Honda made the perfect pickup, but failed to make it desirable.
– Cleveland, Ohio
The Honda Ridgeline is the black sheep among midsize pickup trucks – in this case literally thanks to the Black Edition trim of my tester. It doesn’t look like other trucks, it’s not made like other trucks, and it has features you won’t find in other trucks. As peculiar as it is, the Ridgeline is still a superlative pickup with capability, functionality, and efficiency that’s perfect for most people. Much of the decision to buy a vehicle, though, comes down to an emotional attachment between man and machine, and while the Ridgeline might be the truck most people need, its major fault lies in not being the truck most people desire.
A true truck. It’s tempting to discount the Ridgeline as a real pickup because of its unibody construction that shares parts with the Pilot crossover. It’s true, most trucks employ a body-on-frame design that’s better suited to a beast-of-burden lifestyle. The Ridgeline, however, isn’t weak; it’s not just a Pilot with a bed. Its frame and suspension have both been significantly beefed up, and you can feel it in the firm ride and solid structure. The numbers bear it out, too; the Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds, which falls midway in the range of its competition’s towing capabilities, and has a maximum payload of 1,499 pounds, which is best in class.
Crossover-like ride and handling. The benefit of unibody construction is that the Ridgeline rides and handles more like a car, or at least a large crossover, than a truck. While firm, the ride is still compliant and doesn’t kick back or exhibit the hop-and-skip over rough pavement that is endemic to most trucks. And the handling feels largely flat thanks to the firmer suspension and a relatively low center of gravity.
Clever features that are actually useful. The Ridgeline has four exclusive features that could swing your consideration in its favor. The most useful are the dual-opening tailgate that’s hinged at the bottom and on the driver’s side, and the in-bed trunk that can fit 7.3 cubic feet of anything underneath its lockable lid. The former eliminates having to reach across the tailgate to grab something in the bed, and the latter gives the bed a lot of secure storage without having to invest in a truck cap or tonneau cover. The third feature is the Ridgeline’s 60/40-split second row. It offers storage underneath the seats from door to door when they’re down, and cavernous in-cab capacity when they’re flipped up. And lastly, the Truck Bed Audio System somehow (I think it’s magic) uses the bed’s walls as speakers to pump outside the cab whatever the stereo’s playing.
Fantastic fuel economy, for a truck. The EPA-rated fuel economy for this all-wheel-drive version of the Ridgeline is 18 miles per gallon in the city, 25 on the highway, and 21 combined. That’s impressive considering the Ridgeline’s 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. When equipped with comparable gas-powered V6 engines, no competitor can match those fuel economy figures. If AWD isn’t required, you can also order a front-wheel-drive Ridgeline, which returns 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 combined. The Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon equipped with their 2.8-liter, four-cylinder diesel engines are still the fuel economy champs for trucks, but they’re more expensive and so is their fuel.
Unemotional attachment. If you want a truck because of what it projects more than what it can do, the Ridgeline is not for you. It altogether lacks the rugged veneer of, well, every other pickup. Its simple lines and swept-back look evoke an Accord more than a monster truck, and you’ll never see a Ridgeline with a lift kit and tractor tires at the Mud Nationals. It’s pure function with little attention paid to the effect of its form. Honda attempted to give the Ridgeline some personality with this Black Edition model, but murdering it out doesn’t raise the appeal much – not like the competition’s special enhanced-for-off-roading models: the Chevy Colorado ZR2, Toyota Tacoma TRD, and Nissan Frontier Pro-4X.
Lowrider. You can see it when you walk up to the Ridgeline for the first time. It sits low, lower than it seems a truck should. Ground clearance is officially measured at 7.9 inches for AWD models and 7.3 for front-wheel-drive models. Its three major competitors range from 8.2 inches of ground clearance for the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon to 9.4 for Toyota Tacoma. While a couple-inch difference in clearance doesn’t sound like much, on a work site or situations away from pavement, it can mean the difference between driving away unscathed and a hefty repair bill for tearing off a front air dam or puncturing something underneath.
There’s no cheap way to do it. The Ridgeline is not a cheap truck. The starting price of a base RT trim with front-wheel drive is $29,475. The Tacoma starts at $24,320, the Colorado at $20,055, the Canyon at $20,940, and the Frontier at just $18,390. When loaded up, the Ridgeline AWD Black Edition model I tested tops out at $43,770; only the GMC Canyon Denali, which is billed as a midsize luxury truck, can cost more. The Honda’s resale value even falls behind the Tacoma and Colorado.
Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com