On this special edition of Motoring Monday, the jury getting to decide the winners of eight different classes of vehicles this year included a variety of people who have active lifestyles. These include long distance runners, professional athletes including some celebrities, as well as those who enjoy other activities like weight training, hiking or local sports.
The point? Get these people into vehicles that the manufacturers aim directly them with the claims of adventure, utility, ability and value. Nobody is more qualified than genuine car buyers who walk the walk and talk the talk.
After a short walk-around by the manufacturers of each vehicle to show off their latest features and list off-important bullet points, the group of over 100 drivers were soon on their way to testing the vehicles in routes both on and off-road.
Classes were broken up into vehicle types and uses. As you might see, some vehicles might seem more fitting to a class than others. Keep in mind the manufacturers were able to choose which models to place in the classes, in their own strategies to compete.
First up was “Best Value Family” which was more or less the bread and butter crossover and SUV class. Included here were the Dodge Durango, Toyota Highlander and this year Kia’s all new 2015 Sedona MPV.
An interesting strategy on Kia’s part, their new mini-van genuinely feels like a crossover SUV from behind the wheel and offered the other two classmates a good challenge for heart and soul. The people decided with their votes however and the Dodge Durango came out on top.
Stepping up to the big leagues, the “Luxury Family” category offered up the new 2015 Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX 570 and a fresh Acura MDX. With vehicles spanning from mid-size crossover to truck-based full-size SUV, it provided drivers with plenty to think about.
Acura’s MDX offered the brand’s smooth creamy take on high-performance crossover driving experience while the Lexus gave a Land Cruiser-like theme with extra leather and wood. For these fleet-footed athletes, the Cadillac Escalade was the winner of this class.
Before we get to the off-road course, one of the up and coming categories at the Active Lifestyle Vehicle competition is the Green set. This year these included the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid and the new 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI clean diesel.
Kia surprised everyone and arrived with their all-new Soul EV, an electric-vehicle which is not yet on the market here in Arizona. Welcomed by many, it was their first time behind the wheel of an EV, and during the day never lost its charge with a 90+ mile range.
If I had voted, my personal pick was the new electrically motivated Kia Soul. It had plenty of power, offered the gift of silence at speed, and was cute as hell. Though the Soul was popular with many, Volkswagen won the class with their Golf TDI.
Also a rising tide in the sport-ute genre is the Urban class. This compact segment includes the Fiat 500L, all-new Honda Fit and the Kia Soul. Both the Kia and the Fiat 500L returned this season, but the 2015 Honda Fit was the new contender in the ring.
All three vehicles had their strengths as well as their fans. When the votes were tallied up, the Kia Soul took home the trophy again for being the most appealing across the board for value, utility and proud to own factor.
The off-road track was a favorite with the masses, offering many of the jury members the opportunity to drive the sport-utility vehicles in ways they never might in their daily lives. For others experienced in rock crawling, it was the chance to try the other guy’s brand.
In the Best Value Off-Road category was a unlikely variety of vehicles spanning from the more car-like Subaru Outback to the Jeep Cherokee cross-over. They both played against the heavy duty skilled off-roaders Toyota 4Runner and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
With such a wide range of capabilities and vehicle formats, the jury really ended up looking at how they truly identified with them as opposed to metrics we journalists might measure them by. This is a good thing, after all you buy these cars. Winning this category was the 2015 Subaru Outback.
The Luxury Off-Road class was right next-door giving the opportunity to drive the Lexus GX 460 and Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel on the small course of moguls and hills, as well as the rock crawl. Manufacturer representatives rode along to demonstrate off-road traction systems and suspension features.
Both vehicles offer a mix of rich luxury interiors with commendable off-road prowess as well as towing capability. There could only be one winner, and with only two to vote from the athletes awarded Jeep Grand Cherokee the crown this year.
The largest class of vehicles this year was Best Value On-Road, with compact cross-overs as well as what most would call cars. In fact the wild-card entry this year was a Buick Verano turbo sedan, most assuredly not an SUV. It was quite popular during the day, often out on drives.
Competitors also included the venerable Dodge Journey, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Kia Forte 5-Door and the Toyota Venza. With so many vehicles to compare it was a surprise upset in Dodge’s favor with their Journey cross-over getting the nod from the jury.
The Luxury On-Road set was also comprised of a mix of sport-sedans and luxury cross-overs which seemed an unlikely group. They were all welcome drives however with some offering up high-performance and others cosseting luxury.
These included the all-new 2015 Mercedes-Benz C400 with its twin-turbo V6, the Cadillac CTS VSport also sporting a twin-turbo V6. Competing with them was also the freshly minted Acura TLX as well as crossovers Lexus RX 350 and Audi Q3 2.0T.
My personal favorite of the bunch was the Audi Q3 with its agile and tight feel, down to business interior, and spunky personality on the road. I wasn’t voting however, but the winner was well worthy of the trophy too, and that was the Mercedes-Benz C400 sedan.
The event has been held in Phoenix, Arizona now for several years, the brainchild of athlete and automotive journalist Nina Russin and Jim Woodman, a journalist, triathlete and founder of Active.com.
Making the day fun, the 2014 Active Lifestyle Vehicle Awards was held at the Local Motors campus. Here motorized toys of unimaginable proportions are made every day including the Rally Fighter as well as the 3D printed car which has gained many headlines lately. More coming from us on that, very soon.
BEST VALUE FAMILY
Dodge Durango – Winner
Cadillac Escalade – Winner
Lexus LX 570
Volkswagen Golf TDI – Winner
Kia Soul EV
Toyota Prius Plug-In
Kia Soul – Winner
BEST VALUE OFF-ROAD
Subaru Outback – Winner
Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
Jeep Grand Cherokee – Winner
Lexus GX 460
BEST VALUE ON-ROAD
Dodge Journey – Winner
Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Kia Forte 5-Door (check)
Mercedes-Benz C400 – Winner
Audi Q3 2.0T
Cadillac CTS-V Sport