By the grace of lady fortune, or maybe mere dumb luck, I’ve been Motor Trend’s tip of the spear for covering the midsize pickup truck’s revitalization over the last two years. I like to think I paid my dues leading up to the new cadence. In the immediate years prior, I logged extensive time with the final generation of the Ford Ranger sold in the North America. It had a regular cab, of course, and it felt wheezy and dreadfully unsafe to be in by the early 2010s. There were two different Frontiers afterward, both of which you can find at Nissan dealers today. There was the original Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, a fun sendoff model for the second-generation truck. Although cool to play with in its off-road element, the Taco was more than well done by this point in its cycle.
Then the new hotness arrived. The general attitude I sensed from the GM camp during the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon launch event was, “Yeah forget about the last Colorado and Canyon. We’re going to try this whole midsize truck thing again.” Toyota’s sentiment at the 2016 Tacoma soiree: “Yeah we know what we’re doing with Tacoma. We don’t want to mess with it too much.” And most recently, the OEM perspective at the 2017 Honda Ridgeline get-together: “Yeah we have a weird truck. We’re keeping it weird and making it better.”
So here we are, in San Antonio, Texas, to get an all-too-brief taste of the new second-generation Ridgeline. After a two-year hiatus, Honda’s pickup is back. The basic recipe is unchanged from the first model; it’s a unibody design with a plastic bed (now longer and wider) and a V-6 with an automatic transmission. It prioritizes an on-road car character that was barely believable for the segment in 2005 when the first Ridgeline went on sale but seems more than suitable a decade later. This time, you can even get a front-wheel-drive Ridgeline.
Driving in the hills surrounding San Antonio reveals an agreeable and compliant truck. Sliding into the driver’s seat is a cinch, there’s plenty of power seat adjustment available, and your head’s height makes you feel as if you’re in the center of the driving action. Some trucks, by design, project the sensation of sitting way up high, and then your brain signals you’re more at the truck’s whims than your own. The Ridgeline’s outward sightlines are excellent, the empty-bed front-to-rear balance is fairly uniform (there’s no rear live axle to thrash the backside), and you feel confident driving the truck—unless you’re embarrassed by the Ridgeline’s wallflower appearance.
Although the Ridgeline still shares much of its architecture with its three-row Pilot cousin, considerable time and effort were put into ensuring the Ridgeline would be as robust as a truck should be. Unsurprisingly, the truck aimed to be stiffer, stronger, safer, and quieter than its predecessor. Honda also wanted to deliver greater ride and handling performance while maintaining the Ridgeline’s 3,500- (with front-drive) to 5,000-pound (all-wheel drive) (1,588 kg to 2,268 kg) towing capacity and an up to 1,584-pound (718 kg) payload rating. Although some pieces, including the coil springs and anti-roll bars, are plucked from the Pilot’s bin, other bits, such as the front struts, rear shocks, control arms, steering knuckles, bump stops, and the hubs and their bearings, are reinforced for Ridgeline duty. The steering is very quick for a truck. It combines hallmark Honda light effort and high precision, though the lateral force buildup in the steering wheel seems about a half-count behind the front end’s steps. The net result is a nimble Ridgeline that feels less like a lumbering Pilot missing some rear bodywork and more like a CR-V. A CR-V with many more inches of length tacked on.
Honda expects a 1.8-second drop in 0-60 time over the first-gen model, which our math computes as a 6.5-second run for estimated best-in-class acceleration. The Pilot’s 3.5-liter, cylinder-bank-deactivating V-6 with 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque paired with a six-speed automatic transmission using the exact same final-drive and individual gear ratios arouses the Ridgeline. Flattening the gas pedal doesn’t produce the typical rear-wheel-spinning drama you’d expect from a truck, but it feels strong once you’re going. The compromise is the Ridgeline uses an honest-to-goodness, not-by-braking torque-vectoring rear differential that promises fantastic real-world drive force without having to resort to low range or manual diff locking. In moments of need, up to 70 percent of available power is circulated to the rear. A D4 button on the console shifter acts as a de facto tow/haul switch by never allowing the tranny to shift above the 1.065:1 fourth gear. There’s no means for manual gear selection, but you can bang the engine’s rev limiter for as long as you’re in the gas while the shifter is in the L position.
There’s little more that needs to be said about the features—the home-run goodies that owners love— that have made the Ridgeline a Ridgeline. There’s the 7.3-cubic-foot In-Bed Trunk (now reduced by 1.2 cubic feet), the flip-up rear seat, and the dual-action tailgate (which lowers and also swings open from the side). By setting reasonable new-model goals and improving the consumer consideration items that matter most—from on-road comfort to technology to fuel economy—the Ridgeline is a lock to successfully keep things weird in the midsize truck segment for years to come.
|2017 Honda Ridgeline|
|BASE PRICE RANGE||$30,375-$43,770|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door pickup|
|ENGINE||3.5L/280-hp/262-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,250-4,500 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||210.0 x 78.6 x 70.2-70.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||18-19/25-26/21-22 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||177-187/130-135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.90-0.94 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||July 2016|