2006 Truck Of The Year: 2006 Honda Ridgeline

The Take Truck Two: Make No Mistake, The Honda Ridgeline Is A Thinking Person's Truck

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.

Rear gate opens like a door or swings down. And its subtly cut-down height aids aerodynamics and rearward vision.

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.

Independent rear suspension frees space for 8.5 cubic feet of storage in below-bed trunk.

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?

Even when accelerating on grippy asphalt, the Ridgeline's front drive temporarily becomes all-wheel drive to minimize torque steer. VTM-4 button locks in AWD for low-speed slippery situations.

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.

Center console is reconfigurable. Smart touches include a rubber mat to keep small objects from rattling.

Four cargo lamps floodlight the bed at night. The rear two illuminate the bed's trunk.

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
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Power (SAE net) 247 hp @ 5750 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 245 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Weight to power 18.4 lb/hp
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Axle/final ratios 4.53:1 / 2.41:1
Suspension, front; rear Struts, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 18.5:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.4
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
Wheelbase 122.0 in
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
Seating capacity 5
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
Consumer Info
Base price $32,040
Price as tested $35,190
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
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