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 has a pickup bed, but is less concerned with hauling lumber than it is hauling toys.
The Ridgeline is currently taking a break for 2015 while the automaker readies a new version for 2016 based on the remade Pilot SUV.
Ridgeline's unusual set of bona fides comes from its crossover-derived body. The Ridgeline is part frame, part unibody, with some 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 for Honda's ATVs, or other weekend activity gear. Though its interior is spacious, its bed size makes it more of 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. 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 styling attribute couldn't be removed without a redesign. Styling updates have been mostly limited to a new grille for the 2010 model year that borrows from the trucky looking refreshed Honda Pilot crossover.
The 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, but it can 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 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.
There will be no 2015 model year for the truck. Instead, Honda is working on a replacement, which could come as early as 2016. Until then, there may still be 2014 models available at some dealers. Honda showed the updated Pilot SUV at the 2015 Chicago auto show along with a teaser sketch of the new Ridgeline. The Pilot takes on a smoother, more crossover-like look in the next generation, most of which will be transferred to the Ridgeline. The teaser sketch also suggests a new tailgate arrangement may be coming to the Ridgeline, with a split down the center to allow it to continue to open in two ways like the current version, but with two smaller overhangs when swung out. In addition, the trademark sail panels seem to be gone in this redesign, suggesting that Honda's engineers found a way to strengthen the bed without them, or perhaps went with a separate bed shell like in most conventional pickups.
The new Pilot's improved 3.5-liter V-6 should make it to the Ridgeline as well, as should its standard six-speed automatic and optional nine-speed transmission. It should also receive much of the same advanced safety tech that is being added to its quasi-sibling SUV. The next Ridgeline is likely to be somewhat lighter and more efficient.