How many $100 dinners can you eat?That's the way we've felt lately testing all these premium sport-utility vehicles. Just when we thought we had our fill, along came the 1996 Acura SLX Premium, the upscale Honda division's first foray in the luxury sport-ute market. The good thing about the SLX is it won't leave you feeling like you've just pigged out on petit fours - there is some substance here. But watch out where you put your purse. She: I freaked out when I was driving the SLX on the highway, reached in my purse for a piece of gum and then dropped the purse on the center console. All of a sudden, the power mirrors folded in. I couldn't see the cars in the other lanes and I couldn't figure out what happened. Talk about a panic attack. He: Clearly an act of God. She has such a sense of humor, you know. She: In this case, I'm sure God's a male. And I'm sure whoever engineered that console was a guy. Every woman knows there's no good place to throw your purse, even in a $38,000 luxury vehicle. Turns out there's a button on the console of the SLX to fold in the mirrors, if you're going through the car wash or trying to get into a tight parking space. Good idea - but stupid place for the switch. He: Probably wouldn't have been a problem if you didn't carry around your entire life in your purse, which must weigh about a quadrillion pounds. Doesn't that qualify as a deadly weapon, dear? But let's get all our whining out of the way up front. My biggest complaint with the SLX - and it's really only a minor beef - is the lack of a remote keyless entry system, which seems kind of dumb on a vehicle this expensive. Other than that, if I had nearly 40 grand to shell out on a luxury sport-ute, the SLX would be at or near the top of my list. But I have to admit, so too would the Isuzu Trooper on which the Acura is based. And you can get a nicely equipped Trooper LS for under $30,000. She: Yes, but if you ordered all the same equipment on the Trooper that comes standard on the SLX, you'd be paying nearly the same price. Somehow, it's comforting to get your seven grab handles, dual rear foot rests, antilock brakes and all the other goodies as standard equipment. Besides, I got a real sense of value with this vehicle, considering the Lexus LS450 we drove last month cost $10,000 more. And remember that night when the SLX really came through for us on the black ice? He: Oh, right, we actually had a hot date that Saturday, but I wanted to turn around and go home because of the freezing rain. She: We were pleased to find out that the Acura's four-speed automatic transmission features a winter-mode button that starts the vehicle in third gear, which really helps you start out more smoothly when the roads are super slippery. It's a great feature for wimpy husbands who always want to turn back. He: That's Mr. Wimpy to you, toots. By the way, the part-time four-wheel-drive system is also nice becaus e you can shift back into two-wheel-drive on dry roads, when you don't need the extra traction, but wouldn't mind a little better gas mileage. As it is, the SLX has some dismal EPA ratings - 14 miles a gallon in city driving and 18 on the highway, which is near the bottom of the class and about the same as a Jeep Grand Cherokee with a big 5.2-liter V-8. In its favor, the Acura's 3.2-liter V-6 is pretty sturdy. It makes 190 horsepower, which is more than the Ford Explorer's 4.0-liter V-6. She: It's a great vehicle, but some families may find the ride a little bit harsh. Otherwise, I found it incredibly easy to park and not as bulbous as some of the other sport-utes. I was sorry to see it go. It's not hard to get used to a leather-trimmed interior, wood trim, power moonroof, heated front seats and all the power gadgets on the premium package. I really hate the name SLX. It says nothing to me. He: I guess they were too nervous to call it SEX, huh? She: Do you think A a was trying to convey a subliminal message? I don't think of the SLX as a sexy vehicle. It's more about pampering than sex. Maybe they should have called it the Acura SPA. Hey - maybe I could get a job with one of those naming firms. 1996 Acura SLX Premium Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, five-passenger luxury sport-utility. Price: Base, $38,000; as tested, $38,519 (including $435 destination and handling charge). What's new for '96: All-new model, based on Isuzu Trooper. Standard equipment: Air conditioning, AM/FM stereo cassette with six speakers, leather-trimmed interior, heated power front seats, 8-way power driver's seat, 4-way power passenger's seat, wood trim, 60/40 split-folding-reclining rear seats, dual rear footrests, concealed rear storage compartment, rear seat heater ducts, cruise control, power window and door locks, tilt steering column, alloy wheels, power moonroof, all-season radial tires, power/heated outside mirrors, variable-assist power steering and fog lamps. Safety features: Anti-lock brakes, dual air bags, theft-deterrent system, child-proof rear door locks and side-impact door beams. Options on test vehicle: Floor mats, $84 EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway Engine: 3.2-liter V-6; 190-hp at 5600 rpm; 188 lb-ft torque at 4,000 rpm. Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Competitors: Mercury Mountaineer, Ford Explorer Limited, Isuzu Trooper, Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited, Lexus LS450, Mitsubishi Montero and Toyota Land Cruiser Specifications: Wheelbase, 108.7 inches; overall length, 183.5 inches; curb weight, 4,640 pounds; legroom, 40.8 inches front/39.1 inches rear; headroom, 39.4 inches front/37.8 inches rear; shoulder room, 57.3 inches front/57.3 inches rear. 12-month insurance cost: $1,511. AAA Michigan rates based on an average family of four from the Livonia area whose primary driver is aged 40 with no tickets who drives 3-10 miles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat belts. Where built: Fujisawa, Japan
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