On the Road Review: Honda Ridgeline

Honda’s newest Ridgeline, the brand’s unique midsize pickup offering, is like no other pickup on the market in the United States.

Restyled for the first time since its 2005 debut, the latest Ridgeline retains all of the attributes that made such a splash 11 years ago, while adding a host of new features, some refinement, as well as greater power and efficiency.

As with the first Ridgeline, the styling is not quite the home run that traditional pickup buyers might be seeking, despite all of the inherent virtues of this unibody, fully independent suspensioned package.

First, the flying buttress look that graced the first Ridgeline has, thankfully, been removed. A conventionally shaped pickup box resides out back, but with far more features than your normal pickup. The tailgate remains a dual-action setup — it raises and lowers (unassisted) as well as swings to the left like a door, which provides extremely convenient access to your load. Inside, the composite-constructed bed contains eight tie-down anchors, LED perimeter lighting, plus 50 inches between the recessed wheelwells and 62 inches of space front to rear. This allows flat hauling 4-by-8 sheets of building materials (with the tailgate down), something the Ridgeline’s rivals can’t boast.

But the best part of the bed is the lockable trunk. Almost 11 cubic feet, this watertight compartment can swallow two sets of golf clubs or any sensitive cargo that should not be exposed in the bed. A space-saver spare tire also is enclosed, ensuring dry, clean tire changes when that emergency arises. It is shocking to me that no other automaker has embraced this simple feature in other trucks.

Perhaps that will change, soon, as Hyundai has a Ridgeline-like pickup coming soon, and Mercedes is working on a similar car-based platform to enter this profitable segment.

While certainly not a novel concept — making a pickup from a car has been done by Chevy, Ford and VW decades ago — the current Ridgeline capitalizes on the Pilot/Odyssey platform to make a sensible suburban tool that actually fits the active lifestyles of more users than do the common pickups that populate the sales charts.

And that gets us around to the front of the Ridgeline, where the styling seems too “soft” for a pickup and the front fascia looks too much like the brands’ CR-V and Pilot, the midsize crossover with which it shares many parts. The sloping hoodline and the steeply raked windshield make perfect sense in this modern world of efficiency and packaging, however this boldness is in conflict with the upright and boxy designs that fill the rest of the market.

Under the hood works a revised 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 that now makes 280 hp, a 30-hp gain. Backed by a six-speed automatic rather than the Pilot’s new nine-speed unit, the Ridgeline accelerates easily and delivers respectable fuel economy. EPA ratings are 19/25 mpg for the AWD models, one more mile per gallon for front drive units, with our top-of-the-line tester returning a peak of almost 24 mpg during its stay.

The Ridgeline’s unibody design may eliminate the separation between cab and pickup body, but it surely enhances the ride and handling dynamics. Stable and predictable in all maneuvers, the Honda produced ride compliance that would match the Pilot. We did not test the towing capacity, 5,000 pounds, but there is no reason to suspect that the truck’s behavior would change significantly. The chassis however, with no levers, buttons or driver engagement for locking four-wheel drive, suggests that this AWD pickup is better equipped for a soft-roader experience rather than a hard-core off-roading adventure.

Inside, the Ridgeline shows its Pilot roots everywhere. There is a convenient center console that conquers many functions, including lunch tray on the go, as well as a plethora of pockets, sockets and cubbyholes. Switchgear, seating, materials and visibility all reveal refinement and efficient ergonomics with the only caveat being Honda’s touchscreen panel requiring precise finger inputs, just like others, that is often difficult to accomplish while driving. Drivers will quickly learn to use the steering wheel controls for the audio system while operating the nav system should be delegated to the navigator.

Climate controls are beefy, the steering wheel rim is thick, and the power rear window is a nice touch. Rear seat-bottoms split to fold up with a flat load-deck below suitable for bikes, camping gear or your next 60-inch flat panel TV. The rear doors could open wider; access seemed constrained for this three-person portal.

As with other new products, Honda’s included, a host of new electronic driving aids are available. Lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation braking are but a few of the aids. Honda’s forward collision warning system, as seen before, is very sensitive and detects cars ahead coming around corners and warns you to brake with lights, chirps and even a start to automatic braking despite the vehicles being in their lane and no threat. This can be annoying on a winding two-lane.

Absent from our early production sample was Honda’s Lane Watch setup, which seemed odd.

Ridgeline pricing starts at $30,375 for a front-drive RT. Our loaded RTL-E with heated leather, navigation, memory seating, tri-zone climate and multi-view rear camera listed for over $44,000 with AWD. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also are available on the six various Ridgeline trim levels.

The Ridgeline’s interior is vastly better than contemporary pickup rivals, the versatile pickup bed area exceeds these competitors’ abilities and the Honda drives better than its current rivals do. Power and economy are very class competitive too.

Is the Ridgeline a different pickup for difference sake, or, is this just a better all-around everyday pickup regardless? Honda is hoping that buyers see this new Ridgeline as the Swiss-Army knife of pickups for a new world.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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