Jeff Zurschmeide / Pamplin Media Group
Last week, Pamplin Media Group Automotive Editor Jim Redden and I spent two days with a couple dozen other automotive journalists from the Northwest Automotive Press Association. We were driving 19 different SUVs and three pickup trucks to see which ones offered the best solutions for the Pacific Northwest. We drove everything from a massive Rolls-Royce Cullinan to the compact Subaru Crosstrek. Then, together with our fellow journalists, we voted on which ones we thought best in a number of categories. Jim will deliver his verdicts in his own story, but here’s what I learned in the course of the event, known as Mudfest 2023.
Among the popular mid-size three-row SUVs, I found the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (plug-in hybrid) to offer an outstanding value, premium comfort, and decent performance both on-road and off-road. The Mitsubishi was compared to the Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Sequoia, Honda Pilot, and Jeep Wagoneer.
For the smaller two-row category, we had a choice between the Kia Sportage, Subaru Crosstrek, Honda CR-V Hybrid, Jeep Compass, Volkswagen Tiguan, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 4XE, and the Mazda CX-50. For my money, the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek was the best of the group, and the most affordable at $26,145. I also liked the Jeep Compass and Mazda CX-50, both starting under $30,000. The Jeep Wrangler seemed like an odd vehicle in this category, as it’s the only one built on a traditional frame with a dual-range 4X4 system. More about that later.
Luxury and Premium SUVS
There was also a luxury category, featuring the BMW X7, Lexus RX500h, Acura RDX, Genesis Electrified G70, and the Rolls-Royce Cullinan. The Rolls-Royce is exquisite, of course, with opulent luxury unlike anything else you can buy, but it also costs over $400,000. Down in the realm of things you might actually be able to buy, I found the Genesis G70 all-electric SUV to be frankly amazing. It’s incredibly comfortable, fast, smooth, and you can buy it for about $67,550. I also want to give honorable mention to the Lexus RX500h hybrid, which is also capable, comfortable, and affordable at $62,750.
Among pickup trucks, we had a limited selection with the Ford F-150 Raptor R, the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, and the diminutive Hyundai Santa Cruz. The Raptor R is a 700 horsepower all-out performance truck with a sticker price over $110,000, and the Toyota starts right around $70,000. So it wasn’t really fair to compare those to the $25,700 SUV-based Hyundai. I would have liked to see the Honda Ridgeline and the Ford Maverick with the Hyundai, and trucks like the Ram TRX and Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 to compete with the Ford and Toyota. As it was, the three trucks were so different, it was impossible for me to choose “the best” among them.
Hybrids and Electrics
The journalists also looked at the vehicles that offered electrification of some sort, and those included the Jeep Wrangler 4xe and Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrids, Honda CR-V and Lexus RX500h hybrids, and the all-electric Genesis GV70. Here again, the Mitsubishi took top honors with its 38-mile all-electric range and starting price around $45,000. But honorable mention goes out to all the other competitors in this category. There isn’t a bad option among them.
Extreme Off-Road Performance Vehicles
This category included the Ford Raptor and Toyota Tundra trucks, plus the Toyota Sequoia, Nissan Pathfinder, and the Jeep Wagoneer and Wrangler options. Picking the winner was easy, with the Wrangler Rubicon’s long list of off-road technology, including a disconnecting sway bar, front and rear electronic locking differentials, road cameras, and more. Several of these vehicles also offer forward-looking road cameras, and these are a huge help when you’re on steep or rough terrain. However, I was truly impressed by the Jeep Wagoneer, which was easily the biggest, longest vehicle in the category. Despite its size, the Wagoneer was just as capable as any other vehicle, and went over all the obstacles with ease.
Best Value Vehicles
The best value among all these SUVs and trucks was also easy. The Subaru Crosstrek was the most affordable vehicle at the event, but it displayed above average performance off-road, while also being nimble, quick, and fun to drive on-road. The features and quality you get from Subaru made the Crosstrek the obvious choice for the best value award. Runner-up honors went to the Mitsubishi Outlander, because it offers PHEV efficiency and premium luxury at a better price than comparable midsize PHEV vehicles.
And the Winner is…
After two full days of testing, the assembled experts named the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV as the overall winner of the competition, followed by the Genesis Electrified GV70.
“The victory might be a surprise for some, but not for those that tested the all-new Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid,” said NWAPA president Nik Miles. “It is well-equipped, extremely capable, and is loaded with features not seen on other plug-in hybrids.”
It makes sense that electrified SUVs are coming to the top of the list for value, luxury, and capability. Automakers have invested billions of dollars developing these vehicles, and they’ve listened to consumers about what’s important. If you’re shopping for a new SUV this year, look to the winners of the NWAPA competition for some of the top choices on the market today.
Full results can be found online.