As popularity and marketing value of the VTEC system grew, Honda applied the system to SOHC (Single Over Head Cam) engines, which shares a common camshaft for both intake and exhaust valves. The trade-off was that Honda's SOHC engines only benefitted from the VTEC mechanism on the intake valves. This is because VTEC requires a third center rocker arm and cam lobe (for each intake and exhaust side), and in the SOHC engine, the spark plugs are situated between the two exhaust rocker arms, leaving no room for the VTEC rocker arm. Additionally, the center lobe on the camshaft can only be utilized by either the intake or the exhaust, limiting the VTEC feature to one side.
However, beginning with the J37A4 3.7L SOHC V6 engine introduced on all 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD models, SOHC VTEC was incorporated for use with intake and exhaust valves. The intake and exhaust rocker shafts contain primary and secondary intake and exhaust rocker arms, respectively. The primary rocker arm contains the VTEC switching piston, while the secondary rocker arm contains the return spring. The term "primary" does not refer to which rocker arm forces the valve down during low-RPM engine operation. Rather, it refers to the rocker arm which contains the VTEC switching piston and receives oil from the rocker shaft.
The primary exhaust rocker arm contacts a low-profile camshaft lobe during low-RPM engine operation. Once VTEC engagement occurs, the oil pressure flowing from the exhaust rocker shaft into the primary exhaust rocker arm forces the VTEC switching piston into the secondary exhaust rocker arm, thus locking both exhaust rocker arms together. The high-profile camshaft lobe which normally contacts the secondary exhaust rocker arm alone during low-RPM engine operation is able to move both exhaust rocker arms together which are locked as a unit.
The secondary intake rocker arm contacts a low-profile camshaft lobe during low-RPM engine operation. Once VTEC engagement occurs, the oil pressure flowing from the intake rocker shaft into the primary intake rocker arm forces the VTEC switching piston into the secondary exhaust rocker arm, thus locking both intake rocker arms together. The high-profile camshaft lobe which normally contacts the primary intake rocker alone during low-RPM engine operation is able to move both intake rocker arms together which are locked as a unit.
The problem which plagued previous SOHC VTEC systems from incorporating VTEC for both the intake and exhaust valves has been resolved on the J37A4 by a novel design of the intake rocker arm. Each exhaust valve on the J37A4 corresponds to one primary and one secondary exhaust rocker arm. Therefore, there are a total of twelve primary exhaust rocker arms and twelve secondary exhaust rocker arms.
However, each secondary intake rocker arm is shaped similar to a "Y" which allows it to contact two intake valves at once. One primary intake rocker arm corresponds to each secondary intake rocker arm. As a result of this design, there are only six primary intake rocker arms and six secondary intake rocker arms.
Honda's next version of VTEC, VTEC-E, was used in a slightly different way; instead of optimising performance at high RPM, it was used to increase efficiency at low RPM. At low RPM, one of the two intake valves is only allowed to open a very small amount, increasing the fuel/air atomization in the cylinder and thus allowing a leaner mixture to be used. As the engine's speed increases, both valves are needed to supply sufficient mixture. A sliding pin, which is pressured by oil, as in the regular VTEC, is used to connect both valves together and allows the full opening of the second valve.
Honda also introduced a 3-stage VTEC system in select markets, which combines the features of both SOHC VTEC and SOHC VTEC-E.
At low engine speeds, one intake valve is opened off an economy lift cam lobe, and the second valve is just cracked open a little to help promote better swirl in the combustion chamber. Used in conjunction with a 5-wire, wideband O2 sensor, great fuel ecomomy can be realized.
At medium engine speeds, both intake valves open off the economy cam lobe with equal lift allowing the engine to produce more power, but at the expense of economy.
At high engine speeds, both intake valves are actuated by a high lift cam lobe and produce much higher performance than at the medium speed range, but at an even greater expense of economy.
The 3-stage VTEC system was only offered in the Asian and European markets and not in the US market at all.