02/08/05 — Ridgeline gives Honda instant credibility in truck ranks

View Archive

Ridgeline gives Honda instant credibility in truck ranks

Honda Ridgeline (2006)

SAN DIEGO — We steered the pickup through the cones in the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot. The truck was loaded with 1,100 pounds of material representing rocks and bricks that a weekend do-it-yourselfer might pick up at Home Depot.

There was no drama at speeds that would be foolish and perhaps illegal on public roads. As we accomplished simulated emergency lane shifts, the rear end followed the front in a predictable manner. We performed a panic stop in a squall of tires cementing valuable rubber to the parking lot asphalt.

Honda Ridgeline, 2006

Again, no drama even with the near-maximum payload on board.

Then we hauled a 5,000-pound trailer with little effort through another cone-marked course, designed to emulate highway speeds and lane change maneuvers. In fact, it was hard to detect we were pulling anything without an occasional look in the rearview mirror.

These chores were not performed in a Ford F-150 or a Chevy Silverado. These feats were accomplished in a Honda.

A Honda truck, to be more specific.

Honda devotees will no longer have to shop in another store for a light-duty truck. Honda has developed a crew cab sport utility truck with a five-foot bed that is capable of hauling, pulling and running off road with the best in the mid-sized pickup class.

Now the loyal Honda family can park a Honda Ridgeline in the garage next to their Accord sedan with the confidence that it can perform the same weekend pickup truck chores as the mid-sized crew cabs from Toyota, Nissan, Chevy and Ford.

To its credit, Honda did not go half way in building its first pickup truck. The Ridgeline is not a car with truck pretensions. Perhaps the designers knew that they had to present a full-fledged entry in the mid-sized truck segment if they hoped to gain the instant credibility needed to be successful.

The Ridgeline has the credentials.

It rides on a new platform — some pieces were picked up from the Pilot and MDX sport utilities — with a unique combination of a unibody frame integrated with a fully boxed ladder structure.

This gives the Ridgeline the structural rigidity of a car and the strength of a body-on-frame truck. In fact, Honda says the Ridgeline is more than 21⁄2 times stiffer than the best performing compact three-box-design body-on-frame truck, and rear torsion rigidity is more than 20 times stiffer.

The end result is a vehicle that is more impervious to squeaks and rattles, has the responsive handling of a car and a more solid feel overall.

More than 100 miles of driving displayed the vehicle’s car-like traits. It felt, in fact, as if we were driving an Accord.

The truck’s fully independent suspension and the absence of the traditional body-on-frame construction has lead to another remarkable innovation allowing Honda engineers to design the first-ever in-bed trunk.

The lockable storage area located just forward of the tailgate will accommodate a large 72-quart cooler or three sets of golf clubs or a couple of suitcases and duffel bags. It also has a drain plug which means it can be hosed out.

This so-called trunk solves the main problem of a crew cab — where to put items out of sight and out of the weather when you have passengers using the back seat.

This feature alone should sell the Ridgeline to people in the market for a mid-sized crew cab. The competition doesn’t have anything to match it.

The small spare tire is stored in a sliding tray inside the trunk. Officials say a full-sized spare will fit in the space and can be ordered as an option.

In addition, Honda has designed a tailgate that folds down in conventional style or can be opened from the side. Honda officials pointed out that this feature makes it a snap to clean dirt and debris from the gap between the tailgate and the bed.

The drivetrain adds to the allure of the Ridgeline.

Honda has used the 3.5-liter V-6 from the Pilot/MDX, but tuned it to 255 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque directed through a 5-speed automatic transmission.

This gives the Ridgeline good, if not sterling, performance. Considering the truck’s 4,500-pound curb weight, it moves out quite adequately. Our seat-of-the-pants estimate is about 8.5 seconds from 0 to 60.

All Ridgelines come with an all-wheel drive system that moves torque from front to back as needed. There is no low-range, but a button on the dashboard will lock in rear-wheel torque for tough situations.

We discovered the benefit of this system on a 28-degree muddy off-road course. We locked in the torque to help climb the steep grade and the Ridgeline walked to the top of the hill without any sign of slippage.

The interior is comfortable and controls are well thought out and intuitive as you would expect from the Honda folks. The back seat rake, unlike many mid-sized crew cabs, is on a par with a typical sedan and comfortable for a long journey. Leg room is adequate.

The Ridgeline will be offered in three trim levels, but even in base RT form it will have considerable standard equipment including ABS with Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control, two-row side-curtain airbags with rollover sensor, air conditioning, power windows including a power rear window, cruise control, keyless entry and a 100-watt stereo system with CD player.

Perhaps the one real downside is the styling. We would say the Ridgeline has a rugged look. It’s not handsome, but it’s not homely either. Perhaps you can get a mental image by thinking of a scaled-down Chevrolet Avalanche from the side. Squared off wheel wells and big fender bulges give it the Avalanche look.

Pricing has been announced and will range from $27,700 for the base RT to $31,490 for a top-of-the-line RTL.

Honda hopes to sell 50,000 copies over the next 12 months. We think that’s a conservative number. Like most of Honda’s creations in recent years, this is a “can’t miss” in our book.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on February 8, 2005 10:41 AM