When one ponders the modified Acura, it’s usually a B18C-swapped Integra or some kind of insane time attack NSX. The SLX is probably pretty far down that list, if one can remember that is exists at all. However, Acura — yes, the actual company — has just built what is certainly the world’s first resto-modded example and will debut at the Radwood SoCal show this Saturday. And dare we say it, the result is actually kind of awesome.
When the 90s SUV craze took America by storm, Honda was caught with no truck-based options to offer. So, it struck up a partnership with a company that by then was building almost exclusively trucks, Isuzu. Honda got the Isuzu MU (a.k.a. Rodeo in the US) and rebadged it as the Passport, while Acura got the Isuzu Bighorn (a.k.a. Trooper), renamed it the SLX, and released to the rabid hordes in 1996. Acura sold only 6,590 SLXes in the four years it was offered, but lessons learned prompted it to develop its first in-house crossover, the MDX, which is fast approaching 1 million in sales.
For the purposes of this project, Acura bought from noted Acura collector Tyson Hugie a 1997 SLX in an 883 Fir Green and Light Silver two-tone. From there, the Ohio-based team of Acura engineers separated the body from the chassis (the SLX was a true body-on-frame SUV) and stripped out its longitudinally mounted 190-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 and 4-speed automatic.
Next, the team had to figure out how to wedge the RDX’s transverse 2.0-liter turbo four and 10-speed auto into the same space. In addition, the SLX came with a independent double-wishbone suspension in front and a coil-spring solid axle rear. To accommodate the engine and convert the suspension to the RDX’s front MacPherson struts and 5-link independent rear, Acura had to weld completely new subframes into the chassis
James Robinson, an Acura engineer and Pikes Peak race driver, was one of the project leads. “We knew packaging this new powertrain into the SLX would be tough,” he said. Miraculously, the SLX and RDX have almost identical wheelbases, differing only by about half an inch. “As crazy as it sounds, the RDX’s driveshaft went into the SLX without any modifications at all,” Robinson said.
Once the mechanical bits were done, the team tackled the exterior. Fir Green is nice but the painfully 90s hue was replaced with the RDX’s Performance Red Pearl, while the lower half was finished in Champagne Silver. The result was a clever modern analogue to the 779 Radiant Red and Light Silver two-tone offered on the SLX in 1996.
Subtle badging in the contemporary Acura typefaces offer a clue that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill SLX. A subtle SH-AWD badge hints at full-time all-wheel drive system underneath. While the 4WD is gone, Acura’s very Japanese-sounding Super Handling offers full-time AWD and can transfer 45 percent of the power and 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels. It also apportions that torque to the outside rear wheel in turns by monitoring weight distribution, giving it extra spin for tighter cornering.
Inside, the seats were re-upholstered but kept the gathered leather look of the 90s original. Gray wood trim offers a nice touch that mimics the look modern interiors. Sadly, Honda’s dreadfully unintuitive PRNDL control panel has made its way into the center console as well, and a steering column-mounted screen shows vital info that’s no longer displayable through the SLX’s old school instruments.
Those are minor nit-picks, though. This thing is still pretty radical. Custom intake, exhaust, turbo, and ECU tuning have boosted the output from 272 horsepower to 350. Stock, the SLX weighed about 600 to 800 pounds more than a stock RDX, so this beast probably scoots pretty well.
Acura famously ignored the tuner demographic during its heyday. Now, the company is taking a different tack. “Acura is an 80s kid, so RADwood is a perfect event for us to display our heritage,” said Acura vice president Jon Ikeda in reference to the Super Handling SLX. “Nostalgia for 80s and 90s vehicles has grown tremendously, and we’re seeing them start to become really collectable.”
Images courtesy of Acura.