At first thought, driving up Pike’s Peak sounds like a scary endeavor. It’s a mountain located to the west of Colorado Springs that’s known for its 14,000-foot elevation and to get to the top, you’ll need to first get through 156 razor-sharp turns over the span of 19 miles. There are steep drop-offs without guard rails and the elevation change can take a toll on your car’s cooling system on the way up, and even worse, overheat its brakes on the way back down. It’s a daunting drive, but luckily, I had a Honda Civic Type R to conquer it.
The Civic Type R is perfect for Pike’s Peak
You may have heard of Pike’s Peak if you have played Gran Turismo or are familiar with the annual Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. That old video game was my introduction to the fabled mountain over 20 years ago, so when I moved to Denver, Colorado last year, I was hell-bent on driving up it. However, I knew that my 2019 Subaru Forester wouldn’t be the most fun car for the drive, so when I received word that I would be getting the 2020 Honda Civic Type R as a press car, I knew my fate was sealed.
For the 2020 model year, the Civic Type R was updated with a larger front bumper opening and a reinforced radiator core for better cooling as well as a more-reactive Adaptive Damper system, according to Honda. Considering Pike’s Peak is known for making cars overheat, the additional cooling was welcomed and I was sure that the suspension would help in the turns, not mention the 306-hp 2.0-liter turbo engine that would be more-than-sufficient for the climb.
Something to worry about?
I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried before making the drive. What didn’t help was that one of my friends drove up Pike’s Peak the weekend prior in his 2020 Volkswagen Tiguan and he informed me that it was a “serious road” and that he had to stop to let his car cool down on the way up. I crossed my fingers, subtlety praying to the Honda gods that the updated cooling efficiency that the 2020 Civic Type R was imbued with was enough for the steep elevation change and switchbacks that Mother Nature was about to throw at it.
Getting to Pike’s Peak
Since I live in Denver, it’s easy to get to Pike’s Peak as the mountain itself is located 12 miles west of Colorado Springs, which is an hour south of where I live. Pulling up to the entrance, I noticed that the toll gate was already situated at around 7,000 feet, so the actual ascent from the starting point up to the summit is around 7,000 feet. “Not too bad,” I thought. As I kept an eye on the car’s temperature gauge and incessantly stared at the “elevation” readout on the navigation screen as we passed the gate and continued up the road.
Pike’s Peak is one of the most scenic drives ever
If you have never truly experienced the mountainous ranges and scenery that this country has to offer, then Pike’s Peak is a great place to start. If you’re not tasked with driving, then you’ll be able to look out of edges of the road and peer out into the expansiveness and beauty that Colorado has to offer. The tall trees and endless blue sky filled with cloud striations looked like painted scenery as opposed to real life.
Reality came crashing in when I peered back at the elevation readout, which climbed pretty quickly: 9,000 feet, 10,000, 11,000. It was like a gradual escalator into the unknown as the Civic Type R and I made our way through the tireless curves and hairpin turns that the road had to offer. There were other cars in front of me the whole time, so being able to actually put the Civic through its paces was a slow and interrupted affair.
But to my credit, I did tackle a few of those turns with aggression and I can attest that the Civic Type R sticks to the road like no other front-drive car I’ve ever driven. Apparently, the adaptive suspension does help. And to top things off, I only detected a little bit of power loss, even after 12,000 feet up. I guess, turbochargers really do make up for the loss in power at high altitudes.
The road into to the sky
When you get near the top, the incline gets steeper and some points, so much so that it looks like the road is leading you directly into the sky. That is until you realize that it actually leads to a blind corner that you have quickly negotiate. But before you know it, you’ll be at the top of the mountain.
At the summit of Pike’s Peak, there’s a parking lot where you can stow your car and then walk around and take scenic pictures for your envious Instagram followers. The air is thin, so I made sure not to overexert myself when running around and taking in all of the wondrous scenery. Speaking of the scenery, it goes on for miles and it’s hard to believe that you’re on the same planet being that high. It’s no wonder they call Pike’s Peak “America’s Mountain,” it feels like you can see the whole country from up there.
Going back down
Making my way down the mountain wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Since there were a lot of cars to follow, I just left the car in second gear and let the engine do most of the braking. There’s even a ranger station halfway down where they check your brake temperatures to make sure they’re not overheating.
“You’re doing good, just keep it in the low gears,” the ranger said.
“The Honda gods are on my side today,” I thought, as I continued back down. When I reached the bottom, my ears were plugged and I felt tired from the elevation changes but the Civic Type R didn’t skip a beat. In fact, it could probably do that run all weekend and never raise a degree in temperature. Ultimately, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself for being nervous about driving up Pike’s Peak. Would I do it again? Sure, but it would hard to beat that experience in anything other than a Civic Type R.