When the Honda Ridgeline first appeared in 2005, we threw it into a comparison test against the mid-size pickups of the day, and the Ridgeline came out on top. In that test, though, we equivocated on the question of whether the Ridgeline—with its unibody construction and transverse powertrain layout—was a real truck or a car masquerading as a truck. We called it “a new type of utility vehicle.” Now there’s a new Ridgeline, and Honda is sticking with its unconventional layout, although it did work around the edges to make the Ridgeline fit better into the pickup landscape. Hard-core truck guys may still question its bona fides, but the Ridgeline once again looks impressive next to its peers.
Whereas the previous Ridgeline telegraphed its unibody construction with wide C-pillars that sloped down to the high-sided cargo bed, the new version cuts a more traditional profile. The narrower C-pillars are nearly vertical, and there’s a seam between the cab and the bed, mimicking body-on-frame pickups. But the Ridgeline is not a body-on-frame pickup; it once again uses a unibody architecture, shared with the Pilot SUV and the next-generation Odyssey minivan. And as much as the back half of the Ridgeline now looks just like a standard pickup, the smoothly rounded front half is more or less lifted straight from the Pilot.
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Compared with the previous model, the Ridgeline’s wheelbase and overall length have grown by three inches. The new dimensions put it right in the mix with the current crop of crew-cab, short-box, mid-size pickups: The wheelbase is between 0.7 and 3.1 inches shorter than those of the Nissan Frontier, the Toyota Tacoma, and the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon. Overall length is greater than the Nissan’s but less than the Toyota and General Motors offerings. Honda lengthened the Ridgeline’s cargo bed by four inches, to 64.0 inches, making it the longest of the bunch in their standard lengths. And with 50.0 inches between the wheel wells, the Ridgeline is the only mid-size pickup that can carry four-by-eight-foot sheets of material flat on the floor.
That said, GM, Toyota, and Nissan also offer a longer, six-foot bed on long-wheelbase models. In crew-cab form, those trucks literally stretch the definition of “mid-size,” but some offer the longer bed with a smaller cab. Honda, though, once again builds the Ridgeline with only one cab configuration, one wheelbase, and one bed length.
One Quick Six
The Ridgeline also comes with only one engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 paired to a six-speed automatic (the Pilot’s nine-speed gearbox is not available here). But we might argue that it doesn’t need another one. Honda’s V-6 makes 280 horsepower, versus 250 previously, and 262 lb-ft of torque, up from 247. Those 280 horses put it mid-pack in this group (with the GM twins on the high side, at 305 with their V-6, and the Frontier on the low end, at 261); Honda’s peak torque is the lowest, but not by much, trailing the Toyota and GM V-6s by less than 10 lb-ft, the Nissan by 19.
At the test track, however, all of that was academic. The Ridgeline blasted to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 15.2 at 93 mph. That smokes the Tacoma, which laid down a 7.9-second zero-to-60-mph time and a 16.1-second quarter-mile at 91 mph in our most recent test of a V-6 Limited 4×4. The Honda also was a full second quicker than the more powerful Colorado to 60 mph, and beat it in the quarter-mile as well. Subjectively, though, the Honda doesn’t always feel particularly muscular. Driving up gentle grades, you have to get your foot well into the throttle before there’s a downshift, giving the impression that the Ridgeline struggles to maintain speed. But mash the gas—when, say, jumping out into fast-moving traffic—and the Ridgeline roars ahead.
Stigma? What Stigma?
Seeking to avoid the stigma of front-wheel drive, the previous Ridgeline came standard with four-wheel drive. With the new version, Honda has had a change of heart. Noting the popularity of competitors’ two-wheel-drive pickups—particularly in California, the single biggest market for the trucks—Honda decided to risk the shame of the FWD label and is offering two-wheel drive this time around. The benefits are a lower price ($1800 less than the AWD versions) and slightly better fuel economy. Honda still offers four-wheel drive on any trim level, and it’s standard on the top-spec Black Edition (like our test truck) and the penultimate RTL-E.
In fuel economy, the Honda’s more carlike construction pays less significant dividends than you might think. Yes, the Ridgeline’s 19/26 mpg (two-wheel drive) and 18/25 mpg (four-wheel drive) EPA city/highway ratings are tops among six-cylinder pickups. But the Tacoma ties both of those city figures, although it’s 2-mpg lower on the highway. And the two-wheel-drive GM trucks match the Ridgeline on the highway, but they’re down by 1 mpg in the city and with four-wheel drive. The Nissan trails further behind.
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What about competitors’ four-cylinder variants, you might ask? They enjoy at most a 1-mpg advantage and in some instances have none at all. Only the GM diesel is notably better, at 22/31 mpg (RWD) and 20/29 mpg (4WD). But running at a steady 75 mph in our highway-fuel-economy test, the Ridgeline overachieved its EPA number, with 28 mpg, which tied the figure we recorded with our last GM diesel pickup. Oh, and the Honda engine is also commendably smooth, and the Ridgeline is the quietest mid-size pickup we’ve tested.
In that comparison test of the first Ridgeline, we said that its handling stood “head and shoulders above its competitors,” and ride and handling remain strong points with the new truck. On the skidpad, the Ridgeline’s 0.80 g easily tops the field of mid-size pickups. More stiffly sprung than the Pilot, with half of its suspension components redesigned for pickup duty, the Ridgeline delivers firm but small kicks over most bumps—wheel control generally is impressive, and the tires’ high sidewalls (all versions ride on 18-inch wheels with 245/60 rubber) take the edge off broken pavement. Moreover, there’s none of the jiggling body shake you get in most pickups, with the cab and the bed moving out of sync with each other. The Ridgeline gives the impression of having a stiff, solid body—and indeed, the Honda’s torsional stiffness has increased, even though the rear fenders are no longer an integral stamping with the bedsides but are now attached with bolts and adhesive. Overall, we found the Ridgeline to be an extremely pleasant driver, to the point that we preferred its firmer chassis to the softer tuning of its SUV sibling, the Pilot.
Braking, unfortunately, is one area where the Honda acts just like a traditional truck. Its 195-foot stop from 70 mph was 10 feet longer than our last result for the Tacoma and even farther behind the Colorado. We also noted a soft brake pedal.
Party in the Back
Although it has an independent rear suspension rather than a solid axle, the Ridgeline’s cargo floor is still nearly waist-high—making the loading of heavy cargo a pain. At least the two-way tailgate, when opened like a door, lets you reach farther into the cargo bed. That tailgate design (pioneered by Ford and Mercury station wagons in the mid-1960s) was a key feature of the previous Ridgeline, and surprisingly it has not been appropriated by any other pickup. Opening it like a door provides easy access to another returning Ridgeline feature, the trunk underneath the truck bed. That 7.0-cubic-foot well is sealed at the top to keep luggage dry and also comes with a drain plug at the bottom, which allows it to be used as a cooler. For an even more rockin’ tailgate party, the RTL-E and Black Edition come with actuators that vibrate the cargo bed, turning it into a large audio speaker, and an AC outlet in the bed sidewall can power a flat-screen TV.
Honda loaded not just the bed but also the cab with clever features. There’s a useful amount of space (nearly three cubic feet) under the rear-seat cushion; flip up the cushion to create what Honda claims is best-in-class interior storage volume (50 cubic feet, measured from floor to ceiling), enough room to fit a standard-size mountain bike. Unfortunately, the rear doors are somewhat narrow and don’t open particularly wide, so loading bulky cargo may be a bit of a challenge. The rear seat also excels at carrying human cargo, and both it and the front seats are comfortable perches. We noted luxury touches such as the heated steering wheel and three-zone automatic climate control. We were less enamored of the Garmin-based navigation, which looks, well, like a Garmin and not like a high-end factory unit. And Honda’s 8.0-inch Display Audio (on the RTL-T, RTL-E, and Black Edition) is a disaster: a buttonless, knobless, entirely touchscreen-based system, with an annoying and imprecise touch-slider control for volume. We ended up relying heavily on the steering-wheel audio controls.
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The Ridgeline also leads the field in its roster of available active-safety features, with adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, and blind-spot warning. All of those, however, are reserved for the RTL-E and Black Edition. During our time with the Ridgeline, the forward-collision warning had a couple of freak-outs, with especially curvy roads triggering false alarms from oncoming traffic.
Master of the Carlike Arts
The Ridgeline impresses in the passenger-car pursuits: ride, handling, acceleration, fuel economy. Among the truck skills, its now larger—and still innovative—bed strikes us as an advantage, and its payload rating of 1499 pounds is just 91 pounds shy of the class-leading GM trucks and better than Toyota’s and Nissan’s. When it comes time to hitch up a trailer, though, the Honda shows its greatest weakness, with a max tow rating of 5000 pounds, whereas the Colorado/Canyon can be equipped to tug 7000 pounds, and both the Toyota and the Nissan can tow more than 6000. You can almost hear the truck guys snicker.
Hard-core truck types may never accept the Ridgeline as a true pickup, given its nontraditional layout and its kinship with Honda’s crossovers and minivans. And those who want something other than a four-door, short-bed body style have no choice but to look elsewhere. The Ridgeline’s long list of class-leading attributes may not be traditional pickup virtues but they are definite advantages—whether you consider this to be a pickup or merely a new type of utility vehicle.