Mount Lemmon

Odometer:  12,108

About 12,000 miles into my ILX ownership experience, I finally got the chance to put my new car’s handling to the test.  Last night, I took Alex the ILX to Tucson, Arizona for the first time.  Tucson lies about 120 miles away from Phoenix via Interstate 10 through the desolate desert.

The destination this time was Mount Lemmon, the highest peak of the Catalina Mountains in southern Arizona.  The Catalina highway leaves northeastern Tucson and climbs rapidly to over 8,000 feet in elevation while winding through some of the most technical twisty sections of road I’ve ever driven.  The view of Tucson – at night especially – is phenomenal from the lookouts.  Check out these curves:

Catalina Highway – during the day – is a sight to behold.  Many of the switchbacks are posted at 15-25 mph.

How about a windows-down, stereo-blasting, full throttle drive up the mountain… in the dark?

The contenders:

  • Will; 2011 Chevy Camaro SS
  • Matt:  2012 Nissan 370Z Sport
  • Tyson:  2013 Acura ILX Premium

Three very different automobiles.  And three very distinct powertrains.

  • Camaro:  420 horsepower, 6.2 liter V8, six speed automatic transmission
  • 370Z:  332 horsepower, 3.7 liter V6, six speed manual transmission
  • ILX:  201 horsepower, 2.4 liter I4, six speed manual transmission

Is this even a fair comparison?  Clearly the ILX was outmatched in terms of power and as a 4-door sedan is arguably the least-sporty car in this lineup.  Matt’s 370Z is equipped with a Nissan-exclusive “Syncro-Rev” feature that automatically matches engine RPM by “blipping” the throttle when downshifting through the gears.  The Camaro has double the ILX’s horsepower.  But on a road like the Catalina Highway, as we soon found out, it’s not all about displacement.  The ILX held its own against these two other vehicles by its sheer handling ability.

Huge pluses for the ILX:

  • Light clutch effort:  Easy on the left thigh!
  • Short throw gearbox:  The distance from gear-to-gear in the ILX is a lot shorter than I’m used to in my Legend.
  • Smooth shifts!  This car’s transmission can only be described as “buttery.”  I spent most of my time back and forth between 3rd and 4th gears, revving at 4-5,000 RPM whether climbing in elevation or downshifting during descent.
  • Brake power is more than adequate for any turns that come up as a surprise.
  • Flat cornering – I noticed minimal body roll.
  • Grippy steering wheel with thick rim and small diameter for easy maneuvering.
  • Nighttime visibility thanks to HID projector headlamps and foglights was critical during the 18-mile stretch marked as active ‘deer crossing’ and as a means of anticipating upcoming curves.

Twenty five miles of rollercoaster-worthy curves later, we arrived at Summerhaven which is the end point of the Catalina Highway.  The exterior temperature on my digital readout said 59 degrees – quite possibly the coldest it’s read since I got the ILX in June!  It was refreshing night up there.

Unfortunately, lighting was poor at the Windy Point lookout, one of the pullouts where we stopped and I snapped a couple of pictures.

What you can’t see in this picture is the great view of Tucson ahead of the cars.  Where was Will in the Camaro?  We were waiting for him to catch up.


After the mountain cruise, a late night dinner at BJ’s Brewery in Tucson.

A few other pics from the drive down are here.  These were taken at a midpoint between Phoenix and Tucson, in the now “ghost-towned” community of Picacho, so named for Picacho Peak which stands in the background of the below picture where a motel used to operate.

Incidentally, I stopped at this same location in my Legend in October, 2009 when the motel (though very run-down) was still standing.

Boarded-up restaurant.

Good grief!

Enjoyed the sign at the “Pet Exercise Area”:

On the way back home to Phoenix, I noticed that my range indicator said exactly 200 miles at exactly half a tank.

The Mount Lemmon run was a great driving experience and one that I hope to do again soon!

Wish I could’ve brought the 59 degree temps home to Phoenix with me.

12 Responses to “Mount Lemmon”

  1. Joyce McGregor Says:

    Loved the adjective “buttery” and educational narrative about the vicinity and road. Great comparison of vehicle performance, too. Well-done!

  2. Kevin Amoth Says:

    I grade this edition of Tyson’s blog a A++

  3. Here is another place I’d like to visit someday in a Honda!

  4. Nice comparison! I agree – pure power won’t always get you across the finish line first. Man you have some great highways in Arizona!

    • Thanks, Tony! We do indeed have some great roads out here. I’ve been in the state for 6 years and the list of “must-drive” roads keeps growing. Do you have a top pick for your most favorite scenic drive or highway?

      • In Toronto, my favourite drive is the Don Valley Parkway. It’s a feeder highway into the city and it has some nice vistas of the skyline and exciting twists and turns. Outside the city, there are some beautiful stretches of the Trans-Canada Highway through northern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I’ve made the 18-hour trip from Toronto to Halifax many times!

  5. racing around in the ILX! Just don’t drive off those mountain roads!

    • This 2.4L 6MT with race pedals and red gauge accents and sporty accent stitching on the interior simply begs to be driven a little bit harder than the average sedan, Dave! We did have a fun, safe good time. Already scouting out my next canyon run adventures. Any good roads like this up in your area? I enjoyed the drive to Snoqualmie.

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