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I hate the word unique.  Most things that get that handle aren’t.  That said, the Active Lifestyle Vehicle Awards does fit that description well.  Held annually in Chandler, AZ, and a challenging Butcher Jones recreation area, the competition enlists about three dozen automotive journalists from around the country and 50 elite athletes to evaluate a range of vehicles in eight categories for their relevance to active lifestyles built around sports and the outdoors.

This was the 13th year for the awards and my fourth as a judge.  It evolves every year and the competition gets stiffer, especially in categories that encompass trucks and SUVs.

On the off-road course, which resembles Texas’ more desert-like terrains, trucks and SUVs are put through their paces and subjected to a route with drop-offs, tough turns and enough dust to clog up just about anything.

On-road, the vehicles maneuver the roads that you would expect your daily driver to cover in the course of normal usage.

Among the elite athletes participat8ing this year were former Arizona Cardinals players Jay Taylor, Rodney Thomas and Mark Walczak, as well as Marshane Graves, formerly with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.  Each year a donation is made to the Arizona Legends wish provides financial support to high school football programs and to retired NFL players with medical issues.

ALV co-founder Nina Russin, herself a journalist, athlete and master mechanic, says that the quality of the competition is dependent on the resources doing the evaluation.  The CarLab, an Orange County, CA engineering consulting firm oversaw the off-road course and scored the competition – down to 1/10th of a percent.

Winners of the 2016 awards were:


  • 2016 Volkswagen Golf TSI – best value on-road
  • 2016 Ram Rebel – best value off-road
  • 2017 Nissan Titan PRO 4X – extreme off-road
  • 2017 Kia Cadenza – luxury on-road
  • 2016 Ford Explorer – best value family
    Explorer sales rose 18 percent last month over February 2015; Explorer is Ford’s best-selling SUV with millennial buyers ages 25 to 34, and the best-selling midsize SUV with women – according to Ford analysis of the most recent personal new vehicle registrations* in the U.S. from IHS Automotive.
  • 2017 Nissan Armada – luxury family
  • 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel – green active life lifestyle


  • 2016 Kia Soul – urban life style vehicle
    2016 Soul

Story by Linda Water Nelson


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