- Smooth, settled ride
- Steering and handling
- Perky, refined engine
- Strong safety
- Bed is too small for some needs
- Odd styling
- High price
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.
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.
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.