- Most clever, useful truck bed
- Excellent road manners
- Improved fuel economy
- Safety tech walled off in expensive trims
- A front-wheel drive...truck?
- Ground clearance can limit off-road utility
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline is a smart alternative to full-size trucks, for drivers content with matching the right tool to the right job.
The vast majority of truck sales come in the form of full-size pickups. Not all of those are driven by need: as it is with electric cars, truck buyers usually shop for their most extreme needs, not for their everyday use.
Would a mid-size truck be a smarter buy, then? We'd say yes, particularly if something like the 2017 Honda Ridgeline covers what you'd normally do with a truck.
It's no match for an F-150 or Ram or Sierra for ultimate towing and payload capacity, but the Ridgeline is a compelling rival for the likes of the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma, and Nissan Frontier.
It is much more composed, much more user-friendly, somewhat more efficient, and pretty clever in how it makes the most of its mid-size bed. If you’re not pulling a big horse trailer or building a big house, a mid-size truck might be the right tool to get the job done.
Honda Ridgeline styling
The Ridgeline went on hiatus for two years after the 2014 model year, and it's put its sabbatical to good use. The last version suffered from a shape rife with awkward angles and a distinct impression that it was neither fish nor fowl.
In the 2017 model, Honda has erased the visual barrier between the Ridgeline and more conventional trucks. Offered in crew-cab form only, the Ridgeline looks exactly like what it is: a truck snipped from the SUV outline of the related Honda Pilot (a Pilot-amino, in Webspeak).
The nose may sit low and may have a curvy car-like appeal, but the roofline is squared off and so are the bed walls. The rear fenders are cut and stamped in boxy conformity though the body underneath is bolted together, not to a frame.
Inside, the Ridgeline is a clone of the Pilot, with a wide shield of controls dominated by a center touchscreen. Materials and fit and finish are finer than the mid-size rivals, and the driving position is relatively low. The only real difference with the Pilot is the Ridgeline's shift lever, which replaces the push-buttons that run the Pilot's gearbox.
Honda Ridgeline performance
The Ridgeline can't match bigger trucks for pulling and payload, but it bests every other truck regardless of size for its ride and handling.
Adapted from the Pilot, the Ridgeline's powertrain is rated at 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Curb weight now ranges from 4,200 to 4,400 pounds. The new power-to-weight ratio slightly more in its favor; the Ridgeline is quicker, and its V-6 sounds pleasant enough as it pulls toward redline.
A 6-speed automatic is the only transmission offered, and it's a good choice. The 9-speed offered on the Pilot has issues with dithering shift quality and early torque-converter lockup; the 6-speed simply makes a non-issue of putting power to the ground through either the front or all four wheels.
Gas mileage isn't particularly poor, but neither does it exceed the GM twins—and Honda doesn't offer a high-economy diesel, either.
With a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds and payload rating of 1,584 pounds, the Ridgeline lines up well with the gas-powered versions of the GM mid-size trucks. Pulling power when laden is smooth and unstrained, and the all-wheel-drive Ridgeline has a traction-management system that uses electronic controls to shift power from the front wheels to the rear, and between its rear wheels, to remain stable when it's being put to workhorse duty.
It can pull a 22-foot boat or 40 bags of mulch, which might be the most any suburban truck ever truly sees in action. The rest of the time, while body-on-frame trucks rumble and skitter over rough pavement, the Ridgeline's unibody structure and independent suspension deliver a compliant, comfortable ride and the sharpest handling in any truck, period. With its better-sized 18-inch wheels and tires and a bit more body structure, the Ridgeline feels more competent than even the Pilot.
Where it doesn't excel? Its 7.9 inches of ground clearance is measured at a high point, and its control-arm suspension drops closer to the ground near the wheels. Off-roaders into rugged trucks like the Tacoma will probably be better served by continuing to live in that world.
Honda Ridgeline comfort and utility
The Honda Ridgeline excels at toting passengers and some cargo, but the small pickup bed limits its truck utility.
The passenger space is ample, and so is lockable storage. The front seats could use more bottom bolstering, but there's a deep center console, and all kinds of head and leg room. In back, the Ridgeline has a flat load floor and flip-up seats that ride above enough open space to stow a golf bag.
As for the pickup bed, it's 50 inches wide between the wheel housings inside the bed, and 63 inches long with the tailgate closed. It can accommodate sheets of plywood or drywall, as long as you're cool with it all hanging over the edge of the tailgate.
That tailgate is just one of the nifty touches that puts the Ridgeline a few notches ahead of its mid-size rivals. It's never clever by too much, just clever. The dual-action tailgate is hinged both at the bottom like a traditional tailgate and along its left side so it can open like a door. Under the bed floor, there's a cooler-sized trunk with a flat bottom and a drain plug.
The bed also can be fitted with a 400-watt AC power inverter to charge tools or plug-in your favorite tailgating entertainment; eight 350-pound tie-down cleats; and the industry's first in-bed audio system with six "exciters" in place of speakers.
Honda Ridgeline safety and features
No crash-test data is in yet, but the Ridgeline should share the Pilot's very good ratings. All models come with a multi-angle rearview camera and Bluetooth, as well as trailer-sway assist and hill-climb assist.
Still, it's frustrating when the newest safety features are walled off with the expensive trim levels. To get adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings, or blind-spot monitors, you'll have to spend more than $40,000 on a Ridgeline.
In terms of other features, the Ridgeline does a little better in making the fun stuff more affordable. All versions have power features, Bluetooth audio streaming, a USB port, air conditioning, cruise control, and the two-way tailgate and in-bed trunk, all for just about $30,000.
At the $37,000 mark, the Ridgeline adds leather; a somewhat kludgy infotainment system with an 8.0-inch touchscreen interface and navigation by Garmin; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a 540-watt audio system.
At the dealer, we'd suggest a run through the accessories list. You'll find all manner of roof racks for skis, snowboards, and bikes—even an in-bed tent.
At 19 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined in front-drive models, the Ridgeline's EPA-rated fuel economy isn't much higher than full-sizers. With all-wheel drive, the Ridgeline is rated at 18/25/21 mpg.