2009 Honda Ridgeline Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 4, 2009

The 2009 Honda Ridgeline doesn't drive like any other pickup model, and for most people who commute daily and haul sometimes, that's a good thing.

The editors of TheCarConnection.com have driven the revised 2009 Honda Ridgeline and bring you impressions and details. In addition, TheCarConnection.com has studied a wide range of reviews covering the Ridgeline, to help you make the most informed choice and make sense of differing opinions.

As pickup trucks offer more refined driving experiences and bolder styling cues, many of the attributes that made the Ridgeline seem like an outsider in the pickup field when it was first introduced in 2005 now position it as a more appealing choice to shoppers who want the comforts available in the big trucks but don't need all their capability (or cumbersome handling). For 2009, Honda incorporates more than 50 improvements that altogether give the Ridgeline a refreshed look and feel.

Although it looks almost the same as the '08, the '09 Ridgeline incorporates a number of subtle appearance changes, including a new grille, plus new headlights and tail lamps on the outside, and a revised appearance inside. But exterior styling still isn't an asset for the 2009 Honda Ridgeline. The Ridgeline's side silhouette is its most memorable feature; the so-called machined billet styling—with no gap between the cab and bed, and the downward sloping bed wall—gives it a very different look altogether, but the entire design still feels a little overwrought, as there are so many different creases, details, and character lines. Chunky, flared wheel wells aid the Ridgeline's proportions, and the subtle crease running from headlights to taillights is a nice detail, but the two horizontal grooves lend the design a busy feel from some angles. From the rear, the Ridgeline appears neat and tidy, but the odd new front fascia and grille—borrowing from the Pilot SUV's controversial look—don't do the design any favors.

Inside, the 2009 Honda Ridgeline has a more conventional appearance, with an upright, straightforward design—although the door panels are styled with hints of the exterior and have an awkward grab-handle arrangement. Ridgeline's look inside has changed slightly for 2009, with a different steering-wheel design and revised switchgear and finishes, and overall there's a bit less brightwork.

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The Ridgeline's 3.5-liter V-6 engine gets a boost to 250 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque, and new gear ratios for the five-speed automatic transmission help improve acceleration. Even with this year's improvements to off-the-line torque, the engine still doesn't feel quite torquey enough from a standing start for the heaviest towing needs, but power keeps building with revs, and it feels especially able and perky in passing maneuvers, aided by quick downshifts from the transmission.

All Ridgelines come with Variable Torque Management four-wheel drive, which is better suited to slippery snow-covered roads than most ordinary truck 4WD systems. Although the system isn't designed for serious off-roading, it includes a rear diff lock (VTM-4) mode for speeds of up to 18 mph. The 2009 Honda Ridgeline can haul a 1,550-pound payload in its five-foot composite cargo bed or tow up to 5,000 pounds; all the heavy-duty components for towing, such as transmission and oil coolers, come standard.

There's much to rave about with respect to the way the 2009 Honda Ridgeline rides and handles. Those used to traditional pickups will be wowed. A fully independent suspension in the 2009 Ridgeline—including struts in front and a multilink trailing-arm setup in back—yields a smoother ride and much better handling than other compact or mid-size trucks. Well-weighted steering helps the Ridgeline handle like the more car-oriented SUVs, with a great on-center feel, and it unwinds neatly coming out of corners. The Ridgeline doesn't bang and wiggle over bumps either, as many leaf-sprung pickups do, yet the suspension feels just as secure with a moderately full load as it does when empty, and it's relatively easy to hustle along on a curvy road. TheCarConnection.com last used a test '09 Ridgeline to travel up a narrow mountain road and load about a quarter cord of firewood (nearly a half-ton); on the way back down, it was surprisingly stable in the steep curves.

The 2009 Honda Ridgeline is only offered in a five-passenger crew-cab layout, with room for up to five. Front seats are supportive, if not that soft, but there's plenty of space, and in back two adults will fit just fine. If you want to carry items—like work tools or picnic supplies—securely inside the bed, the split-folding, tumble-forward rear seat has an integrated storage area. And if that's not enough, there's also a sealed 8.5-cubic-foot compartment within the cargo bed, good enough for a large cooler. The cargo bed isn't big, at just over 5 feet long, but it will hold a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood with the tailgate down. The dual-action tailgate can open to the side or conventionally; it can support up to 300 pounds, even while moving; and it's designed to close with contaminates like sand or sawdust in between without damaging the setup.

The Ridgeline also bridges Honda's lines of ATVs, personal watercraft, and power equipment with its cars and SUVs, as it's capable of getting those smaller vehicles more easily to the recreation area. New for 2009 is a bed extender to fit most motorcycles, along with a bed-mount bicycle attachment; there's also a range of more specialized mounting accessories for ATVs (or even bicycles, snowboards, or surfboards), and a total of eight bed tie-downs help with other cargo.

Shoppers don't necessarily need to step up to a full-size pickup to get some of the interior conveniences and high-tech features that they appreciate in their luxury car. Now on the 2009 Honda Ridgeline's options list is a voice-recognition navigation system that includes Zagat restaurant information, an off-road tracking function, and a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. Three trims are now offered for the Ridgeline: RT, RTS, and RTL. The RT includes air conditioning, cruise control, a power-sliding rear window, and a 100-watt, six-speaker CD sound system. The mid-level RTS brings a refined appearance with machine-finished alloy wheels, body-colored door handles and mirrors, and privacy glass, plus an upgraded 160-watt sound system; at the top of the line, the RTL adds 18-inch wheels, fog lamps, a power moonroof, heated mirrors, and XM Satellite Radio.

Honda sets a high bar for the Ridgeline early on; upon its introduction for 2006, the Ridgeline was the first four-door pickup to get straight five-star ratings from the federal government in frontal and side impacts. It maintains those scores for 2009, gets the best Good ratings from the IIHS, and is one of only three pickup models awarded the group's Top Safety Pick designation. Front side airbags, rollover-sensing side-curtain bags covering both rows, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control are included across the 2009 Honda Ridgeline model line.

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2009 Honda Ridgeline

Styling

Honda has demonstrated that it's not afraid to push the styling envelope, but with the 2009 Honda Ridgeline, the company might have been better served by showing a bit more restraint.

The 2009 Honda Ridgeline emerges from Honda's factories with quite a few changes for the latest model year, but don't expect them to be glaringly obvious.

From the outside, the new Honda Ridgeline looks relatively similar to the previous version, though that's not necessarily a good thing. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com continue to indicate a lukewarm reception to the overall styling of this pickup, which Edmunds says is "available in just one four-door body style" that is segmented into "three trim levels: base RT, midlevel RTS and leather-lined RTL." Cars.com is the first to raise issues with the 2009 Honda Ridgeline's looks, noting "some problems with the Ridgeline's styling and design," including the fact that "a traditional bed cap or bed-mounted crossover toolbox won't fit, [and] there's a limited selection of tonneau covers." Reviewers at Automobile Magazine, however, appreciate the changes, remarking that this 2009 Honda's styling "works a lot better" than before. Specifically, updates for the 2009 Honda Ridgeline include "a redesigned front fascia, grille, bumper, and taillight assembly," according to Car and Driver. Motor Trend adds that this 2009 Honda pickup offering is "clearly designed to look more familial with the recently released and redesigned Honda Pilot," although some of the styling cues afford "the new Ridgeline a more masculine look."

On the inside of the Honda Ridgeline, you'll find a few more of the 50 improvements and changes that Honda claims to have made on the latest Ridgeline. Unfortunately, Automobile Magazine still feels that "whoever was in charge of control placement must have flunked human factors design," thanks to awkward elements, like a sunroof switch sitting next to the tachometer and a dome lamp switch that is isolated from all other cabin lighting controls. On the positive side, Car and Driver points out that this 2009 Honda model features "better switchgear throughout," and "it seems like almost everything inside has been revised in some way." Motor Trend delves into the Honda Ridgeline's tiny details to spot "slight changes to the gauge shaping and to the choices of type styles for the tachometer and speedometer." Despite the changes, ConsumerGuide still feels that "some radio adjustments require a stretch."

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2009 Honda Ridgeline

Performance

Opting for V-6 power doesn't bring much better fuel economy, but it's nice to see that the 2009 Honda Ridgeline's unibody layout pays off on twisty roads.

With the Honda Ridgeline pickup, Honda has taken a very nontraditional approach to truck design. Unlike most competitors, the 2009 Honda Ridgeline is available with just one engine and transmission option, and the crossover-like unibody construction imbues this 2009 Honda with very impressive (for a truck) road manners.

All three trims of the 2009 Honda Ridgeline come with "a 3.5-liter V-6 coupled to a five-speed automatic and four-wheel drive," according to Car and Driver. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com contain a lot of praise for this engine, which Automobile Magazine says "pulls this thing around fairly well, although quick sprints require revving it into its upper limits." Car and Driver notes, "for 2009, the engine receives new camshafts, larger intake valves, and a lightweight magnesium dual-stage intake manifold" that helps boost the horsepower "from 247 to 250, and torque is now 247 lb-ft, up from 245." Despite the minor power improvements, Car and Driver reports that the 2009 Honda Ridgeline's "tow rating remains at 5000 pounds."

The standard V-6 on this 2009 Honda routes its power to all four wheels through a five-speed automatic, which is similar to the setup on previous versions but with a few tweaks to improve overall performance. Motor Trend reports that the transmission offers "slightly different gear ratios, in some cases changed only 0.2 percent, to help to improve overall responsiveness." The results are impressive, according to ConsumerGuide, which claims that the Honda Ridgeline offers "better than adequate go, thanks in part to a smooth, responsive transmission." Automobile Magazine raves that the Ridgeline's "all-wheel-drive kept things well-planted" on their test drive, "even in a few washboarded dirt corners."

Although the 2009 Honda Ridgeline shares the same basic design as many crossovers, thanks to its V-6 engine and unibody construction, don't expect crossover-like fuel economy. The official EPA estimates for the 2009 Honda Ridgeline are 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, which disappoints a lot of critics in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. Automobile Magazine in particular points out that "if you're going to sell a unibody pickup with a V-6 on the basis of fuel economy, then you've got to do better than 15/20 mpg."

Despite its lack of V-8 power and dismal fuel economy, the Honda Ridgeline still manages to win many supporters thanks to its incredibly comfortable ride. Automobile Magazine feels that "driving the Ridgeline is a lot like piloting an Accord with a porch on the back," which means there's "only a slight handling penalty, not bad when you take into account the usefulness of the small bed." ConsumerGuide calls the ride quality "exemplary for a pickup" and credits the Honda Ridgeline's "independent rear suspension [that] cushions bumps better than nearly all solid-axle-equipped competitors." Cars.com similarly raves about the "comfortable ride" and "precise handling" that are the trademarks of this 2009 Honda. The only major complaints in this category come from ConsumerGuide reviewers, who point out "a fair amount of body lean and noseplow in fast turns," but the fact that the Ridgeline's "braking is strong and sure" helps keep things in check.

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2009 Honda Ridgeline

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Honda Ridgeline's interior leaves a little to be desired, but you'll find plenty of passenger space.

The interior of the 2009 Honda Ridgeline earns praise for its spacious seating arrangements, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are also quite critical of the surprisingly low materials quality in some areas. Furthermore, despite the fact that this 2009 Honda sports a pickup bed in the back, its external cargo capacity is somewhat limited by the bed's small dimensions.

Passengers riding inside the Honda Ridgeline's cabin won't find much to complain about, especially if they're accustomed to riding in other mid-size pickups. ConsumerGuide reports that the 2009 Honda Ridgeline's "headroom is six-footer adequate with RTL's available sunroof" and "ample otherwise," while there is also "fine legroom" below waist level. Cars.com also comments that drivers are generally able to hop in "and get comfy right away," which isn't surprising considering "there's plenty of room for drivers of most sizes and shapes, and passengers should have room to stretch regardless of whether they're riding up front or out back." Edmunds reviewers agree, noting that the 2009 Honda Ridgeline "provides sedan-like comfort." In terms of overall seating capacity, the Honda Ridgeline is belted for five passengers, with ConsumerGuide measuring "good rear-seat room for two adults" and "three if necessary."

Given the limited dimensions that they have to work with, it's clear that Honda's designers favor passenger room over cargo room. However, that doesn't mean the 2009 Honda Ridgeline is without nifty little storage maximization techniques. On the contrary, Cars.com states that the Honda Ridgeline features a "lockable in-bed trunk (8.5-cubic-foot capacity)," and ConsumerGuide says it offers "enough [space] for three regular golf bags." Automobile Magazine adds that "the trunk is pretty huge," but sadly "there is no way to stuff long objects, like a couple of 2x4s, into the bed and close the tailgate." ConsumerGuide also notes that, even with the Honda Ridgeline's tailgate dropped, "floor length is just 6.5 ft, and rivals offer long-box options." Fortunately, interior storage is more than adequate, as ConsumerGuide reports the "useful in-cab cargo space beneath [the] rear seat becomes generous with the cushions flipped up."

Honda typically enjoys a reputation for bulletproof quality, although that may extend more to the engineering side than the materials side. However, the 2009 Honda Ridgeline suffers from a few materials miscues, as Automobile Magazine reports that the "plastics inside are way too hard, and the substantial panel gaps around the dash pad and instrument panel aren't impressive." ConsumerGuide agrees that the "overuse of hard plastic trim disappoints," but as expected, "assembly quality [is] mostly top notch." Cars.com tries to find a tactful way to criticize the materials by noting that "Honda wouldn't be hurting anyone's feelings with a few more padded surfaces—not to mention leather upholstery that jumped up a grade or two."

While this 2009 Honda pickup doesn't generate the kind of fuel economy you might expect from a crossover-based pickup, it does enjoy one of the other major benefits of unibody construction: reduced cabin noise. ConsumerGuide feels that overall cabin noise levels are "impressive for a pickup," with this 2009 Honda's V-6 rising "only to a classy growl at full throttle" and road noise that is "no worse than in most cars."

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2009 Honda Ridgeline

Safety

The big, sturdy 2009 Honda Ridgeline delivers in nearly every regard on the safety front.

Honda continues its tradition of exceptionally safe vehicles with the 2009 Honda Ridgeline, a pickup that earns perfect crash-test scores and a 2009 Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS.

In the highly visible and easily comparable world of crash-test ratings, few vehicles manage to earn perfect scores in all categories from both of the major testing authorities. However, that is exactly what Honda manages to do with the 2009 Honda Ridgeline, which kicks things off with perfect five-star safety ratings in both of NHTSA's front impact tests, as well as both side impact categories. In the more demanding IIHS tests, the Honda Ridgeline once again earns the highest possible rating, Good, in both the frontal offset and side impact categories. In addition, this 2009 Honda pickup takes home a 2009 Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS, which credits the Honda Ridgeline's "good performance in front, side, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control" as the primary reasons for the award.

Aside from its exemplary crash-test ratings, TheCarConnection.com's research reveals the 2009 Honda Ridgeline offers a lengthy list of safety features that lead Cars.com reviewers to christen the Honda Ridgeline as "extremely safety-conscious." Motor Trend notes that the 2009 Honda Ridgeline now offers a set of "new front seat active head restraints that will instantly snap forward to reduce excessive head recoil from a rearend collision." Meanwhile, Cars.com reviewers point out that "Honda's forward-thinking on safety technology is evident throughout the Ridgeline, and it's standard in all trim lines." Some of this 2009 Honda's standard safety features include "side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, electronic brake distribution," and an "electronic stability system with traction control," according to Cars.com.

The only serious safety criticism of the Honda Ridgeline concerns driver visibility, which is somewhat impeded in certain directions. ConsumerGuide reviewers report that "the rear-roof design hinders over-the-shoulder vision," while the "thick roof pillars are an obstruction to visibility all around, with [the] view directly aft especially compromised." Fortunately, the 2009 Honda Ridgeline can be equipped with a rearview camera to help mitigate some of those visibility problems.

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2009 Honda Ridgeline

Features

Individual options are available, but the 2009 Honda Ridgeline lineup comes well equipped enough in its standard trims to keep most buyers satisfied.

The 2009 Honda Ridgeline isn't cheap for a truck, but you will get a lot of desirable features for your money. TheCarConnection.com's research and driving experiences with the Honda Ridgeline show that Honda's model-year improvements are particularly noticeable in terms of available standard and optional features.

The latest and greatest version of the Honda Ridgeline offers a few more standard features than could be found on previous iterations of this 2009 Honda pickup. Car and Driver notes that "all Ridgeline audio systems are now MP3/WMA capable, and all but the entry RT model gain auxiliary-input jacks." Cars.com points out that this is one of "the most [welcome] changes" to the Honda Ridgeline, which in base RT form comes with a "trip computer...tilt steering wheel, cruise control, and something that's not standard on most so-called entry-level trucks, a power sliding rear window." TheCarConnection.com's editors find that stepping up to the mid-level 2009 Honda Ridgeline RTS trim will get you nicer wheels and door handles, as well as an upgraded 160-watt sound system. For those who want only the best, Cars.com states that the Honda Ridgeline RTL brings "leather upholstery, heated front seats and a power moonroof," as well as "satellite radio, a Homelink universal garage door opener and a 115-volt power outlet."

In addition to the standard features found on the various trims of this 2009 Honda, a number of optional features and accessories are available to consumers. Car and Driver reports that the 2009 Honda Ridgeline RTL "can now be optioned with 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera, and power lumbar support." Motor Trend reviewers add that the 2009 Honda Ridgeline offers a "backup camera with the nav system option," while Cars.com notes that, "in typical Honda fashion, the 2009 Ridgeline isn't available with any packages per se." However, individual accessories can be added on to the Honda Ridgeline, including a "$225 full-size spare tire that replaces the standard spare."

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