New & Used Honda Ridgeline: In Depth
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The Honda Ridgeline is the Japanese brand's first and so far only attempt at a large pickup truck. It shares underpinnings with cars and SUVs alike, making it somewhat of a hybrid-crossover truck in its construction. It may have a pickup bed, but it's less concerned with hauling lumber than it is hauling toys. The Ridgeline is currently taking a break for 2015 while Honda readies a new Pilot SUV and a truck version to go with it.
The Ridgeline's unusual set of bona fides come from its crossover-derived body. The Ridgeline is part frame, part unibody, with some of its structure shared with the Honda Pilot crossover.
That means its truck bed isn't all that large, but it's configured in such a way to make it an ideal companion piece for Honda's ATVs, or other weekend activity gear. It's more a competitor for mid-size trucks like the Nissan Frontier than it is for full-sizers like the Ford F-150 and Ram 1500.
MORE: Read our 2014 Honda Ridgeline review
What the Ridgeline does well is deliver Honda's smooth powertrain performance with a modicum of towing and hauling capability, along with a multitude of stowage options inside, even underneath, its pickup bed. It's almost perfect for toting Honda's own all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles efficiently, while it's almost impossible to bring home the standard 4x8 sheets of plywood without hanging them off the end, inside an available bed extender. Like the Ford Ranchero, Chevrolet El Camino, and Subaru Baja sort-of trucks before it, the Ridgeline has a fan base that's small, but fervent.
As Honda was never in the pickup market prior to building the Ridgeline, it's not terribly surprising that this odd-looking truck has never been a smash hit for the brand. But Honda has stuck by its choice to enter the market, which was initially validated by a win of North American Truck of the Year when it was first introduced. The strange design is explained by sail panels added to over the bed to give it strength, meaning this unique design attribute couldn't be removed without a redesign. Styling update shave been mostly limited to a new grille for the 2010 model year that borrows from the trucky looking refreshed Honda Pilot crossover.
Its unusual pickup bed limits the Ridgeline's utility, though Honda explains that its pickup isn't intended to be a full-size truck, but one useful to owners of its other motorized products. At just over five feet long, the bed isn't big, though it will hold a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood with the tailgate down. An optional bed extender includes more tie-downs and can handle mounting accessories for ATVs, snowboards, surfboards, bikes, and the like. Still, heavy-duty towing components are included, and the Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds, or haul a 1,550-pound payload in its five-foot composite cargo bed. The under-bed cargo bin can only be accessed when the bed is empty, of course--but the Ridgeline's tailgate both flips down and swings to the side on a hinge, making it more flexible in that respect than any other pickup.
Unusually for pickup trucks, the Honda Ridgeline has only ever offered one single engine and transmission. The 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, paired to a five-speed automatic transmission, gives the Ridgeline has brisk acceleration and good passing response, even when loaded. The Variable Torque Management four-wheel drive makes the Ridgeline better suited for slippery snow-covered roads than most four-wheel-drive trucks. Both ride quality and steering feel are better than most full-size and mid-size trucks, too. And given the number of new V-6 engines in new full-size pickups, Honda may have been prescient in declining to offer a V-8--though the decision was much criticized at the time.
What the Ridgeline lacks in utility it more than makes up for when it comes to safety. Honda's truck gets a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with top 'good' ratings across the board. It also offers a slew of airbags (front side, rollover-sensing side curtains for both rows) as well as stability control and ABS on all models.
The Ridgeline has been assembled alongside the Odyssey minivan at Honda's plant in Lincoln, Alabama.
The future of Honda's Ridgeline pickup is somewhat uncertain. There will be no 2015 model year for the truck, although Honda officials say they plan to remain in this niche of the market. A replacement could come as early as 2016, when a new Pilot SUV is expected to bow. Until then, there may still be 2014 models available at some dealers. Honda is expected to show the updated Pilot at the 2015 Chicago auto show and may also give a preview of the Ridgeline at that time. The Pilot is expected to take on a smoother, more crossover-like look in the next generation, which may or may not be transferred to the Ridgeline.