The Ridgeline Returns to Challenge the Colorado and Tacoma
Honda set the pickup truck world on its keister when it launched its original unibody platform Ridgeline in the 2006 model year. We even unanimously named it our Truck of the Year, with the plaudit, “Remember what it’s like to ride in a typical truck—squeaks, shudders, and jolts? Erase all that.”
With its independent front and rear suspensions, the Ridgeline was a truck for people who disliked the inherent ride and handling compromises of trucks. It worked great for city folk who had weekends or evenings involving mud and muck but who didn’t want to gunk up their SUV’s precious carpet. If they were going to occasionally tow a couple jet skis or dirt bikes but spend most of their time commuting pothole-strewn roads, the Ridgeline made sense. And with the Ridgeline’s wildly styled descending-angle bed rails, snooty suburban neighbors wouldn’t confuse it for, eww, a truck.
Although the Ridgeline attracted a small, polarized crowd of Honda true believers, it never converted the millions of fans of traditional body-on-frame Detroit muscle. Truth is, it wasn’t meant to.
With the second-generation 2017 Ridgeline now hitting showrooms, we tested whether Honda learned anything from its first go-round.
As is the case with most redesigns, the Ridgeline suffers from “segment creep”—the 2017 edition gains 3.2 inches of wheelbase, 3.1 inches of overall length, 0.5 inch of height, and 0.8 inch in width. Its bed length also grew 3 inches to 5 feet, 4 inches. Intriguingly, the track has shrunk by an inch both front and back. And despite the Ridgeline’s increased size, Honda shaved 73 pounds (33.1 kg) with the redesign. Is it still a compact? Yep.
The Ridgeline is basically a Pilot SUV with an open bed and a longer wheelbase (for stability under load). Its unibody structure and independent rear suspension help it handle more precisely and ride more smoothly than a traditional body-on-frame, leaf-spring truck.
Because we were suspicious of the new Ridgeline’s truck bona fides, we peeled back the weather stripping separating the cab from the bed. We expected it to be vestigial and merely for appearance’s sake. But there was the daylight of an actual gap between the cab and bed, as well as an expansion joint where the bed rail meets the cab. The bed rails and cab are separate from each other, so it’s a legitimate truck.
“It has a very tidy and compact feel,” editor-in-chief and resident wave rider Ed Loh said. “I like the practicality of the bed. This would be a great surf truck.”
But is it an actual truck where it counts? Sure, it’s not heavy-duty, but can the Ridgeline unibody compete against the compact body-on-frame pickups, such as the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado?
With its 3.5-liter V-6 VTEC kicked in, yo, the Ridgeline AWD accelerates from 0 to 60 in 7.3 seconds, and it turns the quarter mile in 15.7 seconds at 89.1 mph (143.4 km/h). That’s a touch slower than the Toyota Tacoma 3.5-liter V-6 4×4, which does 0–60 in 7.1 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.4 seconds and 91.2 mph (148.2 km/h). The Chevrolet Colorado Z71 is the slowest of the three, with its 3.5-liter V-6 turning 0–60 in 7.4 seconds and a quarter mile in 15.7 seconds at 88.8 mph (142.9 km/h).
We thought the Ridgeline’s unibody setup meant it would shine in our figure-eight test. We know the Tacoma is clumsy with a 28.9-second session at 0.58 g. But although the Ridgeline ran a 28-flat at 0.61 g, the Colorado Z71 is hardly slower, at 28.5 seconds but carrying 0.70 g. Go figure.
As for our Real MPG fuel economy test, the Ridgeline AWD straddled the EPA estimates, doing poorly in city driving (16.5 mpg (14.3 L/100km) vs. 18 mpg (13.1 L/100) km) but better in highway (25.8 mpg (9.1 L/100km) vs. 25 mpg (9.4 L/100km) and combined (21 mpg (11.2 L/100km) vs. 19 mpg (12.4 L/100km)).
That stacks up well against the Colorado Z71 4×4—running in rear-drive mode—which got 17.7/22.2/19.5 mpg (13.3/10.6/12.1L/100km) city/highway/combined.The Ridgeline also trounced our thirsty Tacoma TRD Double Cab, which got 15.8/21.8/18.1 mpg (14.9/10.8/13 L/100km) city/highway/combined.
As for payload, all three trucks hover around the 1,500-pound mark, depending on the trim level. But although the Ridgeline can tow an admirable 3,500 pounds (1587.6 kg) in 2WD form and 5,000 pounds (2268 kg) in AWD trim, it falls short of the 4X4 towing capacities of both the Tacoma (as high as 6,800 pounds (3084.4 kg)) and Colorado (as high as 7,700 pounds(3492.7 kg)).
“When towing the 3,000-pound trailer, the engine’s VTEC changeover at 5,500 rpm is very evident under load,” road test editor and resident tow-meister Chris Walton noted during our Truck of the Year testing of the Ridgeline. “Yet upshifts came precisely at redline, and the Ridgeline felt as if it could pull much more than this. This is as much towing capability as most consumers will ever need.”
However, we griped that the gearshift is just a P-R-N-D setup; you cannot manually select lower-range gears, so you’re left to hope the powertrain software knows best.
Cool features include a separate audio system housed in the bedliner, which allows you to rock the casbah with surprisingly decent audio for exciter speakers hidden behind a layer of glass fiber-reinforced SMC composite. There also is a huge cargo stash hidden under the bedliner, which is large enough to convert into a roadside Jacuzzi for two.
Can you say tailgate party? Well, sort of. The tailgate either flips down or swings open (which is cool), but it doesn’t lock (which isn’t). Sure, the cargo stash has locks, but a nonlocking tailgate means zero security for folks who want to install tonneaus or caps. That’s Pickup Truck 101, Honda.
Senior features editor Jonny Lieberman also took issue with the Ridgeline’s sticker price. Starting at a hair more than $30,000 USD including destination charges—and well north of 40 grand as tested—this compact pickup will not win in many price-value contests—especially when year-end clearances for domestic full-size trucks could undercut the incentives-averse Honda by 10 grand or more.
“There’s just not nothing truckish or trucklike about this thing,” Lieberman barked. “For much less money you could have the Titan two-door with a V-8.”
That said, anyone who has driven a jittery, wandering pickup for hundreds of freeway miles in a day knows it’s a fatiguing task. But driving the Ridgeline from Kingman, Arizona, to Los Angeles was, for Walton, “a relief, in many ways,” compared to other trucks he could have chosen.
“The Ridgeline feels smaller, is less prone to wallow and lean, and is much more alert and willing to point into corners,” Walton noted while praising the Honda’s lane keeping assist and smart cruise control systems as “less taxing, more relaxing, and genuinely safer.”
Testing director Kim Reynolds saw it differently: “I thought its suspension and tire noise were way too high (or possibly too distinct). Its steering doesn’t deliver the excellence I’d expect here, and power is so-so.”
Associate editor Scott Evans piled on: “It needs some revs to get moving, especially at altitude. It doesn’t have the torque of the rest of these trucks. If you really want to tow or haul, there are other small-truck options that are much better trucks. Back in ’05, this truck was revolutionary. Today, it feels like an entirely predictable update to the original formula. It’s perfectly fine on its own but not setting the truck world on fire anymore.”
What’s more, the Ridgeline is plagued by Honda’s unintuitive double touchscreen infotainment system interface, and there’s still no volume knob for the stereo. It’s a big step back from the Chevy, Ford, and Dodge systems. Hopefully, there will be a running change soon.
As for the Ridgeline’s updated but retrograde design, perhaps Honda wanted its truck to look like, well, a truck. But its design is something from the Plain Jane ’80s. Sure, it has a muscular shoulder crease stolen from a BMW X5, but the front grille could be from an Accord, and the funky-angled bed rails have been replaced by traditional, almost horizontal rails. It’s odd; the old Ridgeline looks more futuristic than the new one.
For the TL/DR crowd: although the Ridgeline still has some ride and handling advantages for urban owners who don’t need a full-on pickup, it’s just a new version of an old amalgam of good, not great, ideas.
|2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD (RTL-E)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$42,270|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||3.5L/280-hp/262-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,510 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||210.0 x 78.6 x 70.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.7 sec @ 89.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||129 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.78 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.0 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||18/25/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.94 lb/mile|