ILX Drive: Coronado Trail in Eastern Arizona

Odometer (Legend):  527,207

527207

Odometer (ILX):  56,713

56713

Trip Distance:  537 Miles

coronado_map

Confession Time:  When I was 8 years old, I got carsick and threw up Hawaiian Punch in the back of my aunt Jodi’s SUV.  It made a mess of my Cabbage Patch doll, and to this day my family has never let me forget about it.  It took a couple of decades until I could stand to drink HP again.

Curvy roads don’t agree with my stomach — unless, I’ve discovered, I’m the driver.  On Saturday morning I put my Acura ILX’s suspension to the ultimate handling test on some of the tightest twisties and hairiest hairpins of any road I’ve ever driven.

The roller-coaster ride is called Highway 191.  Formerly known as US 666 – the “Devil’s Highway” – it’s famed as one of the all-time favorite driving destinations in the southwestern United States for motorcyclists and sports car drivers.  This weekend’s trip took me and 5 friends to the eastern part of Arizona, where the White Mountains are just undergoing the transition from summer to fall and the leaves radiate vivid color.  This was the third time I’ve driven Coronado Trail and with each visit I’ve been in a different vehicle and had a vastly different experience.

On Friday afternoon, Paul stopped by in his 2013 Acura TL SH-AWD.  He accompanied me as copilot for this journey, while my other friends Mike and Matt followed along in a 2012 Volkswagen GTI 6-speed.  Our ascent from the Phoenix desert floor of 1,100 feet to the town of Payson at 5,000 feet meant we needed plenty of grunt to climb the grades.  Thankfully due to the gearing of the ILX, my cruise control held me at highway speed in 6th gear on the Beeline Highway while rarely needing to downshift.  We spent the night in Springerville, Arizona where my friend Jason had arrived from Las Cruces, New Mexico earlier in the evening.

Saturday morning greeted us with the brightest of blue skies and with crisp 32-degree ambient temperatures.  For the first time since last winter, I donned a hooded sweatshirt for insulation from the chills.  After chowing down on some breakfast, the open road awaited us.  Over the course of the next several hours, we dipped from over 9,300 feet down to 3,400 feet in elevation over some technical, narrow roadways.  This was a both-hands-on-the-wheel driving experience.  Follow along on the journey via the photos and video below!

Paul did a pretty nice job of taking this ‘selfie’ of us while we made our way up Highway 87 to Payson.

paul_tyson_in_ilx

Matt and Mike reviewed the menu at Buffalo Bar & Grille in Payson, Arizona.  A sign on the wall read:  “Rednecks Welcome.  All Others By Appointment Only.”

buffalo_bar_grille

We had Highway 260 almost entirely to ourselves as we headed east from there toward our nightly destination in Springerville, about 2.5 hours away.  When we arrived, the ILX was again reunited with Jason’s silver Accord.  I’d last met up with Jason on our drive to Denver, Colorado a couple of months ago.

arrival_springerville

Cozy in the America’s Best Value Inn.  For $78, the place did not disappoint!

motel

I was somewhat prepared for the chill that greeted us the following morning.  Jason resorted to using a microfiber towel to clean the ice off his windshield.

springerville_morning

It had been quite some time since I turned my ILX seat heaters to “HI” setting and cranked the heater to full blast.

weather_springerville

For us Arizonans, frost on the car is a rare sight.

frost

My favorite part about staying hotels and motels is the breakfast buffet.  This waffle and OJ hit the spot.

waffle

On the way out of Springerville, we laid our eyes on some of the town’s highlights, including Rusty’s Meat Shop.  Note that Rusty’s is also an official Trophy Elk Contest Scoring Location.

rustys_meat_shop_springerville

There was a classic car show going on nearby.  Probably the biggest event this town of 1,700 had seen in quite some time.

springerville_car_show

Ready to drive?  Here we have our contenders:

  • 2013 Acura ILX 2.4 6-speed
  • 2012 Volkswagen GTI 6-speed
  • 2004 Honda Accord 3.0 6-speed

paul_jason_pre_departure

The ILX had the GTI beat in the horsepower department by just one measly horse.  The GTI’s powerplant is a 2.0 liter, 200-horsepower turbocharged inline 4.  Jason’s Accord reigned supreme at 240 horses from its 3.0 V6.

pre_departure

As we got underway and headed southbound on Hwy 191, we were quickly alerted (multiple times, in fact) that this route is not snowplowed on nights, weekends, or during snowstorms.  Basically, if you’re caught in a blizzard during any of those times, you’re out of luck!  Thankfully, our weather conditions were perfect.

alpine_arizona

Our first pit-stop was about 25 miles down the road in Hannagan Meadow.  This grouping of log cabins was established in 1926 and remains today as a resort-type destination with cabin rentals around $200/night.

lodge_sign

The cars lined up for a photo-op, looking photogenic despite some bugs on the front ends.

ilx_accord_gti

lineup_at_hannagan

That blue Acura hoodie happened to match my shoelaces perfectly.  I promise I didn’t plan it that way.

tyson_with_ilx

We took a peek inside a couple of the rental cabins just for fun.  They’d make a great place to escape for a weekend.

hannagan_meadow_cabins

It was a good thing we were fueled up because it would be about 120 miles until we saw any form of civilization.  This was the warning at the top of a map we picked up at Hannagan Meadow:

map_warning

Back on the road!  Up until 1993, Highway 191 was actually Highway 666 – thus the reason it has been referred to as the Devil’s Highway.  It’s also now known as “Coronado Trail” – named after a Spanish conquistador who followed this route between the years 1540 and 1542.

191

Views are spectacular, but the narrow road offers very few places to pull off and enjoy them while sitting still.  This happened to be one of those locations.

panorama

We stretched our legs and pulled out the cameras for a few shots.  I smelled burning brakes and/or tires when I approached Matt’s VW.  I think he was having a little too much fun with those curves.

pit_stop_hwy_191

This shot of the ILX also shows Jason’s Accord’s headlight.

ilx_taillight

Left to right, our group:

  • Jason, from Las Cruces New Mexico
  • Tyson
  • Paul, originally from Michigan
  • Matt, originally from Pennsylvania
  • Mike, originally from Minnesota

group_on_coronado_trail

One of my favorite signs along the entire stretch of road is the below “10 MPH NEXT 11 MILES.”  These curves mean serious business.  I think Paul might have regretted riding with me when I took a few of the corners at an aggressive rate of speed.  My fresh Michelin tires provided plenty of bite, and the ILX’s close-ratio 6-speed transmission was a breeze to flick through the gears with minimal effort.  I found body roll to be very minimal and weight transfer to be very predictable.  The ILX was engineered for optimal performance on roads exactly like this one.

10mph

One more pit stop for some Mega Stuf Oreos and trail mix.

accord_front

This scenic overlook gave us a dramatic look at the beautiful eastern Arizona landscape.

viewpoint

A gigantic tarantula seemed to be enjoying the view, too.  Here, the guys were following it.

spider

I turned over the ILX to Mike for a piece of the drive.  He commented on how smooth the transmission was.

following_ilx

Meanwhile, Jason let me take the wheel of his Accord.  At 139,000 miles, the suspension still felt tight and the car delivered power at RPM ranges that vary greatly from my ILX.  It’s a great touring ride!

tyson_driving_Jason_accord

pitstop

coronado_overlook

trail_sign

The last piece of Coronado leads sharply downhill toward the mining town of Morenci.

coronado_road

The Morenci mine is the largest copper mining operation in North America and is operated by Freeport-McMoRan.

morenci_mine_2

It was awesome to stand at the rim of this massive man-made canyon and soak in the scenery.

morenci_mine

Highway 191 treated us to a tunnel as we made our way through the rest of the mine.

tunnel_us_191

Clifton, Arizona is a town stuck in a 1913 time warp.  That’s when most of these streets along the former main street were constructed.  100 years later, it has an eery ghost town feel to it.

clifton_arizona

We feasted at PJ’s Mexican-American Restaurant.

arrival_pjs_clifton_arizona

Mike, Matt, and I opted for the Mexican food and it was top notch.

pjs_lunch

Note that PJ’s offers a “daily rate” for folks who want to sit and drink coffee all day.  Just $9!

coffee_pjs

And finally, after looping back to Phoenix, Paul and I unloaded the ILX.

return

Thanks for joining me on yet another fun-filled Acuradventure.

8 Responses to “ILX Drive: Coronado Trail in Eastern Arizona”

  1. Could you imagine an ILX with a J30a4? It would be a rocket due to the power-to-weight ratio the ILX chassis would provide with a J’s output! If Acura could make the SH-AWD a lot lighter for the ILX to keep the weight down, it could easily dominate many cars on the road and ones of a higher price tag and class. J30a4 too dated? No worries, Honda currently produces and J30Y for the Chinese Acura RDX. It makes a hefty 263 hp at 6700 rpm and 220 lb-ft at 4,600RPM. That’s nearly the same out put as a J32a2 Type-S engines but smaller by .2L’s! Wonder what a EarthDreams Direct Injected head and ECU swap form the J35Y engines would yield?

    Very nice write up, Tyson. Your comment about Jason’s Accord V6 “..delivered power at RPM ranges that vary greatly from my ILX” sparked that bit above. It got me thinking.. haha.

    That Notice sign telling you about the lack of Gas Stations and Limited cell phone reception is pretty worrisome. I don’t know what I would do if I ever got stranded!

    Keep them coming, Tyson!

    • Hey, yeah, service stations are pretty spread out in that part of the state! I made sure everyone had at least 1/2 tank of fuel before we departed from Eagar on Saturday morning. What vehicles use the J30a4? I need to get up to speed on my engine codes apparently! The ILX does have plenty of power already (the 2.4, anyway) – it just behaves differently than a V6, and that took some used to when Jason & I swapped cars.

  2. Damn it I need to get in on one of these Drive To Five excursions! Your write up, and pictures are fantastic as usual Ty!

    • Thanks a bunch Dave, I appreciate you continuing to tune in! Would love to have you along for a future D25 excursion sometime soon. From now until about April/May, the weather around here is absolutely prime. I’ll be spending as much time outdoors as I possibly can.

  3. Tyson, I think you’ve certainly captured the essence of the drive! Very nice write-up. It sure was lots of fun and hope to do it again in the future. Hope you had fun taking the wheel of the Accord and giving Vtec a little workout. 🙂 I know my post won’t be as detailed, but it should be up soon.

    • Jason, as always I look forward to reading your version of the story! Can’t wait to see what you come up with. I did fully enjoy my short time behind the wheel of the Accord. It’s a smooth ride for sure. Get the creative juices flowing for our next drive. We’ve gotta get another one on the calendar soon.

  4. Tyson, love the blog. I’ve been on the edge deciding whether or not to go forward with purchasing the ILX, but every time I see pictures of your car, I could definitely see myself in it! Love the contrast of the silver and the dark tinted windows, and the spoiler plus body pieces really seal everything together.

    I’ve read that the ILX has some sort of interior/cabin ambient lighting, but I have yet to see what it might actually look like. If the ILX has something like this, would you mind making a quick video showing the interior of the car while it’s dark? I also heard that the display screen has the capability to change colors. If so, could you demo that?

    Look forward to reading more!

    • Hi Warren, thanks for the note! It’s great to hear from people who are considering getting into an ILX. I’m starting to see more & more of them on the roadways and I always give a hearty thumbs-up to the driver when I see one. Glad you are following the blog, and I hope to keep it interesting for you.

      The ILX does have some nice cabin lighting. The first thing people notice when they get into my car at night is that I have the accessory illuminated “ACURA” door sills. But when you’re in the car with the door shut, there are small LED blue lights shining down from the rearview mirror area. It might be tough to capture on camera but I’ll make an attempt to do so this weekend.

      Yes, the display screen (“MID”) can be alternated between various colors too. It came as blue from the factory but right now I have it set to red because I think it ties in well with the red-accented gauges that come standard on the 6-speed model.

      I’ll follow up with you later this weekend on a video and/or pics of some of those features. Talk to you soon!

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