When you picture cars designed for hillclimbing, an SUV that can seat seven will never cross your mind

Known as the ’Race to the Clouds,’ the annual Pikes Peak International Hillclimb event is arguably the best well-known of its kind and one of the hardest to master. That’s why Acura is deploying a five-car time at Pikes Peak this year although we’ll be focusing on just one of them: a modified MDX Sport Hybrid three-row SUV that’s said to put out 400 horsepower without the exterior appearance (minus the Acura livery, of course) suggesting it means business.

The 12.42-mile-long strip of road that climbs all the way up to 14,115 feet and forms the course of the Pikes Peak Hillclimb was once covered in dirt from one end to the other. Then, as time went by, asphalt started replacing dirt and, now, there’s tarmac everywhere. But this hasn’t stopped all sorts of people showing in all sorts of cars which, on the face of it, seem very unfit for the (potentially deadly) challenge that is the race in Colorado. An SUV might now be the first thing that you’d bring to climb the mountain, but with there being such a big mountain for these high-riding vehicles, it’s become quite appealing for some manufacturers to show up and try to beat the SUV record. The Pikes Peak isn’t the "new" Nurburgring with everybody bragging about how fast they can go around there, but it may become soon enough.

Acura Brings 5 Cars To The Pikes Peak International Hillclimb In 2019

Acura Plans To Race Up Pikes Peak With A 400 Horsepower MDX Sport Hybrid
- image 846082

12 months ago, Acura was showing up at Pikes peak with three cars: a modified Acura NSX with a huge splitter complimented by an equally huge rear wing and nothing much in between, an Acura TLX that suffered a similar fate in terms of exterior modifications, and a 350 horsepower Acura MDX. Now, the works-backed effort is bigger than ever, and you’ll be able to count five Acuras brought by the factory: that same 350 horsepower A-Spec RDX, the modified NSX, a bone-stock NSX, the tuned TLX, and, finally, an MDX Sport Hybrid that puts out more power than its A-Spec sibling.

Apparently, what the Acura engineers did was they ditched the 3.0-liter V-6 usually found in this model that puts out 321 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque with help from three electric motors (one on the front axle and two in the rear), and fitted in its place the 3.5-liter V-6 that also powers the MDX A-Spec. This latter unit was then bored out to 3.7-liters and, with those electric motors left untouched (fed by a 48-volt battery pack), the combined output rose to 400 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque.

For the record, the stock A-Spec MDX churns out 290 horsepower and returns poorer gas mileage than the Sport Hybrid: 19 city, 25 highway, and 21 combined versus 26 city, 27 highway, and 27 combined in the case of the hybrid.

Having said this, the version you'll see going up the hill climb course will definitely be less fuel efficient.

As I said, the exterior is virtually untouched, but Acura took care of the issue surrounding weight and stripped much of the interior of the MDX Sport Hybrid, removing the passenger and second and third-row seats. With everything in place, an MDX Sport Hybrid tips the scales at 4,471 pounds, already lighter than both the Infiniti QX60 Hybrid and the Lexus RX Hybrid.

Acura Plans To Race Up Pikes Peak With A 400 Horsepower MDX Sport Hybrid
- image 846081

If reading that Acura will race a (somewhat) eco-friendly MDX up a famous hill in Colorado made you interested in the car, I’ll have you know that an A-Spec MDX starts at just $40,000, but you’ll need to pay anywhere between 52,800 and $60,000 for the Sport Hybrid version. In exchange for your money, you’ll get a very capable seven-seat (but also available with just six seats) SUV that does very well across the board as we detailed in our review.

Now, you can be sure that this RDX Sport Hybrid will be quick on its way up the course as it also features a rear-biased SH-AWD and racing suspension connected to 19-inch HRE wheels wrapped by Pirelli tires, but it won't probably set the time sheets on fire.

In 2018, Bentley did just that with its very potent Bentley Bentayga luxury SUV driven by Rhys Millen, one of the guys that know this course the best. Millen raced a “nearly stock” 600 horsepower Bentayga up the hill, completing the course in just 12 minutes and 35 seconds and thus breaking the existing record for SUVs. That W-12 Bentayga was fitted with stock electric anti-roll bars front and rear, but it also lacked the rear bench seat. But the Bentayga is a properly fast SUV as it does 0-62mph in four seconds and can hit a top speed of 187mph. The RDX won’t surpass 115 mph in stock trim.

Acura Plans To Race Up Pikes Peak With A 400 Horsepower MDX Sport Hybrid
- image 846083

The RDX Sport Hybrid will be driven by Jordan Guitar of Acura R&D’s chassis development team. In fact, all of the five Acuras entered in the hill climb event will be driven by people who work on Acuras day in and day out, not by professional drivers that do just that. In any case, we do hope that if the MDX does good, Acura will be compelled to build a limited back of 400 horsepower MDXs. After all, Bentley announced in 2018 that it’d make 10 Bentayga Pikes Peak Edition models after it managed to take back to Britain the SUV record. We surely wouldn’t mind seeing a more peppy MDX.

Acura Plans To Race Up Pikes Peak With A 400 Horsepower MDX Sport Hybrid
- image 846079
Talking about peppy, the NSX 'Time Attack' part of the Acura fleet is the most powerful of the lot with 625 horsepower on tap (more than the NSX GT3 even) thanks to larger turbochargers.

A stock NSX puts out anywhere between 270 horsepower and 290 horsepower, and it’s also 200 pounds heavier than this ’Time Attack’ model that’ll try to conquer the 156 turns present on the course. Then there’s the TLX that won its class last year in the hands of Acura stalwart Peter Cunningham who also owns RealTime Racing, the company that prepared and built the TLX GT which competed in Pirelli World Challenge against a plethora of GT3 cars. The TLX you see in the images and footage is not that car. Instead, as mentioned, this TLX is a modified road car with a bigger wing and splitter. Cunningham’s TLX GT (that also won the Empire Hillclimb) is a thoroughbred race car. Check the link to spot the differences between the two as a number of other outlets are confusing the two cars and suggest it’s one and the same and it’s not.

Acura Plans To Race Up Pikes Peak With A 400 Horsepower MDX Sport Hybrid
- image 846084

While Acura will have an increased footprint in 2019, Volkswagen, last year’s champions, won’t take part at all as the I.D.-R did its job and smashed the record. To refresh your memory, in 2018, Romain Dumas drove the all-electric I.D.-R Prototype to a historical 7:57.148, the first sub-8 minute run at Pikes Peak. He smashed Sebastien Loeb’s record from 2013 by 15 seconds and the previous EV record set by Rhys Millen by almost a minute. After that, Dumas also broke the EV record at the Goodwood Hillclimb Course and, more recently, it set a new EV lap record around the Nordschleife. Up next, the I.D.-R is poised to conquer China’s Tianmen Shan Big Gate road.

Further reading

2017 - 2018 Acura MDX
- image 732417

Read our full review on the 2019 Acura MDX.

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: