Pickup trucks can be the most useful hardware in your garage. Just ask any friend who needs help moving this weekend.
That truck doesn't need to be a mega truck to come in handy. When flexibility and an open bed are more important than payload and towing, a mid-size pickup like the Honda Ridgeline or the Chevrolet Colorado might be the better tool for the job at hand.
For most drivers who don't seriously tax their trucks on a regular basis, we'd suggest the Ridgeline. It outscores the Colorado in one or two key ways, and that's before its safety ratings are complete.
Here's why we prefer Honda's take, point by point. (Note that we've changed the way we rate cars this year.)
Honda's finally erased the weirdness from the new Ridgeline. It no longer looks like it's been styled by Cubists run amok. The nose is low and sculpted just like the one on the Pilot that it calls kin, but from the side the Ridgeline is so relentlessly regular and angular, it makes the Colorado look experimental and edgy.
The cockpit's the more user-friendly, car-like environment of the two. The Ridgeline's center shield of controls, the high-quality matte finish of its plastics, the vast storage bins are nearly identical to those in the Pilot. The key difference: a shift lever in the truck, where the SUV has toggle switches for its transmission.
As for the Colorado, it's clearly a global design with some all-American bigness grafted on its nose and tail. We think its GMC Canyon twin fits better in its brand lineup, but the Colorado's a handsome pickup, with its slim grille, rising shoulder line, and conventional bed outline. It's the kind of truck shape that works equally well in Sumatra as it does in San Diego.
The Colorado's cockpit is narrower and more ruggedly finished than the Ridgeline, but many grades better than other rivals like the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. There's a hint or two of GM sedans in the narrow seats, the shape of the center stack of controls, and the light touches of metallic trim that liven up the nicely organized cockpit.
Comfort and utility
The Ridgeline also benefits from SUV genealogy inside. Its cabin is wider, more spacious, and more flexible than that of the Chevy. The front seats could use a bit more support, but there's lots of small-item storage in the console and doors, a flip-up rear bench seat with under-seat storage, and a flat floor that can handle boxes or a bike with the front wheel in place.
The Colorado's a significant improvement over its pint-sized past, but it's narrower and has less leg room in back. It will hold a couple of child car seats or two cramped adults, but the bolt-upright seat backs even on crew-cab models are disappointing.
Both the Colorado and the Ridgeline have short beds like the ones typical on full-size, crew-cab trucks. It's how they make use of the space that gives the Honda the nod. The Colorado can tote 8-foot-long objects with a bed extender, and it offers all manner of nifty features, from bumper steps to tie-downs to cargo racks, nets, and a drop-in toolbox.
The Ridgeline's bed is a bit longer when the tailgate is up, and it's wide enough to carry building material between the wheel wells. Its tailgate is hinged on the bottom and left side, and it can drop down or swing to the left. There's a dry-storage bin in the bed wall, a huge weather-resistant trunk in the bed floor good for an 82-quart cooler, even a sound system that uses bed walls as speakers.
In shorthand, the Colorado's a work-style specialist; the Ridgeline, a lifestyle specialist.
There's considerable overlap between these mid-size trucks and the base versions of the best-selling Ram, F-150, Sierra, and Silverado trucks—more so in Chevy's favor. The Colorado can pull and carry more than some of the big boys, but Honda's pickup outhandles every one of them.
The Ridgeline's 280-horsepower V-6 and 6-speed automatic provide fine acceleration and car-like refinement. It's quicker than in its last generation by almost a couple of seconds, and fuel economy is up dramatically, though the Ridgeline still nets out at 22 mpg combined in front-drive form.
With a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds and payload rating of 1,584 pounds, the Ridgeline fares well against the Colorado in truck bona fides. But the Colorado pulls away in different directions, depending on its powertrain. Chevy's base inline-4 has 200 hp, and its acceleration and fuel economy feel more economy car—which is what many base mid-size trucks replace, anyway. Its optional 308-hp V-6 is a brute, with great acceleration, a 6-speed automatic, and up to 7,000 pounds of pulling power.
The Colorado's killer app: its optional turbodiesel inline-4, rated at 30 mpg highway and up to 7,700 pounds of towing, equal to a Range Rover. It's also more of an off-road specialist than the Ridgeline can hope to be, with its body-on-frame design, better ground clearance, and hardware kits that protect its underbody.
Honda steers clear of those hardcore user cases. It can carry 40 bags of mulch or pull a 22-foot boat, but base models are front-drive and can only pull 3,500 pounds. All-wheel-drive models can split torque front to rear, and between the rear wheels, for car-like power management.
But it's the Ridgeline's suspension that sets it completely apart from all other trucks. Its control arms and links and 18-inch wheels deliver the best ride and handling of any truck, period. While body-on-frame trucks rumble and skitter over rough pavement, the Ridgeline's unibody structure and independent suspension deliver a compliant, comfortable ride.
The Colorado's pretty good, for a frame-rail truck, and far superior to the Tacoma and Frontier, but the bounding and hopping over bumps can't hope to match the Ridgeline's car roots.
2016 Chevrolet Colorado Diesel pulling Chevy CorvetteEnlarge Photo
Safety and features
Honda outpoints Chevy in safety features, and likely, it'll best it in crash-test scores, too. The Colorado has earned some four-star ratings and has a rearview camera; the Ridgeline is basically the same as the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ Honda Pilot, and comes with standard Bluetooth and a rearview camera. The Ridgeline can also be fitted with adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors, though they're bundled in the most expensive models.
For about $30,000, the Ridgeline comes with power features, a USB port, air conditioning, cruise control, and the two-way tailgate and in-bed trunk. With all the options, from CarPlay to navigation to leather, the pricetag hits more than $43,000.
The Colorado comes in a very base trim level for much less than the Ridgeline, but tops out in the same $40,000 range when you opt for versions such as the Z71 off-road specialist, and add on navigation, GM's OnStar service, and 4G LTE data connectivity.
Chevy's Colorado and the related GMC Canyon simply outclass the other body-on-frame mid-size trucks, whether it's on interior space, bed features, or connectivity. The diesel option and off-road packages just run up the score.
The Ridgeline does things differently, and we think, for most drivers, does the right things better. It can tow and haul to the level that full-size trucks hit just a decade ago, and does it with much more finesse than the Colorado and Canyon.
As good as GM's mid-size pickups have become, the Honda Ridgeline simply delivers a much better ride, better handling, and a useful bed, and a big chunk of the GM twins' utility.
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