The luxury brand’s first SUV

Introduced in 1986 as a luxury vehicle division of Honda, Acura enjoyed a strong start in market acceptance in the U.S. The Legend, the Integra, and the NSX, helped the brand build a name for itself after only five years on the market. However, Acura began to struggle in the mid-1990s, when sales dropped in part to its less inspiring designs and the switch to an alphanumeric nomenclature that saw the popular Legend renamed the 3.5 RL. It was then that Acura decided to offer a crossover and created the SLX.

Launched in 1995 for the 1996 model year, the SLX was aimed at the midsize crossover market, which was picking up speed thanks to models like the Chevrolet Blazer and Ford Bronco II in the late 1980s and the Ford Explorer in the early 1990s. But, unlike Chevy and Ford, Acura wanted a more upscale people hauler. It’s worth noting that there were no mainstream luxury SUVs other than the Range Rover until 1995, when Lexus launched the LX 450 that was based on the J80-generation Toyota Land Cruiser.

The problem was that Honda’s mid-size SUVs at the time, the Passport in the U.S. and the Horizon in Japan, were badged engineered versions of the Isuzu Rodeo and Trooper, respectively, and Acura needed a model that would get them into that market fast. As a result, the brand’s first SUV was in fact a lightly upgraded and rebadged Isuzu Trooper.

It would soon become clear that the decision to rebadge the Trooper was not exactly inspired...

The SLX was sold in the U.S. for only four model years between 1996 in 1999. Despite receiving a redesigned front end and a new engine in 1998, the SLX was axed in 1999 following poor sales and bad press from Consumer Reports, which rated the crossover as "Not Acceptable" due to its high roll-over tendency. It was replaced by the MDX, which shared a platform with the Honda Pilot, in 2000. Far more successful than the SLX, the MDX is already in its third generation as of 2016.

Continue reading to learn more about the Acura SLX.

  • 1996 - 1999 Acura SLX
  • Year:
    1996- 1999
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    3.5L V6
  • Transmission:
    4-Speed Automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    215 @ 5400
  • Displacement:
    3494 L
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:
  • Overall:
    6.7/10

Exterior

1996 - 1999 Acura SLX High Resolution Exterior
- image 671191

Based on the second-gen Isuzu Trooper first that was first introduced in 1991, when boxy designs were still popular, the SLX employed a rather common appearance for a midsize hauler when it arrived for the 1996 model year. The recipe was pretty simple back then and the Isuzu Trooper that the SLX was based on was no exception to that rule. The exterior featured simple, straight lines from front to rear, the rectangular headlamps and grille were integrated into a one-piece unit, while the vertical taillights were significantly smaller than those seen on newer vehicles.

The recipe was pretty simple back then and the Isuzu Trooper that the SLX was based on was no exception to that rule.

The beefy wheel arches and separate front and rear bumpers gave the SLX a rugged appearance, a feature enhanced by the fact that they were finished in silver, which provided a strong contrast in combination with the Cream White, Green Mica, and Ebony Black colors of the body. Customers that preferred a flat and more upscale look had the option to buy the SUV in a matching Light Silver Metallic.

A cool feature unique to the SLX in the luxury segment was the 70/30 split rear doors. While the Lexus LX450 and the Range Rover had the more traditional tailgate with a separate lower section that could be opened the opposite way, the Acura borrowed the Trooper’s 70/30 doors with hinges on the D-pillars. This design allowed more convenient access to the rear cargo area, made the doors easier to open and close compared to the heavier tailgate devoid of the automated opening and closing feature common on modern crossovers.

After two years on the market, the SLX received a mild exterior update for the 1998 model. The most notable change included a revised front fascia with a larger, trapezoidal grille instead of the previous rectangular design and taller headlamps. The front bumper was also enlarged for a more rugged appearance. The rear section carried over unchanged, save for the mildly reshaped bumper.

Interior

1996 - 1999 Acura SLX High Resolution Interior
- image 671194

Inside, the SLX also mirrored the Isuzu Trooper it was based on. The dashboard was identical and featured a wide center stack consisting of three A/C vents, climate system control, a radio, and a CD player. The only notable addition in this area was the wooden insert on the glove compartment lid and the Acura badge on the steering wheel. Other extra features compared to the Trooper included wood trim for the door panels and full gray leather seats. The leather was optional though, with the seats wrapped in gray cloth as standard.

Designed to provide seating for up to five people, including the driver, the SLX came with fold-down rear seats, cruise control, electric power windows and door locks, and a power moonroof as standard equipment. A Premium Package added leather upholstery, power-adjustable driver and front passenger seats, heated front seats, and wood grain trim. Acura also offered an electronic multi-meter that combined a compass, altimeter, thermometer, and barometer into a single, easy-to-read display. The 1998 facelift added keyless entry as an option.

Drivetrain

1996 - 1999 Acura SLX High Resolution Drivetrain
- image 671195

Unlike the Isuzu Trooper, which was sold with both gasoline and diesel engines, the Acura SLX was offered with only the gas-burning 3.2-liter V-6. The 24-valve, single-overhead-camshaft unit featured electronic fuel injection and was good for 190 horsepower. The V-6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission that featured a "Power Mode" for increased acceleration and a "Winter Mode" that started the vehicle in third gear for enhanced traction in slippery conditions. Four-wheel drive was standard, as were the ventilated disc brakes and the anti-lock braking system.

In 1998, the SLX received a larger, 3.5-liter V-6. The all-aluminum mill was lighter than its predecessor, featured double-overhead camshafts, and variable length induction system. Output was rated at 215 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque. Acura also replaced the old four-wheel drive system with a new Torque-On-Demand unit. The four-speed automatic was carried over but received a few updates.

The SLX was often praised for its powerful engine, good off-road ability, and comfortable ride. On the flipside, the Acura was significantly less powerful than its main competitors until its 1998 update, when it matched the Lexus LX450’s horsepower rating.

Safety

1996 - 1999 Acura SLX High Resolution Exterior
- image 671188

The SLX was well-equipped safety-wise for its era, featuring standard Dual Supplemental Restraint System airbags, three-point front and rear seat belts, side protection door beams, and rounded interior surfaces and controls to lessen the possibility of injury. The SLX also made use of the Isuzu’s strong box-section frame construction with crumple zones. Other safety-enhancing features included ventilated disc brakes at all corners and a four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS).

But, despite being better equipped than most SUVs, the SLX was rated as "Not Acceptable" by Consumer Reports for the 1996 and 1997 model year for an alleged tendency to roll over during testing. Even though the National Highway Traffic Administration found no issue that could lead to a recall in its own tests, Consumer Reports’ claim damaged Isuzu and Acura’s reputation and sales of the SLX experienced a significant drop.

Prices

Pricing for the 1996 model year Acura SLX began from $33,900 plus a $420 destination charge. The Premium Package added another $4,100 and increased the sticker to $38,000. With the 1998 update, the base price increased to $36,300 and models equipped with the Premium Package fetched a little over $40,000.

For reference, the SLX was significantly more affordable than both the Lexus LX450 and the Range Roger. For the 1996 model year, the Japanese SUV retailed from $47,500, while the British hauler fetched a whopping $55,000 before options.

Competition

Range Rover

1996 - 1999 Acura SLX High Resolution Exterior
- image 671314

Introduced in 1970, the Range Rover was Land Rover’s flagship model and one of the first luxury SUV ever produced. By the time the SLX arrived in the U.S., Land Rover had already launched the second-generation Range Rover. Introduced for the 1995 model year, it featured a redesigned body, a fresh interior, and updated versions of the Rover V-8 engines, as well as a BMW-sourced diesel for the European market. In North America, the British SUV was sold with a 4.0-liter V-8 rated at 190 horsepower and a 4.6-liter V-8 with 225 horses at its disposal. Both units came with a four-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The second-gen Range Rover was the last model to feature the Rover V-8 engine and interior leather supplied by famed British brand Connolly Leather. Pricing was set at $55,000 for the 4.0-liter version and $62,000 for the 4.6-liter model for the 1996 model year, when the SLX was launched.

Lexus LX450

1996 - 1999 Acura SLX High Resolution Exterior
- image 671315

Presented for the 1996 model year, the LX450 was Lexus’ first SUV. Based on the sixth-generation Toyota Land Cruiser, the LX was rapidly developed in the mid-1990s as a result of threatening U.S. trade sanctions on Japanese luxury cars and survived only two years on the market, being replaced in 1998. Unlike the SLX, it provided seating for up to seven people, a more upscale interior and additional sound-absorbing insulation. Power was provided by a 4.5-liter inline-six engine that produced 215 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. Despite its $47,500 sticker, the first-gen LX was a success, selling 14,000 units in 1996 and 1997. At launch, the LX450 sold out its initial production allocation, resulting in a two-month waiting list. Just like the Range Rover, the Lexus was actually larger than the Acura SLX, competing in the full-size segment.

Conclusion

1996 - 1999 Acura SLX High Resolution Exterior
- image 671189

Proudly promoted as "the most civilized way to leave civilization," the Acura SLX was more of a financial flop than anything else. The styling was pretty much identical to the Isuzu Trooper it was based on, while the extra premium features in the cabin weren’t exactly spectacular. The SLX was inferior to the Range Rover and Lexus LX450 in just about every department, but it was the more affordable of the pack and the first midsize crossover to feature a decent amount of luxury. More importantly, the SLX helped Acura better understand the premium SUV market and design the MDX, a much more popular people hauler that’s been around for 17 years as of 2016.

  • Leave it
    • Just a rebadged Isuzu Trooper
    • One of Acura’s biggest flops sales-wise
    • Plagued by poor Consumer Reports reviews
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