2012 Honda Ridgeline Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 13, 2012

The 2012 Honda Ridgeline won't satisfy those who need a real full-size truck, but for those who need hauling on occasion, it offers an interesting alternative.

The Honda Ridgeline hasn't received the warmest of welcomes from the pickup-truck crowd. It's expensive, and since it falls short of true half-ton specs, it's stuck between two worlds--that of mid-size pickups like the Nissan Frontier, and that of inexpensive full-sizers like the appealing new Ford F-150 V-6. 

The Ridgeline's awkward looks don't help it woo many new buyers. It's obviously an SUV under the skin, cut down to pickup duty. The angles of its rear pillars, their thickness and the tall rear fenders around the truck bed don't telegraph the same subconscious messages that a Ram 1500 does. It looks smaller, and that usually doesn't sell, in trucks. This year a new Sport model ditches the blocky grille on loan from the Pilot, replacing it with a black honeycomb that's doing its best to subdue the Ridgeline's stubby, bulky front end. Honda's done a much better job crafting a cabin with a more conventional look. The dash layout stacks gauges and controls in rectangular binnacles, and puts big knobs for the climate and audio controls in obvious locations, for easy use with a gloved hand. Inside, the Ridgeline feels more like the Honda of old than some of the Hondas of the new, when it comes to the quality of materials and how they're fitted.

Of all trucks, the Ridgeline's our favorite to drive, but the frays are appearing at the edges of its performance stats. It keeps much of its SUV character and has a wonderful, refined 3.5-liter V-6 that only last year gained a real threat in the form of the new F-150 V-6. Honda's five-speed automatic knocks off shifts quickly and smoothly--but most trucks in the class now offer six-speed automatics. Fuel economy isn't a particular strength anymore, at 15/21 mpg, but handling remains a strong suit, with great ride quality and good steering feel, even with standard all-wheel drive. It's more direct and controlled than the clunky sheetmetal implies.

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At its awkward spot on the full-size truck curve, the Ridgeline is capable of tackling some near-full-size tasks, but it's outfitted only with a five-foot bed which can be fitted with a flip-out extended. The standard-unit 4x8 sheet of plywood won't fit. The Ridgeline also lacks the flexible cargo area found on the larger but more useful Chevrolet Avalanche. The Ridgeline's most clever feature--a sealed cargo bin under the bed floor--makes sense only when the truck bed is empty.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has revamped how it grades crash-test safety, and while the Ridgeline performed well in the past, it hasn't yet been rated for 2011. Over at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Ridgeline carries over its "good" scores for front and side impact protection--but it loses its Top Safety Pick designation as roof-crush standards aren't available. Bluetooth is available, and so is a rearview camera, which is recommended because the rear fenders block out a lot of the rearward view.

With four trim levels offered, the Ridgeline doesn't come in a single model priced below $30,000, including destination--a big hurdle when inexpensive Ram, F-150 and Silverado/Sierra full-sizers can be found for much less. All Ridgelines have standard air conditioning; power locks/windows/mirrors; cruise control; a power-sliding rear window; and a 100-watt six-speaker CD sound system. Among the options, Honda offers a voice-recognition navigation system with on-the-go Zagat restaurant information and a rearview camera, and satellite radio.

Honda says it's committed to the Ridgeline, which suggests a new one is in the works to replace the six-year-old vehicle. To get more truck buyers to notice, it might have to get more conventional--but as the latest Toyota Tundra has proven, even big-truck street cred doesn't guarantee any more sales. Not when the Ram, F-150 and the Silverado and Sierra are at the top of their game.

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