2012 Honda Ridgeline Review

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The Car Connection
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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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2012 Honda Ridgeline

Styling

The 2012 Honda Ridgeline is one odd-looking truck, and it's not grown on us in its short life.

Funky styling is something we're usually warm to here at TheCarConnection, but the Honda Ridgeline's unconventional looks aren't really striking or innovative enough to give it a pass.

Most pickup trucks have a conventional look that can range from very plain to very masculine. The Ridgeline falls somewhere in between, with a trucky front end mashing up with a truck-bed box that's forced into some unique styling compromises. The Ridgeline looks more like an SUV from the rear, at times, than a pickup: it needs those wide, tall rear fenders to help its body stay structurally rigid. Honda's touched up a badly conceived grille of a few years back, which helps, but in all, the Ridgeline's ungainly lines and thickness doesn't quite score the mainstream appeal you can get all day long from even the most basic GMC Sierra.

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The cabin's a much more pleasant place. The conventional dash stacks controls in a rectangular bin, and big knobs for the climate and audio controls are cued up for easy operation with a gloved hand. The Ridgeline feels like the last-generation Pilot SUV in many ways inside, and that's a compliment. If only the awkwardly shaped door handles were as easy to grab with the hands, as they are to catch your eyes.
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2012 Honda Ridgeline

Performance

Best-in-class handling and a smooth V-6 are winning features of the Honda Ridgeline, but its towing and hauling fall far short of the benchmarks.

Offered in just a single drivetrain configuration, the Honda Ridgeline's the best non-compact truck you can drive. However, it's also the least capable pickup of its size, in terms of towing and hauling.

The Ridgeline's powertrain is no longer the only great V-6 choice in the big-truck segment, but it's still a gem. The 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine has all the smoothness and refinement found in a crossover vehicle--predictable, since the same gear's used in the Pilot SUV. Here it's teamed up with a five-speed automatic transmission that lacks the additional gears that have improved fuel economy in, say, Ford's pickups, but the transmission shifts very smoothly and has a towing mode. Acceleration is competitive on average, not as quick as some of the biggest domestic V-8s but noticeably quicker and more responsive than the majority of V-6 engines found in the likes of the Ram and Silverado. The Ridgeline feels brisk and energetic off the line, and even when it's laden it musters good passing power. 

Four-wheel drive is standard on the Ridgeline, and it has a true low range for more rugged duties. The four-wheel-drive system feels more sophisticated than the setups in most pickups, save for the Sierra Denali's AWD setup. In the Ridgeline, a rear differential lock will engage at speeds of up to 18 mph, which means all-weather capability is fine. Off-roading isn't really its forte, given its thinner torque down low, but the Ridgeline will haul a decent amount of stuff. The payload's rated at 1,550 pounds, and towing maxes out at 5,000 lb.

The Ridgeline pays back owners who choose its vaguely alternative pickup vibe with a great sense of road feel and good handling. It's better than most other compact and mid-size trucks, and a step up from the dynamics of the full-sizers, though the Ram 1500 has great steering and ride feel. The Ridgeline is true to its SUV roots--it handles more like a crossover vehicle, with well-damped ride motions and steering that carves almost eagerly into corners. The Ridgeline avoids the big-bump watusi that afflicts some big trucks, too, since it's founded on an independent suspension.

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2012 Honda Ridgeline

Comfort & Quality

The Ridgeline's cabin is quite comfortable for adults, but its small pickup bed just doesn't measure up.

While you can configure most of the domestic and other Japanese pickups to your heart's content, with different body styles, bed lengths, and drivetrains, the Honda Ridgeline sorts all that out for you. Like it or not, the Ridgeline comes in just one configuration, and the four-door cabin can seat up to five passengers, while its abbreviated bed can hold an ATV, but not the classic 4x8 sheet of plywood.

Its shortcomings are obvious at first glance, but at least inside, the Ridgeline's one of the best pickup trucks to sit in. The bucket seats in front could be the best in the truck business, supportive though they're not all that soft. The back bench is almost as comfortable as the one in front, and there's plenty of space in all directions. That back seat, by the way, can also fold down in sections to provide weatherproof storage for items like toolboxes.

The Ridgeline's bed has some nifty truck tricks of its own, but the cargo bed itself is just over five feet long. It will hold a 4x8 sheet of plywood with the tailgate down, but that wood will need the optional bed extender to stay firmly in place. The Ridgeline does better when it's used for lighter duty, or as the primary transport for Honda-built ATVs, snowboards, surfboards, bikes, and the like--Honda makes its own bed accessories and mounts specifically for this purpose.

Under the bed floor is the Ridgeline's secret. A sealed 8.5-cubic-foot compartment is concealed below the cargo bed, and it's large enough to hold a large cooler. Another neat piece of engineering is the tailgate's dual-swing mode: it can open to the side or fold down, when it can also support up to 300 pounds, even while moving.

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2012 Honda Ridgeline

Safety

The IIHS gives the Ridgeline its highest honors, but the NHTSA hasn't chimed in just yet.

With new crash-test scoring systems in place at both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Honda Ridgeline has some good news to relay.

The IIHS says the Ridgeline is a Top Safety Pick, which means it earns "good" scores for front, side, and roof-crush protection, and also has standard stability control. The NHTSA, meanwhile, hasn't yet updated its Ridgeline ratings as of yet.

Every Honda pickup has standard dual front, side, and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; all-wheel drive; and active head restraints. Among its safety options, the Ridgeline offers a rearview camera that's bundled with the optional nav system, but blind-spot monitors, active cruise control, and lane-keeping systems aren't offered.

Visibility is an issue in the Honda pickup. The thick rear pillars block most of the view to the rear quarters of the truck, making parking more difficult than it could be--though it's mitigated with that optional rearview camera.

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2012 Honda Ridgeline

Features

Navigation and Bluetooth are on the options list, and the Ridgeline now has some voice controls to connect them.

It's very well-equipped in base form, which explains why the Honda Ridgeline doesn't have much in the way of options, though there are a few trim levels offered.

More of an SUV with a bed than a full-size truck, the Ridgeline, comes in RT, RTS, and RTL trim levels. All versions have standard power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; a 100-watt, six-CD sound system; and air conditioning. The mid-level RTS gets privacy glass and distinct alloy wheels, as well as a 160-watt sound system.

Step to the priciest Ridgeline, the RTL, and you'll also get standard heated mirrors; moonroof; fog lamps; satellite radio; and 18-inch wheels.

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Honda typically bundles features in trim lines, and doesn't offer many stand-alone options. The Ridgeline has some add-ons available that are relatively new to the pickup class, but now also available on trucks from Ram, Ford, GM, Toyota and Nissan. The options list includes a voice-recognition navigation system with on-the-go Zagat restaurant information and a rearview camera, and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity.
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2012 Honda Ridgeline

Fuel Economy

Honda doesn't have a lock on gas mileage, as the Ridgeline's mediocre numbers suggest.

Only competitive when it was brand-new, the Honda Ridgeline has fallen behind the best-in-class pickups for gas mileage.

Because it's a Honda, and because it's a not-quite-full-size, V-6 truck, you might think the Ridgeline should be better at fuel economy. This year, the EPA rates the Ridgeline at 15/21 mpg, a boost of one mile per gallon on the highway, which Honda credits to improvements in the drivetrain. Still, those numbers are only slightly better than the basic V-8-powered Chevy Silverado, and a few figures shy of the latest Ford F-150 V-6, which is rated at 17/23 mpg.

Honda hasn't said whether it will offer a hybrid or diesel Ridgeline--but has indicated it's committed to selling the Ridgeline at least through the 2012 model year.

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Styling 5
Performance 7
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