Raptors or Ridgelines? The Future of Traction Tech


The world of 4x4 pickups trucks used to be simple: a transfer case bolted behind the transmission offered an extra low-range gear to provide more low-speed control when navigating slippery, rutted or rocky terrain. And to engage that gear you had to be at a full stop, and in some cases, spin a pair of front-axle hub locks.

Additionally, many pickup owners liked to run fast and smooth over the jagged terrains of the desert backcountry, mimicking some of the activities of a Baja race truck. Due to the love of high-speed running on dirt roads, these vehicles typically were two-wheel drive and had a rear limited-slip or locking differential to get the most traction from the rear tires.

But nowadays, choosing one or the other isn't good enough.

Pickup manufacturers such as Ford want to give truck buyers the best of all worlds with state-of-the-art four-wheel-drive systems — or even a little more. At the top of the high- and low-speed traction technology pyramid is the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor (see video below), with its smart transfer case and multidimensional cutting-edge Terrain Management System. The system offers six different modes — Normal, Sport, Weather, Mud/Sand, Baja and Rock Crawl — each of which changes software parameters for throttle response, traction aggressiveness, steering feel and shift algorithms.

Raptor Modes 1 II

In addition, the Raptor's transfer case offers four different selections as well: two-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive auto (center differential is locked) and four-wheel-drive low range (also locked). These choices can be controlled manually with the rotary dial on the dash or through automatic settings of the TMS via thumb controls on the steering wheel. Additionally, steering modes — Normal, Sport and Comfort — can be selected manually. Although this might sound complicated, from our experience, this technology all works seamlessly together in a complicated dance, making the driver something of a superhero.

In a similar but less complicated way, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline uses a sophisticated AWD system without benefit of a transfer case or low-range gear. It senses excessive wheel spin, knowing when and how to mitigate and transfer power to where it's needed. To Honda's credit, the new Ridgeline has a supersmart multiterrain system as well — Intelligent Traction Management — with four different modes: Normal, Mud, Snow and Sand. Each of these settings changes several software parameters in the traction control and engine/transmission management system. In our experience, this system works exceptionally well in 90 percent of all off-road situations.

It's worth calling attention to the Ram 2500 Power Wagon anytime there's a discussion of traction-adding systems. The Power Wagon is probably the best classic example of how heavy-duty pickup trucks can get tire grip to the ground. Power Wagons use a heavy-duty transfer case activated through a shift lever along with front and rear locking differentials (the rear locker must be engaged first to allow the front to lock) and an electronically controlled front sway-bar disconnect. This allows the front axle to twist and flex without restriction. Add to that Bilstein shocks, aggressive mud tires, a 2-inch lift and gobs of ground clearance, and you can see why this rock-ready truck has the reputation it does.


What does all this mean for the future of pickups? We have no doubt there will always be traditional 4WD systems in the heavy-duty truck class and very likely more sophisticated traction control systems along with AWD in newer, smaller pickups. However, it wouldn't surprise us if the solid-tech middle-of-the-road 4WD systems started disappearing as high-tech, high-profit vehicles — think Raptor, Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and Range Rovers — become more popular.

We'll have more to say about 4x4 pickups after we get a chance to flog the 2017 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, which has a new exterior design, sophisticated suspension technology, and front and rear locking differentials. Driving impressions, as well as industry implications, coming soon.

Cars.com photo by Evan Sears; manufacturer images



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*YAWN* Land Rover has had low and high range along with all sorts of wheel sensing for years.

Honda's AWD system generates way too much heat for any kind of regular off-road use. The guys at TFLT ran into overheating issues very early on in their ascent up a moderately steep trail. That tells me that the heat it generates off-road is overwhelming whatever cooling the engineers designed for it. The hydraulic fluid is going to be cooked if you do that often enough. Honda's automotive transmissions are already mediocre when it comes to reliability.

I never used to like the electronic transfer cases but the latest generation of them have been surprisingly good. I've used both Ford's version in the F-150 and the the system in the latest GM Silverado 1500. I was especially impressed with how slick 4LO worked on the Silverado, allowing me to shift to 4LO while moving, displaying a message to slow down to a certain speed so it could shift into 4LO. Worked right. I have not used the Ram 1500's 4WD system.

One can't help but admire the compactness of that Ridgeline FWD AWD engine transmission configuration all in front of the axle. Their Acura NSX sports car is using an AWD configuration with two e-motors up front. Lamborghini's Asterion LPI 910-4 Concept is using a similar config to the NSX. Lamborghini Miura used a transverse, mid-mounted 4.0 litre V12 in 1965.

Fords 4WD is weak and stupid.

17 Raptor, " It took us a while to figure out how to cancel the electronic nannies, but once we figured it out, the truck became even more fun. Many thought the system through which the driver manages the Terrain Management System was not as easy to use (“too many modes, too hard to access” and “overly complex”) as it should be." fourwheeler.

Jeeps A Selec-Terrain has been around for years. Hill decent is my favorite. Even works in reverse.

Am not interested in either one: need long-term survivability and ruggedness, 20-25 years out.
Am interested in a tough off-road pickup that provides endurance, reliability, and performance.
Not interested in ultimate “comfort”, perfect ride quality, electronic gadgets, or refined luxury.
Don’t need some ridiculous attempt at sports-car handling.

My “ideal” future $90K pickup truck, in ten easy lessons, is this - - -
Ram “Power Wagon” Crew Cab, but with the following enhanced, added, or changed:
1) Dana 60 Solid Axles with e-lockers – front and rear.
2) Fox remote-reservoir, long travel (14-inch) shocks.
3) Remote-disconnect sway bars – front and rear.
4) 12,000 lb. Warn Zeon 10-S Winch
5) New metallurgy 72-inch, 7-leaf spring-packs (no coils – can explain why in another post).
6) Hellcat supercharged 575 HP engine, with 600 lb-ft of torque.
7) 6-speed Tremec T6060 or T6070 Manual Transmission, built to handle 900 lb-ft of torque.
8) Virtual corrosion-immune frame, suspension, driveline, undercarriage, and body panels.
9) Haul > 2500 lbs.; Tow > 15,000 lbs.
10) Gasoline Fuel Mileage = 15 mpg city / 20 mpg highway


Y'all are overlooking a fourth system that, while similar to the Raptor's, goes a bit farther by using three lockable differentials and no transfer case. While it isn't currently being used by any trucks in the US, Jeep has it working in at least two of its current models and seems to work quite well, albeit in the Renegade the engine isn't quite strong enough for heavy rock crawling and neither of them have the flex demanded for such.

The future is electric motors in each wheel. No transmissions, drivelines, transfer cases, PTU's, or differentials.

I stand and look at my Polaris ATV all wheel drive system and amazed how simple the design is.
I have wondered why haven't pickup trucks copied that system.

I stand and look at my Polaris ATV all wheel drive system and amazed how simple the design is.
I have wondered why haven't pickup trucks copied that system.

Posted by: Tom #3 | May 5, 2017 1:37:48 AM

Tom what do you think the AutoTrac 4x4 is in GM. It's just like the Polaris that we ride other than the locking front end. When in Autotrac it senses wheel slippage just like our Polaris do and engage the front wheels.

Where is Gms version?, oh thats right maybe by 2025 they will catch up

No pickup truck for sale in the United States has a center differential.

TFL overheated the transmission, not the drivetrain. Partly because Honda is stingy: the 'heavy duty' transmission cooler isn't standard.
The Ridgeline's problem of having a much too tall 1st gear will be solved by the Honda 10 speed automatic. 5.34:1 versus current 6 speed auto's 3.359. Honda's 10 speed auto 2nd gear is 3.33:1. 6 speed auto's top gear 0.556:1; 10 speed auto to gear 0.53.
And Reverse is much shorter too. 4.05 to 2.269.
So the Axle ratio doesn't need to change too much. Currently 4.25:1 to a slightly taller 4.1:1.

The PowerWagon needs the ZF 8hp transmission. FCA can make it so you only get 1st gear starts when you are in 4x4; unless you opt for Tow/Haul in 4x2.

The Quadra-trac II in our Jeep Overland does all that and then some. It is strong enough for the 707hp Hellcat engine too be dropped in, aka the TrackHawk

I've been trying to figure out since I first learned of the new 2017 Ridgeline being AWD, is an AWD in a truck any good? I've had the last two 4WD versions of the Ridgeline and I've test driven the new Black Edition, it didn't have the pick up, (pardon the pun), of the older models, despite having more horsepower.

Make sure you have the "econ" button turned off when you test-drive the Ridgeline, it makes a big difference. If that's not enough, put it in "Sand" mode and you will have all the get-up-n-go you need.

Ad far as AWD in a pickup? AWD is far superior to traditional 4wd on the road, especially snowy or patchy ice roads, or rain-slick roads. 4wd is superior in low-speed situations such as rock-crawling, or pulling a very heavy trailer slowly over short distances (like pulling a very heavy boat up a ramp). This is because it has a transfer case to give you a much lower gearing when needed.

You just need to figure out which is more valuable for your needs and decide accordingly.

I would stick with a basic Toyota 4wd version on the low end and the new crawl system for the top end!

Call me crazy, but nothing beats the np203 transfer case in my dad's old power wagon. In my entire life, I can't remember a single time that truck has ever been stuck. I can't even say that about my Cummins.

How about the manufacturers focus on bolting up a transfer case that's worthy of being used? What's out there now consists of cases with the strength of glass.

Everyone wants this and that because they think they're hardcore.... 99% of the time it's on pavement.

ohhhh I didn't know that.
Thank You for informing me.

In my state they are starting to make ATV's and SxS's street legal and Polaris is working on factory street legal utility SxS with dump beds that carry 1000 lbs and tow 2000 lbs.

What I am trying to say there's a revolution coming where the power sports makers like Polaris and Can Am may be moving in on the small pickup sales competing with a Toyota Tacoma or the Honda Ridgeline and Jeep.

If you can buy a street legal side-by-side with better off-road capability that also has a dump bed hauling 1000 lbs and can tow 2000 lbs that's less than half the price of a pickup I think that would excite you

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