2014 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
June 3, 2014

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline is a niche alternative for those who don't need a pickup bed all the time, but it doesn't satisfy drivers that need a real full-size truck.

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline is a vehicle that many buyers don't know exists: a pickup truck, made by Honda. It's been around for nine years now, but it occupies a strange netherworld in the rigidly segmented world of pickups. Its size puts its somewhere between mid-size and full-size traditional U.S. and Japanese models, but the Ridgeline is available only in one fixed configuration, a four-door short-bed format. And while full-size pickups from the U.S. makers offer both more towing capability and greater cargo volume, Honda's truck is more expensive than the base models of any Chevy, Ford, or Ram pickup.

It's also showing its age on the road. When it was launched as a 2006 model, the Ridgeline was clearly more rewarding to drive than any other pickup. Now others have come much closer, perhaps even besting it on refinement--and certainly on featuers, where it now lags. Overall, the Ridgeline is caught between the mid-size pickups (Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma) and the low end of the volume leading full-size models like the Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150, and Ram 1500.

So while the Ridgeline is capable of tackling some near-full-size-truck tasks, its shortcomings stand out in the very practical pickup market. It's outfitted only with a five-foot bed and a flip-out extender. The standard 4x8 sheet of plywood won't fit. The Ridgeline also lacks the flexible cargo area that was found on the larger Chevrolet Avalanche before it was discontinued last year. The Ridgeline's cleverest feature--a sealed cargo bin under the bed floor--makes sense only when the truck bed is empty.

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The Ridgeline's awkward looks don't help make its case as a truck either. 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.

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.

The Honda truck's 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. But while we enjoy driving the Ridgeline more than any other pickup, its distinguishing features when it was launched for 2006--a sweet-running and refined 3.5-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission--are now matched by more traditional full-size pickups.

The top contenders from Chevy/GMC, Ford, and Ram all offer V-6 engines with either six- or eight-speed automatics, and some of those do better on fuel economy than the Honda despite their larger size and greater abilities. The best full-size models now hit 20 mpg combined even with all-wheel drive, whereas the Ridgeline is stuck at 17 mpg combined (15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway).

Since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revamped how it grades crash-test safety, the Ridgeline has yet to be re-rated for crash safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a Top Safety Pick award. A rearview camera is now standard on the Ridgeline. It's a good thing, since because the rear fenders block out a lot of the rearward view.

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 satellite radio.

Honda says it's committed to the Ridgeline, which suggests a new one is in the works to replace the eight-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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2014 Honda Ridgeline

Styling

The looks of the 2014 Honda Ridgeline are less jarring now, but its interior is much better than the odd shape would indicate.

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline has been around long enough that its unconventional looks are no longer jarring. But neither have they ever been either cutting-edge or innovative. Instead, its lines result from a compromise between its crossover utility roots--there's some older Honda Pilot underneath--and the need for pickup truck practicality.

So you have a tall, bluff, truck-like front end grafted onto some doors that look like those of a suburban soccer mom's crossover, ending in a short pickup bed. The sides of the bed aren't horizontal; to provide the needed structural rigidity, they slope up toward similarly angled side pillars behind the rear doors. The top of the tailgate is lower than the lowest point of the bed sides--which greatly helps the driver in the car behind see through this tall truck, but still looks odd, as if the tailgate from a shorter vehicle had been fitted by mistake.

Inside, the Ridgeline is much more pleasant. The dashboard is conventional, and is laid out in state-of-the-art Honda format from a decade ago--think the last generation of Pilot crossover. The big climate-control and audio knobs can be operated even while wearing work gloves, and the controls are stacked in a rectangular bin. The odd shape of the door handles is one of the few sour notes in the interior: They're not that easy to grab and operate.

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2014 Honda Ridgeline

Performance

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline handles much better than full-size pickups, but if towing and cargo capacity are the measure, it falls short.

When considering performance, the 2014 Honda Ridgeline is a rolling conundrum. It's perhaps the most enjoyable truck you can find to drive, but its towing and hauling capacities are at the bottom of the list. So ask yourself: What am I really buying this pickup truck to do?

The Ridgeline offers just a single drivetrain, a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard, which was wise on Honda's part, since the base running gear--similar to that of the Pilot crossover utility vehicle--starts with a front-wheel-drive system. That might be a bridge too far even for more adventurous pickup drivers. There's also a low range for extra-rugged terrain, and a rear differential lock will engage at speeds of up to 18 mph, which means all-weather capability is fine.

The engine is smooth and refined, like most of Honda's V-6 powerplants, and the transmission shifts smoothly and offers a mode just for towing. It provides competitive acceleration and is brisk and energetic from a stop, making it more responsive than many of the low-end V-6 models of traditional trucks.

But the Ridgeline isn't as high-geared as some of the latest pickups, nor does it have their six-speed or eight-speed automatics, so its fuel economy suffers. And while it's fine on the pavement, it has less torque at low engine speeds, so off-roading isn't really its forte.

Handling is closer to that of a modern crossover, though the latest round of big pickups from Chevrolet, Ford, and Ram have much improved ride and hold the road better than their ancestors in 2006, when the Ridgeline launched. The Honda offers well-damped ride motions and steering that carves almost eagerly into corners. Credit the independent suspension on all four wheels for that.

The Ridgeline will haul a decent amount of stuff, with a payload of 1,550 pounds, and a maximum towing capability of 5,000 pounds. These days, when even base pickups can haul small municipal hospitals, that falls woefully short of being competitive.

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2014 Honda Ridgeline

Comfort & Quality

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline comfortably accommodates its passengers, but the small pickup bed limits its use as a truck.

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline is unlike traditional pickup trucks in many ways, and one of the most obvious is its lack of variations. There's one engine, one transmission, one drive system--and only a single body style. You can't choose among body styles or bed lengths; it is what it is, a four-door, short-bed pickup truck. It can seat up to five people, but while the bed will hold an ATV, it can't accommodate the traditional 4' x 8' sheet of plywood or drywall with the tailgate up.

That said, the Ridgeline is among the most comfortable pickups to spend time in--though not as far ahead of the rest as it was eight years ago. The firm front bucket seats offer great support, and surprisingly, the back bench seat is almost as comfortable as the fronts. There's headroom, legroom, and shoulder room aplenty.

The cargo bed is slightly more than 5 feet long. Put down the tailgate and you can transport those 4' x 8' plywood sheets, but to keep them in place, you'll need the bed extender--and that's an optional extra. There are lots of bed accessories and mounting gear, in fact, for carrying such sporting items as ATVs, snowboards, surfboards, and bikes.

What the Ridgeline does have--which big pickups don't--is a sealed compartment under the cargo bed, with enough space to hold a large cooler (8.5 cubic feet, in fact). Ram pickups now offer optional compartments in the bed sides, but they're longer and narrower, while the Honda's shape is closer to a cube--and hence more practical.

Another engineering trick is the so-called dual-swing tailgate, which can open to the side or drop down in the usual fashion. It's rated to hold 300 pounds, even when the truck's in motion. Finally, the 60/40 split back seat cushion can be folded up against the cab back to provide lockable storage for large, valuable items like power tools or camping gear.

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2014 Honda Ridgeline

Safety

Though the NHTSA hasn't weighed in, the IIHS names the 2014 Honda Ridgeline as a Top Safety Pick.

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline gets top marks in safety testing, but only from one of the two groups that issues these ratings.

The Ridgeline lost its previous Top Safety Pick laurels this year, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tightened its requirements. Nonetheless, it awards the Ridgeline its highest rating of "Good" on moderate-overlap front crash, side impact, rear crash, and roof crush tests--but has not tested the truck on the new and challenging small-overlap front crash test. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't rated the Ridgeline overall, with its sole rating being four stars out of five for rollover safety.

Otherwise, the Ridgeline comes with front airbags for the driver and passenger, side-curtain bags for all four side windows, and active head restraints on the front seats. It has the usual complement of electronic safety systems, including traction control and stability control, along with a tire-pressure monitoring system. No newer active safety systems--including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping, or blind-spot monitoring--are offered, however.

The Ridgeline's thick rear pillars block most of the rear three-quarter vision, which makes the truck more of a challenge to park than pickups with more upright cabs. The rearview camera is now standard, however, making the Ridgeline the only truck with that feature fitted to every model.

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2014 Honda Ridgeline

Features

Options on the 2014 Honda Ridgeline, like navigation and Bluetooth, are more common now than when the truck launched.

Unlike traditional pickup trucks, which have offer stripped-down models at the bottom of the range, the 2014 Honda Ridgeline comes well-equipped from the start--and its prices reflect that. For 2014, Honda has added a new, even more lavishly equipped model at the top end of the range.

Including delivery, the sticker price of the base Ridgeline RT trim level is $30,405. That includes power windows and locks, air conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, a six-speaker 100-watt audio system, rearview camera, and a trailer hitch with wiring in place for a 7-pin hookup. The base RT model has 17-inch steel wheels.

Then there's the Ridgeline Sport model, essentially an RT with some blacked-out trim, fog lights, a leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, tinted "privacy" glass, and an audio input jack (which really ought to be standard by now), plus 18-inch aluminum wheels.

Or you can move up to the mid-level Ridgeline RTS model, with its 17-inch aluminum wheels, an 8-way power adjustable driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a 160-watt sound system plus a subwoofer--along with the wheel-mounted audio controls, tinted glass, and that input jack.

Higher still is the Ridgeline RTL, which layers on different 18-inch alloy wheels, a power moonroof, leather interior trim, heated front seats and side mirrors, satellite radio, ambient console lighting, and a 110-volt power outlet. A navigation system with voice input and Bluetooth pairing is available, and includes rearview camera images on the touchscreen in the center of the dash.

Finally, new this year is the ultimate Honda pickup truck, the Ridgeline Special Edition. It's effectively an RTL with the optional navigation as standard, plus different 18-inch black and silver alloy wheels and the black trim from the Sport model. Its price will be over $38,000, putting it into competition with some well-equipped and vastly more capable traditional pickups.

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2014 Honda Ridgeline

Fuel Economy

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline was never great on gas mileage, whereas full-size pickups have improved lately.

The 2014 Honda Ridgeline has fallen behind the best of the full-size pickup trucks in fuel economy--which is an odd place for any Honda to find itself. You might think that it would be better, since it's not quite full-size and has no V-8 engine option, only a V-6. But you'd be wrong.

When the Ridgeline launched in 2006, it was essentially competitive with the crop of trucks then on the market. In the intervening years, Chevrolet, Ford, and Ram have redesigned their pickups, and all now have at least one model with a higher combined EPA fuel economy rating.

Consider that the combined ratings for the most efficient pickups from the Detroit Three--which have far more cargo capacity and higher tow ratings--are 20 mpg for rear-wheel-drive V-6 models from Chevrolet, GMC, and Ram, and 18 mpg for the Ford F-150 with a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6.

The Ridgeline, on the other hand, is rated by the EPA at 17 mpg combined (15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway). And at that rating, the Ridgeline sits at the bottom of the list.

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April 29, 2015
2014 Honda Ridgeline 4WD Crew Cab RTL w/Navi

Great light duty truck

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Does all I need and feels lake a car. I do oil and gas consulting in tuff hard to reach locations in wet and dry weather. I have had 6 ridge lines and drove them 70000 mile each with no problems.
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Styling 5
Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 8
Fuel Economy 6
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