As we write this, GM just announced the GMC HUMMER EV, a full-EV pickup truck with an available 1,000 horsepower (no typo!), 0-60 in 3 seconds, and even hands-free Super Cruise technology. So, it kind of makes us wonder, what is the definition of a pickup truck?
Other manufacturers have messed around with the idea – Dodge offered a convertible pickup, and all the major manufactures offer SuperTrucks that are a mix of muscle car and truck. Honda loves to engineer, and they went a different route – how about a pickup truck that gives you the comfort and ride quality of a passenger car. And how about using a unibody instead of a body-on-frame chassis that’s been the staple of the truck world since the T Rex drove an F100?
Enter the Honda Ridgeline, certainly an engineering tour de force, but does it work as a truck? Let’s find out.
Looks Like a Truck
It’s interesting when you see the first-gen Ridgeline – it wanted to look tough, but it sort of didn’t want to look like a pickup truck. There was a large C-pillar that flowed down, making it clear there was no separate bed. With a bunch of aggressive side cladding it looked aggressive and reminded us of the also-cool Chevy Avalanche.
The current model must be much more comfortable being an actual truck – it looks like a traditional truck, and we like it. OK, it does look like a truck made by Honda, there’s the traditional Honda front end, with cool LED running lights that look like frowny eyebrows, a serrated grille that looks aggressive and a contrasting color lower fascia for that off-road-bashing capability.
The profile is traditional truck – but being a Honda, it is beautifully finished, and the rear is trucky as well. We do love that the rear tailgate can both flip down like you’d expect, but also swing wide as a door for easier access to the bed.
And in that bed is a cool locking in-bed trunk that features a drain plug…. a perfect cooler for a day at the beach or a tailgate party. And if you came to party, there are even available built in speakers in the bed which you can adjust via Bluetooth on your phone. Easy and smart!
Feels Like a Luxury SUV
Inside, you won’t be roughing it. It starts with loads of room – the Ridgeline has more passenger room than Colorado, Ranger or Tacoma – and it feels cavernous inside. If you were blindfolded and dropped in the driver’s seat, you’d swear you were in Honda’s Pilot or Passport SUVs, which is no bad thing.
It’s a modern, thoughtful design, with a digital driver display flanked by a tachometer and fuel/temp gauges. Interestingly the speedo is a digital readout and not a gauge, but you get used to it immediately. One thing we didn’t get used to was the pushbutton transmission control on the center console – we’re old school, but we still like having a shift lever.
We also like having a volume control for the info-tainment system, and other Hondas have added this, but it’s not on the Ridgeline yet. The rest of the system is excellent, with standard Navi, and Apple CarPlay works beautifully on the 8-inch touchscreen. The 540-watt premium audio system fills the cabin with sound (and the truck bed, too).
It’s super comfy too, with high-quality materials, and a heated power 10-way adjustable memory driver’s seat, covered in rich leather. The heated steering is a nice touch on chilly mornings as well. Those in back will enjoy the largest space in its class, with plenty of shoulder room and stretch-out room. For 2020 they’ve even made the door openings wider for easier access.
We also like the easy fold-up seat bottoms that give you inside storage for taller items. Storage throughout the cabin is excellent – important for a truck – and we love the giant center console.
You buy a truck for the bed, and the Ridgeline features 5.3-feet of smart design. Along with the dual-action gate and 7.3-cubic ft in-bed trunk, there’s 50 inches between wheelwells, making the Ridgeline the only truck in its class that can carry 4 x 8 sheets flat on the floor. Smart thinking!
Drives a Like a Dream
The best part of the Ridgeline is that it gives you all the truck capability but doesn’t beat you up for it. Now to be fair, many of the new trucks we’ve driven like the Dodge Ram, are pretty darn luxurious – and pricey – but they still are fancy trucks. In the Ridgeline, the drive is a revelation.
The engine is powerful and smooth. For those who think all Honda does is make lovely turbo four-cylinders like in the Civic Si, the Ridgeline serves up a powerful 3.5-liter, V6 with 280 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. For 2020 we have an all-new 9-speed automatic transmission that should give better acceleration, easier towing and enhanced mpg.
The Ridgeline’s maximum tow rating of 5,000 lbs. is down a bit compared to other truck-chassis competitors, so if towing big is a big part of your life, it’s worth thinking about.
You certainly feel the power of that V6, and working through the RTL-E’s standard all-wheel-drive, you pull away with authority. And the RTL-E features an Intelligent Traction Management System that enables four modes: Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand, so you’ll be able to go pretty much wherever you want.
And you go in superb comfort. The coil-spring rear suspension is super smooth and quiet – no other truck comes close. Handling likewise is SUV good, with smooth responses, and confidence inspiring steering. There’s no worry about hitting a bump and skittering around all over the place!
You also get confidence with the standard Honda Sensing suite of safety gear, including Forward Collison and Lane Departure Warnings, Lane Keep Assist and Road Departure Mitigation. Our RTL-E also includes Blinds Spot Warning with Cross Traffic Alert – a huge plus on a big vehicle.
It’s a Big Value
If you get the idea we love the Ridgeline, you’re right. The line-up starts with the 2WD Sport Model, at $33,900, for a big, comfy truck that’s loaded with Honda goodness that’s a great deal. Step up to the RTL for $36,670 and you’ll get leather, moonroof, heated front seats and power 10-way driver seats.
Our RTL-E adds all the goodies, and includes standard AWD, Blind Spot Information System, Truck Bed Audio System, Intelligent Variable Torque Management, 540-watt premium audio system and more. Yours for $42,020. Adding in destination and we rang the bell at $43,115.
The closest competitor is probably the Toyota Tacoma, at $44,085 comparably equipped it’s a bit more money. It’s probably a bit more rugged, but the ride and handling can’t come close to the Ridgeline. The Ranger and Colorado are in a similar boat – strong solid trucks, but the Ridgeline is much more comfortable, spacious and refined.
We love the 2020 Honda Ridgeline. It gives you the truck features you need, without the penalties you don’t. Smooth, roomy, and beautifully put-together, it’s the Honda of pickup trucks!
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.