Luxury four-wheelers are all the rage, one of the fastest growing segments of the marketplace. Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz, for example, each have new products.Acura got into the luxury SUV business some time back by reaching an agreement with Isuzu to sell a dolled-up version of its Trooper under the Acura nameplate. This cooperation is not new for Honda and Isuzu because Honda's Passport is a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo.(Acura is the American luxury division of Honda). The SLX is typical for its class because it is equipped like a luxury sedan. Heated leather seats, wood trim, power moonroof, compact disc player, anti-lock brakes and all the creature comforts are standard, which is what buyers expect when they are paying more than $38,000. Like the Trooper, the SLX found itself the center of controversy last year because Consumer Reports gave it an "unacceptable" rating, saying it was prone to tip in certain evasive maneuvers. But last week Automotive News reported that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it will not order a recall of the Trooper or SLX based on its investigations. "We did our own testing, compared it to other vehicles and looked into our own files to see if there's a real-world problem with death and injury. In the end, we decided not to open an investigation," said NHTSA spokesman Tim Hurd. Case closed. Our test vehicle, a fully equipped SLX Premium model, felt as stable as any other SUV during the week I drove it. It rides almost as softly as a family sedan, which is what most luxury SUV buyers want. The flip side of a soft ride, however, is bounciness over rutted pavement. Power comes from a 190-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6. This single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) unit has minimal vibration and feels as smooth as any car. It revs willingly, but feels a tad shy of mid-range pulling power, or torque, when you need some extra power for passing. I found myself flipping the overdrive button on the gear lever to get an extra burst of power. City mileage is rated at 14 mpg, due in large part to the 4,640-pound curb weight. A four-speed automatic is standard, of course, and that is the perfect companion in city driving. The transmission has both Power and Winter modes. Power elevates the shift points while Winter selects a higher gear for less wheelspin in slippery starts. Shifting into four-wheel-drive, high-range, can be done without stopping. To select low range, as you might for off-roading, the vehicle must stop and be put into neutral. Should you take it off road, and few people really will, skid plates are built in to protect vital parts from rocks and logs. Here are a few of the SLX's nice touches: Grab handles galore aid getting in, both in the front and the back. Points are deducted, however, because the driver has no grab handles, and she has to rely on hoisting herself in by grabbing th e steering wheel. The back door is hinged vertically so it opens out like the front door of your house. That makes it easy to slide large objects into the back. An electronic compass arometer hermometer perched above the rearview mirror will satisfy even the most gadget-happy driver. Not only it is handy for following directions, but it is especially handy in the mountains. The power mirrors can be folded flat against the vehicle at the touch of a button, great for preventing damage during serious off-roading or in tight parking places. A couple of things to improve: The keyless remote uses the same button to lock and unlock the doors. Not good, because if you don't hear the doors lock as you walk away and punch the remote again to make sure, you are likely to unlock them. I did that several times. Separate buttons are better. The radio is an old design whose small buttons draw your eyes from the road to chang stations. Price The base price of our test car was $38,300. It was equipped with the Premium Package that includes leather upholstery, heated front seats, wood-grain trim and the electronic multi-meter. With freight, the sticker price was $38,735. Warranty The standard warranty is for four years or 50,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point:Even though the SLX is tall and boxy, it has the amenities of a luxury sedan and is capable of rugged off-road use. Its engine is smooth and the ride is soft. Counterpoint:The interior design is showing its age because there are switches located in a variety of places, from console to door panel. The radio's buttons are too small. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3.2-liter, V6 TRANSMISSION: automatic WHEELBASE: 108.7 inches CURB WEIGHT: 4,640 lbs. BASE PRICE:$38,300 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $38,735 MPG RATING: 14 city, 18 hwy.
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