Ridgeline All the Truck Most Need

It’s more fuel efficient than its predecessor and competition, and looks less toy-like, but will American midsize pickup buyers take to Ridgeline version 2.0?

May 31, 2016

7 Min Read
3917 Honda Ridgeline on sale in June
'17 Honda Ridgeline on sale in June.

SAN ANTONIO – When the first-generation Honda Ridgeline came out 11 years ago, it was a definite oddity in the U.S. automotive world. A unibody pickup competing in a segment where every entrant was body-on-frame?

And not only was its construction unique, so was its appearance: bulky and angular and curves and bump outs.

The competition sniffed, “Not a real truck.”

Buyers were unsure, too.

While roughly 50,000 Ridgelines were sold in the U.S. in 2006, the truck’s first full year on the market, volume dropped below 20,000 later in its lifecycle. Honda pulled the plug on the truck in 2014, two years ahead of a replacement.

But the Ridgeline is back and with the most commonly heard gripes fixed.

The styling is more traditionally truck. The bed is longer; the box is more scratch-resistant; and technology offerings have increased sharply.

With statistics showing just 3% of midsize-pickup drivers tow – and most tow less than 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kg), the Ridgeline’s max – the Honda pickup is all the truck most Americans ever will need.

We spend two days behind the wheel of ’17 Ridgelines, mostly the $42,870 Black Edition model, on road, off road, towing, hauling and doing those things back-to-back with the ’16 Chevy Colorado and Toyota Tacoma.

The Ridgeline’s ride is infinitely better than the Tacoma’s, although Chevy gets kudos for making the Colorado pretty darn comfortable for a body-on-frame pickup.

The Ridgeline keeps its independent front and rear suspensions but adds the ubiquitous ZF Sachs Amplitude Reactive Dampers to quell inputs both large and small. They do a good job, but can’t limit all roughness: The ride is unsettled on one particularly washboard-like road heading from San Antonio to the Texas Hill Country.

Some 50% of the pickup’s chassis parts are shared with its platform mate, the new Honda Pilot CUV, including its disc brakes, pads and calipers.

The other 50% of components have been reworked from the Pilot, including front-suspension bearings (larger), dampers (hard plastic to metal), and lower arms (thicker). Changed rear-suspension parts include knuckle-attachment points (thicker), lower arms (thicker, increased cross-section inertia) and dampers (thicker tube, plastic to metal, larger bump stop).

The Ridgeline has Honda’s updated 3.5L SOHC V-6 from the Pilot CUV, with output of 280 hp and 262 lb.-ft. (355 Nm) of torque, up from 250 hp and 247 lb.-ft. (335 Nm) with the 3.5L in the ’14 Ridgeline.

Like the Pilot, the Ridgeline also has cylinder deactivation, however a Honda engineer says the rear bank of cylinders shuts off less often due to higher road loads inherent with pickups.

Wider Gear Ratios, Lower Weight Boost MPG

The V-6 is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, which has a 20% wider gear-ratio spread than the outgoing Ridgeline’s 5-speed automatic for improved acceleration and fuel efficiency. While the Pilot uses a 9-speed auto, Honda officials here believe pickup buyers don’t want or need more than six gears.

Although we liked it last year in our test of the Pilot, the 9-speed automatic from supplier ZF has its share of detractors, probably another reason Honda chose the 6AT.

Honda credits the new 6-speed, plus a 73-lb. (33-kg) drop in vehicle weight and an 18% drop in vehicle-running resistance, for improved fuel economy.

Ridgeline AWD fuel economy rises 4 mpg (1.7 km/L) combined to 21 mpg (11.2 L/100 km).

In real world driving, we do even better on our mid-speed, low-traffic routes in a fully loaded AWD Black Edition grade, earning 26.6 mpg (8.8 L/100 km) in one jaunt and 30.1 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) in another.

Despite torque peaking at a relatively high 4,700 rpm, there’s no lack of mid-range power.

Also commendable is the truck’s linear acceleration and good on-center steering feel.

The understeer-lessening torque-vectoring AWD proves its worth off-roading on zig-zagging courses back-to-back with the Tacoma and Colorado, both of which exhibit obvious loss of front-wheel traction.

In tests of the optional safety and creature-comfort technology, we find adaptive cruise control working as expected, road-departure mitigation temperamental and Apple CarPlay working but requiring us to pull over to the side of the road to initiate a connection.

Voice successfully is used to tune to our favorite satellite radio station, but menu steps to get to that point are Honda-typically onerous.

Pilot Front End May Detract

The look of the new Ridgeline is boxy-traditional, as a majority of those surveyed by Honda said they didn’t like the flying buttresses of the previous model.

An exception to the traditional appearance is the front end borrowed from the Pilot. The low, rounded corners give the pickup an Australian ute-like appearance from certain angles, which may or may not be palatable to American truck buyers. The old Ridgeline was more aligned with the beefy, squared off appearance of most of today’s trucks and reusing the Pilot’s face may be a misstep on Honda’s part.

The Ridgeline’s interior also is closely related to the Pilot’s, with the same center console and virtually identical instrument panel.

The quality of the interior materials also closely follow the Pilot, but unlike in the large CUV segment, where there are vehicles with higher-quality surfaces and more pizzazz for the same price, midsize trucks have lots of hard plastic and minimal amounts of soft touch, so Honda’s not too out of step here. If we must debate the merits of hard plastic, the Colorado has an edge over the Ridgeline and Tacoma due to lower gloss levels.

The new Ridgeline has some of the most comfortable seats we’ve sat on lately. Bottom cushions are firm but supple at the same time.

The rear seat is roomy, and offers the most under-seat storage in the segment, thanks to the flat floor body-on-frame pickups can’t duplicate.

The bed was one of the most noteworthy things about the first-gen Ridgeline, and that remains to be the case for the new model. The handy in-bed trunk sticks around, although now it has a flat floor thanks to an exhaust-system rerouting.

The composite material of the bed is no longer painted, due to scratching complaints, but it has color embedded into the material. A scratch test with a garden spade left marks, but lighter ones than those made on the outgoing bed material.

The in-bed audio system thankfully is inoperable above 10 mph (16 km/h), so you won’t have to worry about drivers blasting down the road pumping Zeppelin. But for those who want to tailgate it is pretty cool.

Also for the tailgating crowd is a 115V outlet in the bed to power a flat-screen TV.

As expected that feature is extra, but for the front-wheel-drive Ridgeline’s $29,475 starting price you do get a lot, more than the base models of the Frontier, Colorado, Canyon and Tacoma, which begin below $25,000.

The FWD Ridgeline, new to the lineup and Honda’s effort to grab more pickup buyers in warm-weather states, has a bigger display screen and tires than the base Colorado, while the Tacoma, the longtime leading seller among midsize pickups, has a bigger display screen but smaller, 16-in. wheels vs. the Ridgeline’s 18-in. alloys.

Both the base Colorado and base Tacoma have 4-cyl. engines, with output in the low 200-hp range.

But V-6s in the rival trucks all cream the Ridgeline on towing.

A 2-wheel-drive V-6 Tacoma can manage 6,800 lbs. (3,084 kg) for $30,000, and a V-6 Colorado can tow up to 7,000 lbs. (3,175 kg).

So although less than 3% of pickup owners tow, even the wimpiest of weekend warriors like to be prepared just in case they need to help out a buddy haul his 30-ft. (9-m) travel trailer.

That said there are plenty of logical truck buyers who will realize for the pop-up camper they usually tow the Ridgeline is enough.

Honda hopes 50,000 people annually, consistently, find the Ridgeline just right. It is a perfectly reasonable goal so long as gas prices remain near historical lows. If they don’t? All bets are off.

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'17 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition AWD Specifications

Vehicle type

4-door, 5-passenger midsize pickup

Engine

3.5L SOHC V-6, all aluminum

Power (SAE net)

280 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque

262 lb.-ft. (355 Nm) @ 4,700 rpm

Bore x stroke (mm)

89 x 93

Compression ratio

11.5:1

Transmission

6-speed automatic

Wheelbase

125.2 ins. (3,180 mm)

Overall length

210.0 ins. (5,334 mm)

Overall width

78.6 ins. (1,996 mm)

Overall height

70.8 ins. (1,798 mm)

Curb weight

4,515 lbs. (2,048 kg)

Price as tested

$42,870 not incl. $900 destination charge (Base price $29,475)

Fuel economy

18/25 mpg (13.1-9.4 L/100 km) city/highway

Competition

Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma

Pros

Cons

Enough truck for most

Truck buyers not always logical

Better standard equipment than comps

$30,000 to start

Truck-ier look

Except for that face

 

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