HomeCar CultureHow I nearly ditched a Volvo while helping pick Active Lifestyle Vehicle...

How I nearly ditched a Volvo while helping pick Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year


Teetering on three wheels in a 2017 Volvo XC60 SUV, trying to rock it out of the deeply grooved ruts of a steep Arizona desert trail, I began wondering whether I had made a critical driving error.

The Volvo was not happy on this rugged terrain, what with its all-season tires and such, and I was summoning up every bit of mind of over matter to get it unstuck. Finally, we started to climb at some crazy angles, and I felt fairly heroic once we crested the ridge.

A fellow ALV participant helps guide the Volvo out of the deep ditches | Mark Elias

My Volvo drive came as I participated among the automotive journalists ranking cars, trucks, crossovers and SUVs for the 14th Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards, trying to determine which of the two-dozen candidates best fit the needs of athletes and outdoors folk. The testing featured on- and off-road tests, including Extreme Off-Road, and the jury panel comprised professional athletes as well as auto writers.

Driving the Volvo back from the off-road area, my positive feelings about the four-wheeling victory turned to chagrin once an ALV volunteer ran over to inform me that the Volvo had no business being subjected to the Extreme Off-Road segment of the competition. Despite being all-wheel drive and having an “off-road” mode among its driver settings, the SUV was supposed to be part of the on-road testing, competing in the Luxury Family category.

Oops. At least there was no harm done, except to my self-esteem. And the Volvo did really well.

The Alfa Romeo Stelvio was a test-drive favorite | Mark Elias

The ALV test vehicles, supplied by the automakers, ran the gamut of sizes, styles and segments, from brawny four-wheel-drive pickup trucks to midsize sedans, compact SUVs and hybrid vehicles. They were broken up into nine award categories (the big pickups actually belonged in the Extreme Off-Road class) with a winner chosen in each.

The off-road segments, both extreme and otherwise, were held at the Butcher Jones recreation area in an established off-roading location east of Phoenix. The on-road trials were held on nearby winding two-lane roads.

A Toyota 4Runner tracks through the desert trails | Mark Elias

Journalists and athletes from across the country served as judges, rating each vehicle on a list of criteria. Among the athletes were former Arizona Cardinals tight end Mark Walczak (and his well-behaved Labrador retriever), internationally ranked cyclist Paul Thomas, elite triathlete and mountain-biker Lewis Elliott, and race-car driver Rodney Riley, an instructor at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving.

The ALV competition was organized by co-founder Nina Russin of Phoenix, a long-time marathon runner and cyclist as well as a veteran automotive journalist.

“While technically a car-of-the-year competition, ALV’s primary focus remains that of education, giving automotive manufacturers the opportunity to interact directly with opinion leaders in the active community,” Russin said.

The winners this year:

Best Value Extreme Off-Road: 2017 Nissan Titan PRO 4X
Best Value Family: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Best Value Off-Road: 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk
Best Value On-Road: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan
Green: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
High Luxury Off-Road: 2018 Ram Laramie Longhorn Southfork
Luxury Family: 2017 Dodge Durango SRT
Luxury On-Road: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Urban: 2018 Honda Fit



Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.


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