The Take Truck Two: Make No Mistake, The Honda Ridgeline Is A Thinking Person's Truck
You’d IMAGINE the unanimous vote for the Honda Ridgeline would be a surprising conclusion to our 2006 Truck of the Year showdown. Truth is, after two long days thudding over concrete freeway expansion joints, howling around a tight handling course, and skittering along a stony off-road trail, this one was about as simple as it gets. Which only makes the truck market’s hesitance toward this newfangled but remarkable machine all the more puzzling.
We’d wager more than a few of those check-writing hands have been frozen by the Ridgeline’s eye-of-the-beholder angular bodywork and bent-bed profile. We can understand that. Others have balked at its premium price, which ranges anywhere from $28,250 to $35,190 for our loaded, moonroof- and nav-equipped RTL example (the average out-the-door tab being about $32,000). Yet, it’s tricky to gauge the Ridgeline’s value without a reference to judge it against, and at the moment the Honda’s in a class of precisely one. Compared with some of this year’s other contestants, the Ridgeline’s price really doesn’t seem too far out of line. But for the same number written on the check, you could just as easily have, say, a V-8-engined Ford F-150 4×4–and on the face of it, a lot more hardware than the V-6-engined Honda.
So how did the Ridgeline win over the judges? Because from behind the wheel, the Ridgeline’s a revelation, upending every attempt at a conventional dollars-and-cents calculation. It’s brisk, needing just 8.5 seconds to reach 60 mph (matching, by the way, the time of our V-8-powered 2004 Ford F-150 winner). But, more subtly, it conveys the sense of having been pollinated by its BAR Honda Formula 1 cousin (what happens in Honda’s Tochigi R&D center stays in Tochigi’s R&D center, we say). “The Ridgeline’s handling didn’t seem overly impressive until I looked at the speedo,” said one editor. “The fact is, I was confidently carrying much more speed than in the other trucks, but it seemed like a Sunday drive.”
While the Ridgeline’s steering is unusually crisp, its brakes’ triggerlike response is somewhat supernatural for a truck. Around our cone-course evaluation circuit, every Ridgeline driver’s first lap was reliably (and amusingly) punctuated with laughably premature stops, tens of feet before they were needed. The brakes are maybe even a mite too togglelike for graceful corner carving, but in the screech and go of modern traffic, they’re a godsend, letting you follow at almost carlike distances. No need to back away to that prudent extra half a gap that’s demanded by typical pickups.
But the biggest surprise comes when you’re doing almost nothing at all, just cruising along. Now pause for a moment and remember what it’s like to ride in a typical truck–squeaks, shudders, and jolts–right? Erase all that. The Ridgeline’s granitelike hybrid monocoque structure (torsionally 20 times stiffer in the bed area) plus independent front and rear suspensions allow it to motor down the freeway virtually exorcized of the rear-axle hammerings that bedevil the genre. There’s next to no groaning and creaking.
“The Ridgeline’s IFS and IRS can’t be compared with conventional leaf-spring and live-axle combinations,” noted one driver. “Going from any of the other trucks into the Ridgeline is like climbing out of a horse and buggy and into a flying saucer,” quipped another. It’s just so weirdly gentlemanly–a Rex Harrison in a roomful of Harrison Fords. Still, the truck’s chunky-treaded P245/65-17 tires, blunt aerodynamics, and all-wheel-drive system refuse it carlike interior noise levels–or mileage. Frankly, we expected better numbers than the Ridgeline’s 16 city mpg and 21 mpg on the highway, evidence that even Honda’s most clever technical gnomes can’t yet jigger with the immutable laws of physics.
Remember when Honda introduced the original Accord in 1976? What charmed the automotive world then wasn’t just the little sedan’s durable construction (though it had that in spades), but its nearly obsessive attention to clever, practical detailing. Think coin bins, actual ergonomic controls. Think of the Ridgeline as the Accordification of the truck concept. Visually stroll through some of its feature highlights, including its drop-down, swing-out tailgate, lockable watertight below-bed minitrunk, or well-illuminated cargo hold that helps you secure gear even on pitch-black nights. Makes you wonder why it’s taken the truck business a century to think of all this stuff. The Ridgeline is like a rolling Rorschach test that reveals what truck people are saying they need in a truck is what they really want their truck to do. What pops into your head when you see it?
Some will blurt out that no real pickup could ever be based on a (expletive deleted) minivan platform with an independent rear suspension and powered by a transverse V-6. At least, the facts of the accusation are mostly correct. The 247-horsepower, 245 pound-feet of torque, 3.5-liter V-6 engine is transversely mounted, though the structure is 93 percent unique to the Ridgeline. And that structure’s no wimpy unibody, either, as the monocoque upper structure is clam-shelled to a fully boxed traditional frame, the joint effort offering 2.5 times the bending stiffness of the best body-on-frame trucks. Our fully loaded acceleration tests have also demonstrated that the Ridgeline’s independent rear suspension can haul what Honda says it can haul, though the extended durability of the setup is open to conjecture (keep an eye out for reports on our new long-term Ridgeline’s brutal stay with us).
According to “Webster’s New World College Dictionary,” the word “truck” means “an automotive vehicle for hauling heavy loads along highways, streets, etc.” Its slang use is to “walk in a carefree, leisurely manner’,” i.e., the truckin’-on-down-the-road lifestyle of burbling chrome-grilled showboats quaking on suspensions designed for thousands of pounds but never supporting more than a surfboard or two in shiny unscratched beds. Our 2006 Truck of the Year winner offers an intriguing third idea as a people and cargo hauler that’s as responsive as a car, but for once doesn’t beat you up. Perhaps the public means truckin’ when it says it needs a truck and will perhaps cast the Ridgeline into the dustbin of automotive history. But our vote’s that–like the 1976 Accord–it’s going to leave a lasting impression.
|2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL|
|Drivetrain layout||Front engine, AWD|
|Engine type||60° V-6, alum block/heads|
|Valvetrain||SOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|Displacement||211.8 cu in / 3471cc|
|Power (SAE net)||247 hp @ 5750 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||245 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm|
|Weight to power||18.4 lb/hp|
|Axle/final ratios||4.53:1 / 2.41:1|
|Suspension, front; rear||Struts, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|Brakes, f;r||12.6-in vented disc; 13.1-in disc, ABS|
|Wheels||17 x 7.5-in cast aluminum|
|Tires||P245/65R17 105S M+S Michelin LTX|
|Track, f/r||67.1 / 66.9 in|
|Length x width x height||206.8 x 76.3 x 71.2 in|
|Turning circle||42.6 ft|
|Curb weight||4540 lb|
|Weight dist, f/r||58 / 42 %|
|Towing capacity||5000 lb|
|Payload capacity||1510 lb|
|Headroom, f/r||38.7 / 39.0 in|
|Legroom, f/r||40.8 / 36.4 in|
|Shoulder room, f/r||63.2 / 62.6 in|
|Pickup box l x W x H||60.0 x 54.0 x 20.7 in|
|Width bet Wheelhouses||49.5 in|
Test Data* curb weight/fully loaded
Acceleration to mph
|0-30||2.8 / 4.1* sec|
|0-40||4.2 / 6.0*|
|0-50||6.3 / 8.7*|
|0-60||8.5 / 11.7*|
|0-70||11.3 / 15.7*|
|0-80||15.6 / 21.6*|
|0-90||20.5 / —|
|Passing, 45-65 mph||4.5 / 5.9* sec|
|Quarter mile||16.5 sec @ 82.1 mph /18.6 sec @ 75.3 mph*|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||140 / 160* ft|
|600-ft slalom||58.8 mph avg|
|Lateral acceleration||0.78 g avg|
|MT figure eight||28.3 sec @ 0.59 g avg|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph||1750 rpm|
|Price as tested||$35,190|
|Airbags||front/rear Dual front, front side, curtain|
|Basic warranty||3 yrs / 36,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||3 yrs / 36,000 miles|
|Roadside assistance||Extra-cost option|
|Fuel capacity||22.0 gal|
|EPA city/hwy econ||16 / 21 mpg|
|MT fuel econ||16.5 mpg|
|Recommended fuel||Regular unleaded|