All-Wheel-Drive 2017 Honda Ridgeline Outsmarts Bad Roads


A 150-foot stretch of soft sand, rutted with the tracks of other pickup trucks, posed a daunting traction challenge during a recent test drive of the all-wheel drive 2017 Honda Ridgeline. Stopping halfway across the sandy path went against all my driving instincts, which were screaming that momentum is one's best friend when navigating such terrain. But stop I did.

One of the new Ridgeline's best attributes is its all-new Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) all-wheel-drive system, which makes driving in sand and other low-traction conditions far less dramatic than one would encounter if the vehicle had a conventional four-wheel drive.

Unlike its midsize four-wheel-drive competitors, there's no transfer case in the all-wheel-drive Ridgeline, so there's no driver involvement in selecting High/Low 4×4 mode. Instead, the Ridgeline driver pushes a button on the center console to select Mud, Snow or Sand as indicated in the display screen.

Doing so activates preprogrammed algorithms designed by Honda engineers to let the Ridgeline's multitude of sensors and computers do all the thinking, making millisecond decisions on when, where and how much power to send to all four wheels to maximize traction.

The calculations and execution of traction commands happen 46 percent faster than the 2006-era model, according to Randy Skiles, the lead engineer on the development of the 2017 Ridgeline's all-wheel-drive system. It's impressive in action.

The brains of the system is the i-VTM4, which controls an electronic rear differential and dynamic torque vectoring to send up to 70 percent of the 280 horsepower V-6 engine's 262 pounds-feet of torque to the rear depending on the traction needs.

That power can be further split from zero to 100 percent left or right between the rear tires using computer-controlled wet-clutch packs that precisely control slip at the wheel. This gives the Ridgeline a big traction advantage over conventional 4x4s with open or limited-slip differentials.

"Our Intelligent Traction Management System is a holistic technology," Skiles said. "It combines VSA [vehicle stability assist], engine management and all-wheel drive so they are all working together to get you wherever you want while sitting back and relaxing behind the wheel."

It's true. Stopping in the soft sand, then accelerating really put the i-VTM4 to the test during my drive. To my instant relief, the all-wheel-drive Ridgeline I was driving moved out quickly and with seemingly little effort as I rolled into the throttle.

Skiles and other Honda drivetrain engineers involved with the development of the 2017 Ridgeline's all-wheel-drive system said it responds similarly in snow and mud. That's good news for pickup buyers who often take the roads less traveled. photos by Bruce W. Smith; manufacturer photos

Drive torque is calculated from engine control unit information, and then the acceleration situation, wheel spin, lateral g-force, steering angle and steering angle rate-of-change are used to determine the front-to-rear torque distribution and the torque split between right and left rear wheels.

The 2017 Ridgeline features a new push-button-operated Intelligent Traction Management System that offers four different all-wheel-drive operating modes — Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand — and two two-wheel-drive modes, Normal and Snow. A selector button on the center console brings up options on the instrument panel display.

The 2017 Ridgeline all-wheel-drive rear differential uses a pair of computer-controlled wet-clutch packs, one for each wheel, to distribute torque left or right in whatever percentage is needed to maximize traction.

The 2017 Ridgeline's full-time all-wheel-drive system doesn't require driver interaction or monitoring thanks to a torque-transfer unit that is bolted directly to the front-mounted transaxle and a computer-controlled limited-slip-type rear differential.


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