Acura’s First SUV Reimagined for RADwood

Jan 2, 2020

Acura threw it back to the ’90s with the debut of a restored and reimagined 1997 Acura SLX – the brand’s first SUV and first AWD vehicle – at the RADwood Car Show in Orange County, California, last month.

Built specifically for RADwood, the SLX’s original 3.2L V6, 4-speed automatic and conventional 4×4 drivetrain were swapped out for Acura’s latest and greatest performance technology – a 350-horsepower, race-tuned 2.0-liter VTEC Turbo, 10-speed automatic transmission and the 4th generation of Acura’s torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, all sourced from a third-generation Acura RDX.

The Acura SLX, developed in partnership with Isuzu, was sold in limited numbers between the 1996 and 1999 model years. It was succeeded by the fully Acura-engineered MDX, and later the RDX.

“Acura is an ’80s kid, so RADwood is a perfect event for us to display our heritage,” said Jon Ikeda, vice president and Acura brand officer. “Nostalgia for ’80s and ’90s vehicles has grown tremendously, and we’re seeing them start to become really collectable. RADwood is always packed with a lot of fun and interesting stuff, so we knew we would have to bring something a little crazy to the table.”

Minimal changes were made to the exterior and interior. The original two-tone paint scheme was updated using Performance Red Pearl and Champagne-Silver, while the original wheels and tires have been swapped out for 17-inch Fifteen52 Tarmac wheels wrapped in Yokohama Geolander A/T tires. Completing the exterior upgrades are a body-color hard shell spare tire cover that replaces the original vinyl cover. Keen observers will notice the SH-AWD badge on the tailgate as one of the few visual cues to what lies underneath. Interior enhancements include reupholstered Milano leather seats and a grey wood applique on the door panels and dash.

The “Super Handling SLX” will be displayed at the RADwood Car Show alongside a 1991 NSX (VIN: 00052) – the earliest known NSX in North America, a 1986 Integra Coupe from the Acura Museum in Torrance, California, and an original (unmodified) 1996 Acura SLX – owned by collector and Acura enthusiast Tyson Hugie.

The RADwood Car Show, founded in 2017 by automotive journalists Bradley Brownell, Art Cevantes, Lane Skelton and Rick Deacon, celebrates the cars and car culture of the 1980s and ’90s. While most car shows tend to focus on the exotic and ultra-valuable, RADwood places special importance on the eclectic and the unexpected.

acura slx

Build Process & Team

The ‘Super Handling SLX’ reimagining was led by Acura engineers and Pikes Peak racing drivers James Robinson, Paul Hubers and Jordan Guitar. Beginning with a 1997 Acura SLX “donor car,” the Ohio-based team separated the body and frame to assess the feasibility of the powertrain swap. With the original SLX’s longitudinally mounted 3.2-liter V6 removed, it was confirmed the biggest challenge would be fitting a transverse mounted engine between the SUV’s frame rails.

“We knew packaging this new powertrain into the SLX would be tough, and it was,” said James Robinson, an Acura powertrain engineer. “But some parts came together much more easily than we had expected. As crazy as it sounds, the RDX’s driveshaft went into the SLX without any modifications at all.”

Once frame restoration was complete, the team began work to transplant the RDX’s 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, 10-speed automatic transmission and the latest generation of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. New front and rear subframes were welded to the SUV’s original boxed ladder frame, and the SLX’s solid rear axle was replaced with the RDX’s performance-oriented multi-link independent rear suspension.

To give the exterior appearance a fresh take, Performance Red Pearl, from Acura’s current color palette, was selected as the primary exterior color as it nicely mirrors Radiant Red – a color offered on the 1996 SLX. Champagne Silver was chosen for the bumpers, fenders and lower trim – a trademark look for ’90s SUVs like the SLX.

The SLX’s interior was restored and updated with re-trimmed seats using a dark grey Milano ‘gathered’ leather, and a more modern wood trim for the doors and dash. The original carpet and headliner were reserved, while custom-made Berber floor mats, with Acura logos, were supplied by Lloyd Mats.

RADwood ‘Super Handling SLX’ Project Build Modifications

  • 2.0L Turbocharged 4-Cylinder Engine and 10-Speed Automatic (sourced from RDX)
  • Fourth-Generation Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (sourced from RDX)
  • Custom Intake, Exhaust, Turbo and ECU tuning increase output to 350 HP, 340 lb.-ft. (est.)
  • Performance Red Pearl Paint (available on 2020 RDX, MDX, ILX, and TLX)
  • Period-correct Champagne-Silver Accents for Bumpers, Fenders and Lower-Cladding
  • Custom Body-color Spare Tire Hard Shell (replaces original vinyl cover)
  • Custom machine-finished Fifteen52 Tarmac Wheels (17 x 7.5)
  • Yokohama Geolander A/T Tires (245/65 R17)
  • SH-AWD badge on rear tailgate
  • Reupholstered Seats in Dark Grey Milano ‘Gathered’ Leather
  • Rewrapped Steering Wheel with Custom-Mounted Paddle Shifters
  • Dark Grey Wood-applique for Door Panels and Dash
  • Custom Berber Floor Mats by Lloyd Mats