There’s no doubt that when you enjoy the charms of an older car, you need to square your expectations with its outdated performance capabilities. Modern cars are faster, better-handling, and more efficient but often lack that extra special something that makes you take an extra look back when you walk away from it in the grocery store parking lot. What if you could have the best of both worlds?
Drivetrain swaps into older cars are not a new phenomenon, but Honda’s latest project is probably the first time anyone’s dropped a modern crossover engine and transmission into a ’97 Acura SLX. After considerable modification, the result is a factory-fresh SLX with the 350-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 10-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive system from a new Acura RDX. As a nod to Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system, it’s dubbed the restomodded SUV the “Super Handling SLX.”
Given that the Isuzu-Trooper-based SLX had a longitudinal V-6 in it, along with a more traditional 4x4 system and a two-speed transfer case, Acura had to do some major surgery to get its donor SUV to accommodate RDX guts. Three Ohio-based Acura engineers and Pikes Peak racing drivers—James Robinson, Paul Hubers, and Jordan Guitar—had the pleasure of taking this wild project from idea to reality. First up was separating the body from the ladder frame and getting to work on restoration.
“We knew packaging this new powertrain into the SLX would be tough, and it was,” says 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 the team managed to fit the transverse four-cylinder in between the frame rails, the next step was to weld in new front and rear subframes. The SLX’s original double-wishbone front and solid rear axle with coil springs were tossed in favor of a MacPherson strut front and five-link independent rear suspension.
Acura also spruced up the SLX’s looks, repainting the original Fir Green Metallic with a Performance Red Pearl and Champagne Silver two-tone scheme with a body-color spare tire cover to match. In place of the original wheels and tires are 17-inch Fifteen52 Tarmac wheels with Yokohama Geolander A/T tires. The SH-AWD badge is a subtle nod to the powertrain beneath what is probably the best-restored SLX in existence. Inside, Acura refitted the vehicle’s interior with Milano leather seats and new trim pieces.
Acura also produced a Freaky Friday-esque video to promote the swap. In the short film, a car-enthusiast protagonist is feeling super jazzed about his latest acquisition—you guessed it, a ‘97 Acura SLX. Overnight, through some black magic cocktail of spilled detergent, cola, and lightning, his significant other’s RDX magically gifts its powertrain to his SLX. Excitement and hijinks ensue. The video ends with a fun kicker, where the lucky owner buys another SLX and attempts to repeat his results by parking an NSX next to it.
If it were me, I’d leave well enough alone and let that poor NSX be. Which also makes me wonder—if the SLX got the RDX’s powertrain, did the RDX get the SLX’s 3.2-liter V-6, four-speed automatic, and more rugged 4x4 system? I have to know... the suspense is killing me.
Acura will be showing off the Super Handling SLX at the RADwood car meet on December 7 in Orange County, California. Also on display will be a 1991 NSX (VIN: 00052), which is the earliest known example of the mid-engine ’90s supercar in North America, along with an ’86 Integra coupe from the Acura Museum in nearby Torrance.