The Honda Ridgeline is Finally a “Real Truck”
SAN ANTONIO, TEX. — The first time I drove a Honda Ridgeline, several people curled their lips at it and said, “That’s not a real truck.”
Well, if you’re used to a big, body-on-frame truck such as the F-150, then no, this SUV-based model won’t be on your radar.
But if automakers offer more than one type of car, why shouldn’t you be able to buy more than just one type of truck? The Ridgeline is a real truck, and for many buyers, it’s exactly what they need.
The last generation Ridgeline was discontinued in 2014, and this second-gen 2017 version goes on sale this summer, starting at $36,590. Its styling, suspension, and engine are all-new, but it retains some features from the prior model, including its dual-action tailgate (it swings down or opens sideways, depending on what latch you pull), locking in-bed trunk, and rear seats that let you stash a whack of stuff under them.
It’s based on the Honda Pilot and has unibody construction. A front-wheel-drive version is available to American buyers, but our Ridgelines are strictly all-wheel drive. It’s an automatic system that can send up to 70% of torque to the rear wheels when needed and it has settings for mud, snow, and sand.
The most noticeable difference is the styling — it’s a definite improvement over its sharp-angled predecessor. There’s now a cutline between the cab and bed, although it’s just sheet metal over the unibody frame, and they’re not separate components. The new, longer wheelbase allowed Honda to extend the bed by 102 mm, and no stamping die was big enough to produce it as a single panel, as was done before. It should be a little cheaper to replace if the box side gets crunched.
Inside, the bed is still made of composite, there’s no need to insert or spray in a bed liner. This new material is less likely to scuff or scratch. The top trim lines include an in-bed audio system for annoying your campsite neighbours. The system uses sealed magnet exciters that vibrate the inner panels to create the sound, so there’s no worry of damaging any speakers when it rains.
The new engine is a 3.5-litre V6, same as before, but it now has direct fuel injection and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission in place of the old five-speed. There’s more horsepower — 280 versus the previous 250 — and better-published fuel economy than before.
The Ridgeline feels light and drives like a mid-size SUV, with electric steering that’s nicely dialed in for quick response. The AWD system includes torque vectoring, transferring power between the rear wheels as needed. By applying more power to the appropriate side, the system guides the truck around curves to reduce understeer, the tendency to “plow ahead” in a turn. It works really well too, as I discovered on a handling course set up at the event.
Towing maxes out at 5,000 lb. (2,268 kg) and I took it out with about 4,000 lb. tacked onto the hitch. I could always feel the trailer back there, but the front end never felt light. Still, if Honda really wants to promote towing ability, the trailer plug needs to be moved above the bumper, rather than tucked below where it’s hard to reach.
The Ridgeline’s other faults? The rear doors don’t open very wide, and it sports Honda’s frustratingly complex touchscreen infotainment system, which needs real buttons and fewer steps to access the essential stuff.
It won’t get truck buyers out of full-size Fords and Chevys, but a surprising number of Ridgeline owners came over from SUVs. That makes sense: it drives like an SUV and has the same passenger space and comfort, but you can throw stuff in the bed without worrying about messing up an upholstered cargo compartment. If you’re in that market, give this a look. And yes, it’s a real truck, too.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
TYPE: Midsize pickup truck
PROPULSION: Front engine, all-wheel drive
CARGO CAPACITY: Payload 674 — 713 kg; in-bed trunk capacity 207 litres
TOW RATING: 5,000 lbs.
ENGINE: 3.5-litre V6
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
FUEL CONSUMPTION (L/100 km): 12.8 city, 9.5 hwy.
BRAKES: Four-wheel discs
TIRES: P245/60R18 all-season
STANDARD FEATURES: Heated seats, locking in-bed trunk, dual-action tailgate, heated mirrors, tire pressure monitoring system, tire fill assist, rearview camera, lane departure warning, hill start assist, trailer stability assist, 7-pin trailer connection, active cruise control, bed lights, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto
ACCESSIBILITY: The rear doors don’t open very wide
WHAT’S BEST: Driving feel, non-scratch composite bed, surprisingly capable for medium-tough off-road stuff
WHAT’S WORST: Touchscreen interface
MOST INTERESTING: That dual-action tailgate, so you don’t have to reach across the gate for your stuff
LOOKS: Helluva lot better than the old one. Now it looks like a truck, not an SUV with the back chopped off.
INTERIOR: Comfortable and with tons of storage space, including under the rear seats
PERFORMANCE: Good acceleration and responsive steering
TECHNOLOGY: Come on, Honda: at least give us a dedicated volume dial, if nothing else
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE ABOUT THIS TRUCK: Gives you another option in the truck segment
WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE ABOUT THIS TRUCK: Everyone who tells you “that’s not a real truck”
Freelance writer Jil McIntosh is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. For this story, her travel and other expenses were paid by the manufacturer.