Is the Honda Ridgeline too good for most truck buyers?
I mean after all, when the first Ridgeline appeared in 2005, it was revolutionary. Where trucks had trundled on for decades on separate chassis and bodies, the Honda re-envisioned the pickup with a unibody design.
Much in the way the SUV’s and crossovers were dramatically improved with car-like comfort and manners, the Ridgeline should have been the standard bearer for pickups. Instead, after making a small splash, the majority of truck buyers went back to the harsh riding, less fuel efficient, but perceived tougher and more durable traditional trucks.
They missed out.
Because that first Ridgeline was a great truck. And among those that bought and loved them, they earned a reputation for toughness that went hand in hand with their comfort and livability.
You’ve got to admire Honda sticking to its guns, for now we have a new Ridgeline, and while much of the original recipe remains, there’s a lot more spice added in to make it more appealing.
The original styling didn’t appeal to that many tastebuds. Honda tried to make it stand out by adopting some interesting cues, like a rounded body with squared off fender flares, and most notably a flying-buttress C-pillar with sharply angled tops of the bed. Form didn’t follow function, as loading the bed from the side proved difficult. There was also a more than passing resemblance to the Chevy Avalanche.
If you could get past the looks – or liked them – there was some very clever design in the ‘Ridge that thankfully has migrated to the new model.
Better yet, the overall design is now much more traditional truck, and that’s a good thing. From the nose to the rear doors, it looks like the new Pilot (which it’s based on), with a power saw taken to the back to create an open bed.
Overall, it’s a strong design, and we were pleasantly surprised to find our Modern Steel Metallic (charcoal to you and me) get second glances and thumbs up from other truckers.
Handsome on the outside, gorgeous on the inside. While most truck makers are constantly trying to make their cabins more car-like and comfy, the previous Ridgeline already had this nailed.
The new model raises the bar even further – this is serious luxury SUV territory now (thanks again, Pilot) with beautiful finishes, plush leather, and a sweeping dash with a ginormous center display. Features like pushbutton start, a heated steering wheel and memory seats reinforce that First Cabin feel.
Infotainment was easily handled by our tester’s 540-watt, premium audio system, giant 8-inch navi touchscreen, and connective technology including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Take a seat, and you’ll find the Honda’s front buckets are firm and supportive, while the rear bench offers spacious room for three with nearly 3 cubic feet of storage underneath. The seat bottom also easily flips up for taller items you’d rather transport in the comfy cabin.
But you buy a truck for the bed, and the Ridgeline doesn’t disappoint there, either. Payload is around 1,500 lbs., one of the best in its class. It’s spacious too, with a four-inch longer bed (now 64.0”), that’s more than competitive with other crew cab trucks. Width is impressive, and you can easily carry 4 x 8 sheets between the wheelwells.
Getting to that cargo space is easy with a class-exclusive tailgate design that carries over from the previous model. You can flip it down in the traditional truck manner, or swings from the side – making access to items in the bed easier.
And you’ll appreciate that access with the lockable in-bed truck, another great idea brought over from the original. With a spacious 7.3 cubic feet of space, it’s great for keeping valuables out of sight. It includes a drain plug, so you can use it as an ice chest, or a place to store wet gear. Or leave the plug in and you’ve got yourself a mobile Koi pond. Tres chic!
If you live by the mantra “Business up front, party in the back.” you’ll love the Ridgeline’s industry-first, Truck Bed Audio System. Utilizing 6 “exciters” (their word, not ours) in the bed wall in place of conventional speakers, it’s activated through the audio system’s touchscreen. You can even adjust the volume through your smartphone once you’re outside of the truck.
More fun? How about using the 150w/400w bed outlet to plug in your favorite flat screen? You too, can be the hit of any tailgate party, beach bash or barbecue.
While the Ridgeline gives you plenty of capability, it also shines in the driving department. Being SUV–unibody based makes this one of the quietest, smoothest riding trucks you can buy. This is luxo-sedan comfort traditional trucks can only dream of.
With a 282 horsepower, 3.5-liter, V6 backed up by a 6-speed automatic, this Honda has lots of punch off the line and on the freeway. We couldn’t quite make the estimated EPA combined 21 mpg, but averaging 18 mpg was still quite impressive.
You’ll also find a capable All wheel drive system available on the Ridgeline. With settings for normal, snow, mud and sand, it would make a great all-season vehicle, and pretty capable for light off-road. However, if you’re planning to run the Rubicon or other rock-crawling, boulder-bashing runs, you’d probably shouldn’t be looking at a unibody vehicle anyway.
If you’re going to tow, the All-Wheel Drive version is our recco: with a 5,000 lb. max capacity, it should be plenty for most light-truck needs.
The Ridgeline’s SUV roots also pay dividends in a plethora of advanced technology. Making your drive easier is Honda Sensing, a suite of driver-assist tech including adaptive cruise control, forward collision/auto braking, lane departure assist and blind spot monitors. It makes a relatively large vehicle painless to drive, even in tight, urban environs.
Like most trucks, Honda gives you a range of models and price points to suit your needs. The entry-level 2WD RT starts at $29,475, and includes that punchy 3.5-liter V6, super comfortable ride and all the basic power goodies you’d expect.
A full-boat, loaded tester like our AWD RTL-E starts at $41,370. It’s so well-equipped, there are no options. Honda does offer a nice range of truck accessories, like bed extenders and roof rails, so you can deck it out pretty much how you like.
In Truck World, there’s always a need for a dressed-up special model, and Honda won’t leave you out to dry. Here, you can pony up for the Ridgeline Black Edition, featuring a blacked-out exterior, exclusive black 18-inch alloy wheels, black leather interior with red accents and red LED mood lighting. Available on the RTL-E, this extra bit of exclusivity will put you back another $1,500.
So Honda’s new Ridgeline is all dressed up, but does it have somewhere to go? We think its time has come. While expectations for all the capability of a traditional pickup remain, today’s buyer also demands comfort, convenience, and safety along for the ride.
And in its class, the 2017 Ridgeline is easily the best of both worlds.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.