First Impressions: 2017 Honda Ridgeline
More truck than most will ever needby Mark McNabb, on LISTEN 10:19
It’s easy to give Honda grief over the Ridgeline. “It’s not a real truck,” scoffers say. “You can’t tow with it or go off-road,” are common gripes. Well, thanks to the 2016 Truck Rodeo put on by the Texas Auto Writers Association, I had my first in-person encounter and drive experience with the Ridgeline. I can tell you the Ridgeline is very real – I touched it and drove it. It’s also not bad at tackling moderate off-road trails and it’s rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Of course, naysayers are talking the Honda’s unibody construction, four-wheel independent suspension, and FWD/AWD powertrain layout when berating the Ridgeline. Sure, the Ridgeline doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a body-on-frame pickup, but I’d wager it offers more functionality and capability than 80 percent of modern truck buyers actually need. F-150s, Ram 1500s, and Silverados are cool and all, but they do come with trade-offs like a harsh ride, lower fuel economy, and a size that doesn’t fit in many residential garages.
For those who actually need the capabilities of a full-size pickup, there’s really no substitute. But for those folks who like the idea of a pickup, occasionally pull a small trailer, or might go camping once a year, those full-size capabilities are not being utilized. The Ridgeline splits the difference between the full-size (and even mid-size) pickup category and the ever-popular crossover SUV.
I spent some time going over the 2017 Ridgeline at the Truck Rodeo – from its 3.5-liter V-6 to its lockable in-bed storage trunk. Keep reading for my first impressions.
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It’s no secret the Ridgeline is based on the Honda Pilot crossover. That’s clearly apparent when looking at the front clip forward of the A-pillar. While not identical, the two are obviously related. The truck also shares the hard character line that runs along the door handles. Honda says this helps give the Ridgeline a more premium appearance. The same can be said for the chrome accents around the window openings and the crossover-like door handles.
The Ridgeline proved its ability on terrain far worse than most owners would dare traverse.
Designers tried to toughen up the Ridgeline by adding black body cladding along the lower portion of the truck. The front has a five o’clock shadow look that continues over the rocker panels and onto the rear bumper. This should also spare the paint from rock chips.
Around back, the Ridgeline looks almost like a conventional mid-size pickup. The taillights even have a similar C-shape as the GMC Canyon. But the similarities between a conventional truck and the Ridgeline stop there. The truck’s signature dual-action tailgate can open in two ways: downward like a conventional tailgate and outward like a car door. This allows for greater flexibility for loading cargo. Opening the gate outwards also gives access to the in-bed storage trunk. At about two feet deep and four feet across, the truck area offers plenty of space for tools, groceries, or luggage. The compartment is watertight, so no worries on your stuff getting wet. It also works as a cooler.
The cargo bed, like the Toyota Tacoma, is a composite plastic material that helps reduce weight yet offers plenty of strength. Honda was also able to incorporate a never-before-seen in-bed audio system thanks to the plastic bed walls. As the engineer explained it to me, a conventional speaker uses a relatively small diaphragm and moves it with an exciter over a relatively long distance. The Ridgeline’s in-bed audio system is opposite, using exciters to move a large diaphragm (the bed walls) a small distance to create sound. This results in minute vibrations of the bed walls to generate a surprisingly clear sound. What’s more, the whole system is completely weather and dust resistant.
Despite the Ridgeline being a unibody, it has a respectable amount of ground clearance – 7.9 inches to be exact. This allowed the Honda to go everywhere the more traditional vehicles went, including the most challenging off-road course at the Longhorn River Ranch. Granted, it wasn’t Moab or the Rubicon trail, but the Ridgeline proved its ability on terrain far worse than most owners would dare traverse.
Like the outside, the Ridgeline’s interior closely mirrors the Pilot’s. The main noticeable difference is the gear shifter in place of the Pilot’s push-button system. The similarities certainly aren’t a bad thing. The Ridgeline offers a comfortable place for the front two occupants with intuitive controls, Honda’s infotainment system, and a large information screen in the gauge cluster. About the only thing the Ridgeline doesn’t have we kept looking for was a traditional volume knob. Most folks familiar with modern Honda products would agree on that one.
There’s enough room under the bench for a set of golf clubs.
The center console offers plenty of storage space, with two large cup holders, a small coin tray under the HVAC controls, and a deep compartment just behind the gearshifter. Seat-mounted folding armrests take the place of a taller center console. The armrests are also height-adjustable, making them comfortable for any size passenger.
The 2017 Ridgeline retains the first-generation’s fold-up rear bench. This design serves several purposes. First, the seat bottom is mounted higher than the front seats, leaving rear passengers with an elevated view. Cut-outs in the ceiling help with headroom and knees rest firmly on the seats rather than at the chest. Honda says the higher seating position also helps quell car sickness – something everybody can appreciate.
Storing cargo doesn’t get much easier. Simply pull the handle on the side of the seat, and the bench folds up 60/40 style, leaving a nearly flat load floor. The only obstruction is the locking channel the seat supports slip into. Even with the seats in place, there’s enough room under the bench for a set of golf clubs. Try that in another pickup.
Under the hood is Honda’s familiar family recipe: a 3.5-liter V-6 with VTEC mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that sends power to the front wheels. Opting for AWD sends power to all four wheels when traction becomes an issue. Smooth pavement allows the system to revert back into FWD.
An AWD Ridgeline is EPA-rated to get 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway
The engine makes a decent 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque thanks in part to direct fuel injection. While that’s not class leading by any means, it is more than enough to push the 4,500-pound truck to 60 mph in roughly 6.6 seconds. Highway passing doesn’t overly quickly, but the high-tech V-6 kicks out enough grunt to move the truck.
When it comes to economy, an AWD Ridgeline is EPA-rated to get 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Those numbers improve by one mpg when skipping the AWD option.
Behind the Wheel
I didn’t spend an exorbitant amount of time driving the Ridgeline, but from the 16-mile, on-road test loop and two-mile off-road course, it was plain to see the Ridgeline is a smooth operator. Its crossover bones definitely show when driving. That’s not a bad thing, of course, especially if you’re wanting something softer than a Colorado or Tacoma ride. The steering is nicely weighted and direct, its pedal inputs are linear with little tip-in, and the ride is compliant and never jittery. The absence of leaf springs definitely helps this truck’s ride.
Outward visibility is also good thanks to large side mirrors and tall windows. The upright seating position is high enough to satisfy crossover and pickup buyers, allowing for a commanding view of the road. Body roll is managed well, though it’s no S2000.
I’m definitely looking forward to spending some quality time with the Ridgeline in the coming months. Stay tuned to TopSpeed for that review.
The 2017 Ridgeline is offered in seven trim levels. They include the RT, RTS, Sport, RTL, RTL-T, RTL-E, and the limited edition Black Edition. Prices range from $29,475 to $42,870 before options.
Options includes items like remote start, tri-zone climate control, fog lights, lager wheels, leather seating, heated front seats, 10-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, blind spot warning, Honda Sensing, a 540-watt premium audio system, and the Truck Bed Audio System.
The 2017 Ridgeline makes a solid argument against a traditional body-on-frame pickup. Its crossover-like driving character, smooth V-6, optional AWD, spacious interior, and outrageously handy cargo bed is hard to ignore. Sure, it can’t tow 7,000 pounds or complete the Baja 500, but it offers enough utility for the average buyer without costing too much in daily sacrifices. It just makes sense for a lot of people.
Seeing the truck in person – and what’s more, driving it – really lets the Ridgeline smash those preconceived notions. No, it’s not a “trucky-truck,” but it’s more truck than most truck buyers really need. There’s definitely something to be said for having the right tool for a job, not just the biggest hammer in the toolbox.