2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive: Drives like an SUV, hauls like a truck
The first-generation Honda Ridgeline was the truck for people who didn’t necessarily want a truck, but needed a durable, weather-resistant open cargo space. The second generation picks up where the first left off: while still not a typical truck, the new Ridgeline offers the driving comfort and ride quality of an SUV, plus some of the towing and payload capacity of a truck. And while the new Ridgeline follows the same philosophy as the original, the 2017 truck is new from the ground up and better in every way.
If you're looking for a truck that feels like a truck, look elsewhere. The Ridgeline is based on a version of Honda's Global Light Truck platform, which also underpins the Pilot. That gives the Ridgeline ride quality and comfort similar to Honda’s flagship SUV. The steering is accurate, and it corners and responds to driver input with the best crossovers. The 5-passenger, crew-cab only Ridgeline is powered by a new 280-horsepower, direct-injection 3.5-liter V6, backed by a 6-speed automatic transmission as opposed to the 9-speed found in the Pilot. The truck is lighter and the engine has more horsepower and torque, making acceleration crisp with potent power delivery. For the first time, all-wheel drive is optional in the unibody Ridgeline (it had been standard), which means those who don't want it can enjoy better fuel economy. The front-drive Ridgeline gets an EPA-rated 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway, 22 mpg combined, tying the Chevrolet Colorado for top highway marks while offering best combined gas V6 fuel economy.
Also very un-trucklike is the Ridgeline's interior. Not only is the cabin wonderfully quiet, but it's filled with the creature comforts and tech amenities you'd expect to see in an SUV. Safety features like Honda Sensing and Lane Watch, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an 8-inch touchscreen display, navigation, pushbutton start, seat heaters and more. There are no volume or tune knobs on the audio system, but the touchscreen does work while wearing gloves.
The interior has essentially the same dimensions as the previous Ridgeline. The seats are comfortable and easy to adjust, and there's plenty of storage, including a generously sized center cubby. A two-shelf storage setup on each door offers room for smaller items on top and larger gear below. There's plenty of room for cargo under the rear seats, which can be folded against the back of the cab to accommodate large items like an LCD TV or a bicycle.
As was the case with the first-gen Ridgeline, the front end resembles that of the Pilot. However, things have changed dramatically since the vehicle’s debut in 2006. Put politely, the first-generation Ridgeline's looks were not for everyone. Flying buttresses that went from the top of the C-pillars to the back of the cab made the styling unique, but didn't offer instant appeal. The new Honda is longer by three inches, the body lines are smooth and the buttresses are gone. Now the new Ridgeline looks more like a pickup.
It has some of the capability of a truck, too. While it shares the Pilot's platform, 50 percent of the Ridgeline's suspension components are different, beefed up for truck duty. The Ridgeline can tow 5,000 pounds and carry 1,584 pounds of payload. We used a Ridgeline to tow and launch a boat at a nearby lake, towed 4,000 pounds with it, and carried payload. We also drove it off-road, where it performed better than expected. Those who want more off-road capability can turn to the Toyota Tacoma, but for trips to the cabin or through snow and mud, the AWD-equipped Ridgeline does the trick. We drove it in sand, and putting the new Intelligent Traction Management in Sand mode, felt the truck grip and regain traction to emerge from boggy sand. There are also selectable modes for Normal, Snow and Mud.
There may be no better example of the merging of truck and SUV than the Ridgeline's bed. It’s the in its segment, and the SMC (composite) box is now four inches longer than that of its predecessor, which means it can accommodate Honda's largest dirt bike, the XR650L dual sport -- two, actually -- with the tailgate down. It also has eight tie-down points that can each accommodate 350 pounds.
About that tailgate: as was the case before, the Ridgeline has the innovative combination of a traditional tailgate plus a station wagon-like side-hinged action. The in-bed trunk also returns. It's large enough to hold a big cooler or a golf bag, and is very easy to access (as long as you don’t have a lot of rocks or cargo in the bed). The trunk also has a drain plug, welcome when tailgating.
The Ridgeline may be the best-in-class tailgate vehicle. If you want to run an appliance, say a blender or a TV, you can use the available 400-watt AC power outlet in the bed. Just make sure you're using a device or an extension cord with two prongs. Adding to the tailgate experience is the in-bed audio, which provides clear sound and is easy to use.
Choices and Pricing
When the Ridgeline goes on sale in June, there will be seven trim levels: RT, RTS, Sport, RTL, RTL-T, RTL-E and the Black Edition. All but the RTL-E and Black Edition come standard with front-wheel drive. Pricing for the base 2WD RT starts at $30,375, and the AWD Black Edition starts at $43,770. That range is comparable to other midsize crew-cab trucks. Options are essentially packaged together in trim levels, so there aren't many standalone features. For those who aren't interested in owning a truck, but still want some of the capability, the Ridgeline does a good job of walking the line between midsize truck and midsize SUV, making this truck the sensible solution for many buyers.