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Lots of car manufacturers have their own branded names for all-wheel drive systems. In addition to Acura, these include BMW xDrive, Mercedes-Benz 4Matic, Audi Quattro, and several more. You may have noticed that Acura models equipped with all-wheel drive are labeled with the “SH-AWD” moniker. The “AWD” part is pretty obvious, but what does “SH” mean?

Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive

For Acura, the “SH” in “SH-AWD” stands for “Super Handling.” The “SH” abbreviation has its roots in the Honda Prelude Type SH. Unlike its predecessor, the fifth-generation Prelude wasn’t available with four-wheel steering in North America. Instead, the Type SH model had what Honda called an Active Torque Transfer System (ATTS).

This was a torque-vectoring front differential with a design similar to an automatic transmission. It uses planetary gears to vary torque output between the two wheels with the goal of better handling in an FWD car. The system didn’t do much to mask the nose-heavy weight problem in the Prelude, but the ATTS system would have a long future with Honda and Acura.

The SH-AWD system in Acura cars and SUVs essentially combines ATTS with Honda’s VTM-4 AWD system from the early 2000s. VTM (Variable Torque Management) debuted on the Acura MDX and later saw duty in the Honda Pilot. It used two electronically-controlled wet clutches in the rear axle that took directions from the front wheels. For example, the VTM-4 system was always in AWD mode at speeds under 18 mph to help with low-speed traction on snowy roads. It also had a lock mode for deep snow and off-road driving. As the speed increased in this system, all of the engine’s torque gradually migrated to the front wheels.

The VTM-4 AWD system combined with the “Super Handling” derived from the ATTS system born in the Honda Prelude created the SH-AWD system. The first car with SH-AWD was the 2005 Acura RL. Acura’s flagship luxury sedan could distribute up to 70 percent of torque to the front or rear wheels. Additionally, up to 100 percent of the power at the rear wheels can be shifted to just the outside wheel. This drastically reduces the understeer often felt with FWD cars in aggressive driving.

Another interesting detail about the SH-AWD system is that it doesn’t have a center differential. Instead, a transfer unit is bolted directly to the transmission, which turns a center driveshaft to send power to the rear wheels.

What cars have SH-AWD?

In the current Acura lineup, every model except the compact Acura Integra is available with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. Its application on SUVs is obvious; it improves all-season traction while optimizing handling on dry pavement.

The SH-AWD system is also optional on the Acura TLX midsize sedan. It’s optional on the A-Spec trim and standard on the Advance and Type S models. In the Type S guise of the MDX and TLX, the SH-AWD system has more of an RWD bias for a sportier driving experience.

Whether you need all-wheel drive because you live in a snowy climate or you want a more engaging drive than what front-wheel drive can offer, the Acura SH-AWD system is one of the most advanced systems of its kind. It’s easy to recommend where available on Acura sedans and SUVs.


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