Honda, a company known for efficient cars more likely to be the dinghy behind a motorhome, has never before made a pickup. As a result, the company had no standard to answer to, which is why the Ridgeline will make you forget a lot of what you know about pickups.
With a tow rating of 5,000 pounds the Ridgeline will replace neither heavy-duty pickups nor
fully optioned, large-engine half-tons, but for those who tow a more moderate trailer a few
times a year and need a nice five-passenger second car the remainder of the year, the
Ridgeline offers an interesting alternative. Lest you think you still need a big truck,
consider that in back-to-back drives with 1,100 pounds in the bed, the Ridgeline handled
and stopped equal to or better than competition such as the Toyota Tacoma Double Cab and Ford Explorer Sport Trac. And when tied to matching 5,000-pound box trailers, a Ridgeline was never more than half-a-car length away from a Ford F-150 with the 5.4-liter engine and 3.73:1 gears. Also note that unlike some domestics, Honda’s tow rating applies to a vehicle with two occupants and 175 pounds of cargo on board: The 10,085-pound gross combination weight rating (gcwr) amounts to the Ridgeline, a 5,000-pound trailer, and roughly 600 pounds. There is no “tow package” factory option because all the coolers and wiring (4 and 7-pin) are built-in. The dealer-installed hitch-receiver option and a brake controller are all you need. Alas, it is not recommended for flat towing as a dinghy.
A Ridgeline differs from a typical pickup in two major respects — one, it’s all one piece and, two, it has independent rear suspension. Instead of separately mounting three boxes (front end, cab and bed) to a ladder frame, Honda joins it all together, yielding a stiffer structure that doesn’t bend and twist like a typical pickup — which in turn keeps the drive quieter and makes suspension tuning easier. And that suspension is independent all around, for a
highway ride and handling that matches or betters most empty SUVs, yet does not deteriorate when fully loaded. Critics will suggest that independent suspension can’t handle serious use, and proponents will counter that the independently suspended Hummer H1 is fairly stout, and most people use light-duty pickups as cars. With no big heavy axle under the bed, Honda was able to use space very efficiently. The steel-backed composite bed was kept to 5 feet long to maintain garageability, but with the tailgate down it is 6- 1/2 feet, and the tailgate is designed to carry 300 pounds of dynamic load. And since the bed is wider than 4 feet between the wheel wells it can carry 4 x 8-foot sheets of building materials flat. The tapered bed sides will preclude fitting a fifth-wheel hitch, but there are six tie-down points and four bed lights to work with. Open the tailgate the other way — by
swinging it like a door toward the street — and more surprises are found. The lockable
back half of the cargo floor opens to reveal a spare-tire compartment over the axle and a
deep trunk behind; its 8-1/2 cubic-foot volume is capable of hiding three golf-bags, a
72-quart cooler or a 2-kW portable generator — all out of sight and out of the weather. In
case your flat tire is covered in snow or you use the whole trunk as a cooler, it does have
drain plugs. Although the Ridgeline will more likely compete with mid-size Dakotas,
Frontiers and Tacomas, it may also replace the occasional Avalanche or F-150 SuperCrew.
And although it’s a foot-and-a-half shorter than an F-150, it has almost identical interior
room. Rear-seat riders are afforded comfort from a nicely reclined, 60/40 split folding
rear seat with three adjustable headrests, side windows that roll all the way down, a power
sliding rear window that doesn’t make wind noise and enough headroom for 6-foot 3-inch-tall riders with baseball caps to clear the roof. Space under the seat is double the typical
size you’d expect to find in a truck and will accommodate a golf bag, and with the seats
folded up a mountain bike will go in without having to remove a wheel. Only a five-seat
Ridgeline with bucket seats in front is offered — no bench up front. The driving position
is fairly upright like an older pickup, with a broad dash sporting easy-to-read instruments
and logical controls, with some curious design features like the round LCD for
climate-control status and door handles that resemble battery-packed power tools. If you
carry lots of small debris with you, you’ll appreciate the numerous interior storage areas
and sliding top console. Power comes from a derivative of Honda’s 3.5-liter all-aluminum
V-6, which gives 255 hp, 252 lb-ft of torque and very low emissions. A five-speed automatic is the only transmission offered, and it’s geared appropriately for work use while
returning EPA figures of 16/21. The VTM-4 all-wheel drive is standard on all Ridgelines,
and uses electromagnetic clutch packs to drive the rear wheels only when necessary, for the best balance of traction and efficiency. This technology has been proven on Honda products for years, and was also used on the Ford Aerostar AWDs of the early 1990s. Wheels and trim color will be the only external indicators of model, and even the base version comes with front side and side-curtain airbags (with roll sensors), air conditioning, tilt wheel, cruise control, heated wiper blades, power locks and windows (all five) and heated mirrors.
The RTS adds alloy wheels, a powered driver’s seat, upgraded six-disc in-dash stereo and
dual-zone climate control, while the top-line RTL brings leather, heated front seats and
HomeLink. The only factory options — moonroof, XM radio, and navigation — can be ordered on RTLs, and a plethora of items from floor mats to DVD entertainment can be fitted by your dealer. Expect the Ridgeline to start in the high-$20,000-range and run to the mid-$30,000s loaded. For a good second car with a usable bed and two tons of loaded towing capacity, that’s not unreasonable these days.