The 90s brought legends from Japan into the US, such as the iconic Acura Integra Type R and NSX. But Acura in the 90s was also making its first foray into selling SUVs. Although the company’s current success owes much to SUVs like the RDX—reliable and more American-made than the F-150—it wasn’t always this way. Acura’s first SUV was a bit of a sales dud. But the 80s and 90s are in, man. Automotive festivals like RADwood celebrate the era of big hair, loud colors, and denim jackets. And for RADwood Orange County, Acura is bringing a pristine 1997 SLX SUV—with one heck of a twist.
What is an Acura SLX?
Acura’s first SUV wasn’t even a Honda underneath. As Road & Track reports, the SLX was a badge-engineered Isuzu Trooper. Sold from 1996-1999, The Drive claims the SUV is actually rarer than the Integra Type R.
Although the SLX came with four-wheel drive, it was rather underpowered. Its 3.2-liter V6 made only 190 hp and 188 lb-ft, and the SUV came only with a four-speed automatic. Although, that was still better than the Trooper’s four-cylinder. The SLX did receive an upgraded 3.6-liter V6 in 1998, and premium interior, but they couldn’t save the Acura SUV. Although the concept of a luxury SUV or pickup truck sounds perfectly normal today, that wasn’t the case in the mid-90s. The SLX came at a time when the second-gen G-Class was seen as odd.
But today, the SLX is old enough to be a classic. Although many haven’t heard of the SUV, Acura fans and collectors still enjoy it. One of these collectors is Tyson Hugie, a blogger and YouTuber who still owns his first car, a ’94 Acura Legend.
The SLX Acura is bringing to RADwood was originally his. But it’s not original anymore.
How Acura remastered a 90s SUV into a Radwood masterpiece
The original V6, four-speed automatic, and even the 4WD system were all removed by Ohio Acura engineers. Then, the frame was completely restored and prepped for the next stages.
The engine is now a 2.0-liter, turbocharged VTEC-equipped four-cylinder from a third-gen RDX. Although smaller, this engine is significantly more powerful than the old V6. With a custom intake, exhaust, and ECU tune, it develops 350 hp and 340 lb-ft. The transmission is still an automatic, but it now has 10 speeds and paddle shifters.
The build team’s biggest headache was fitting the RDX’s engine inside the SLX’s narrow ladder frame. However, powertrain engineer James Robinson said some parts of the build were remarkably easy. The RDX’s driveshaft apparently bolted right into the older SUV.
The Acura team then hooked the restomod SLX up with a 4th-gen torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system, also from an RDX. This is Acura’s “Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive”, or SH-AWD, system, which is why the SUV’s full name is the “Super Handling SLX.”
After installing the drivetrain and AWD, the engineers then installed custom rear and front subframes. Instead of a solid rear axle, this SLX now sports multi-link independent suspension. The wheels are 17” units from Fifteen52 and are wrapped with Yokohama Geolander A/T tires.
Refreshing the looks
The build team, who all worked after-hours on this, then turned their attention to the interior. The seats were re-trimmed with dark-grey Milano leather. The wood trim along the dash and doors was replaced with new wooden pieces. The SLX also got new Berber floor mats, although the headliner and carpet are still original.
Finally, the SUV got a new coat of paint. Originally dark green, Acura re-sprayed it in its current Performance Red Pearl shade. It’s also a nod to the 1996 SLX’s Radiant Red option. The bumpers, fenders, and lower trim were also re-sprayed Champagne Silver.
Can Acura SUV fans get one of their own?
Unfortunately, like the Civic Type R pickup, the SLX restomod is a one-off.
In addition to all the mods described above, the Acura build team also widened the SLX by 5”, and fitted bigger brakes. Acura won’t tell us the cost of updating the SUV. The PR team just said, “Don’t even ask.”
But, considering it’s now possible to fit classic SUVs with electric motors, fitting an SLX with RDX components sounds like a reasonable endeavor. Although you can’t get an original SLX for $500 like the buyer (played by Tyson Hugie) in Acura’s promo video, they aren’t terribly expensive. We lift our neon-framed shades in salute to more potential throwback SUV restomods.