- Most clever, useful truck bed
- Excellent road manners
- Improved fuel economy
- Traditional truck looks, at last
- High-quality cabin
- Safety tech walled off in expensive trims
- A front-wheel drive...truck?
- Ground clearance can limit off-road utility
- Expensive compared to rivals
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 rates a 7.5 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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
The IIHS calls the Ridgeline a Top Safety Pick+ for 2017, and federal testers have given the truck five stars overall. 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.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
With a newly straightforward shape, the Honda Ridgeline has erased a barrier between itself and more traditional trucks.
This is the second Ridgeline in Honda history. This time, Honda clearly wants it to fit in better with trucks like the Colorado, Canyon, Tacoma and Frontier.
It mostly looks the part—until you get close and see the differences, which helps it score a 7. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Honda failed to win over truck traditionalists with the last Ridgeline, and some of it had to be subconscious. It's a big deal to be easily recognized as a truck and the previous Ridgeline didn't fit that time-honored outline. It had the same issues as the Chevy Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT, with its stubby-looking bed and very tall bed walls.
In this generation, the Ridgeline's body is more closely based on the Pilot SUV. It comes in just one body style, a four-door crew cab, and that shape is as traditional and conventional as a truck can be. Still, the Pilot outline is easily visible from the rear doors forward.
High-strength steel is the key to cutting the Ridgeline's passenger cell so close to the usual truck outline. Tougher metal lets Honda designers get away with a near-vertical rear glass (with sliding side window) and near-horizontal bed sides. The front end is as Pilot as it can be—and it's low, a foot lower than something like a Colorado—but from the side, the Ridgeline's box and body have the classic pickup truck signature.
It’s the same inside, where the Ridgeline is almost a dead ringer for the Pilot. The broad instrument panel has analog gauges and a digital readout between them. The center stack factors in either a small touchscreen, or a larger one, amid tightly grained plastics and a pleasant wing shape across the dash. One key difference from Pilot to Ridgeline: in the truck, there’s a transmission lever instead of push-buttons for shifting.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
The Ridgeline can't match bigger trucks for pulling and payload, but it bests every other truck on the market for its ride and handling.
If you're towing a moderately sized boat or hauling home-improvement materials, the Honda Ridgeline's performance envelope might fit your needs perfectly. It can't pull with full-size strength and there's no classic V-8 under its hood, but the Ridgeline makes the very most of its adapted running gear, earning it a 7. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
It's adapted, of course, from the Honda Pilot SUV. In this form, the 3.5-liter V-6 and 6-speed automatic combination is good for 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, figures that are up 30 hp and 15 b-ft, respectively, in a vehicle weighing about 100 pounds less than before. Curb weight now ranges from 4,200 to 4,400 pounds.
Straight-line acceleration is improved by almost two seconds, Honda says, without specifying a number itself. We'll peg the Ridgeline at a solid 8 seconds to 60 mph. It's a smooth run, too, and Honda's V-6 makes a muscular ripple as it reaches through its six forward gears toward redline.
That 6-speed automatic is shared with the Pilot, but the Pilot doesn't share its 9-speed automatic with the Ridgeline. It's better for it: the 6-speed has smoother shifts, and it's less prone to the confusion and early torque-converter lockup that can make the 9-speed in the Pilot seem less refined.
Even without the extra gears, the Ridgeline still earns from the EPA a respectable 22 mpg combined, 21 combined with all-wheel drive—roughly comparable to a similar gas-powered Chevy Colorado.
Traction and all-wheel drive
The base Ridgeline comes with front-wheel drive, the only vehicle in its segment to lay claim to that distinction. For traction in towing and in moderate off-roading, the Ridgeline can be fitted with all-wheel drive that can vary power splits front to rear, and from side to side across the rear wheels.
There's no true low-range gearset. Honda makes electronics do the hard work of managing traction, via a system with selectable modes.
On front-drive models, there's simply a second-gear start in Snow mode with a remapped algorithm to cut excess wheelspin. All-wheel-drive Ridgelines also have Mud and Sand modes that alter throttle and traction-control settings to allow more wheelspin, and change transmission shift schedules to move more power to the rear wheels and to hold lower gears.
The Ridgeline can keep up with, say, a Ford Explorer off-road, thanks to decently knobby 245/60R-18 Firestone tires and a maximum of 7.9 inches of ground clearance. Tackling the off-road editions of rival mid-size trucks isn't as good a comparison: the Ridgeline's rear control arms drop lower away from its midline, leaving only about a half-foot of clearance.
The Ridgeline's approach and departure angles are good for a crossover, average when compared to a body-on-frame pickup. It's in those more extreme off-road cases where a frame-rail truck makes much better sense than the Honda.
Towing and hauling
That said, the Ridgeline can pull a 22-foot boat or carry 40 bags of mulch, and still feel strong enough for passing. Towing and payload figures are obviously down from the more capable and hefty full-size trucks, but there's surprising bleed-over with the rear-drive, 6-cylinder F-150s and Ram 1500s.
The Ridgeline carries a 5,000-pound maximum tow rating with all-wheel drive; front-drive models are rated at 3,500 pounds. That's down significantly from the GM truck twins, but its payload rating of 1,584 pounds is very close.
The appeal of the Ridgeline is in how it manages the moderately sized loads it can carry. All Ridgelines come with trailer-sway control factored into the stability control system; hill-start assist; and a multi-view rearview camera that can help guide drivers through the trailer hitch process.
Ride and handling
It's very good at maintaining control of itself when it's laden. When it's unladen, the Ridgeline is one truck that truly drives like a car.
That's because, mostly, it is a car. The suspension is a reinforced and reworked version of the Pilot’s, and so is its torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system.
Dual-action dampers let the Ridgeline handle small bumps and big bumps in different ways, giving it ride quality that's a bit better even than the Pilot, or at least Pilots that ride on optional 20-inch wheels. The Pilot also lacks the Ridgeline's center bed reinforcement, which seems to give the truck a bit better body rigidity.
The Ridgeline also sports hydraulic suspension bushings, a faster steering ratio than before, and a torque-vectoring system that uses electrohydraulic clutches to move power side to side across its rear wheels. Its ability to cut through corners without the bounding, quivering ride of a body-on-frame truck is immediately noticeable.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
Comfort & Quality
The Honda Ridgeline excels at toting passengers and some cargo, but the small pickup bed limits its truck utility.
The Honda Ridgeline wears its utility like a bumper sticker: it's all business in front, party in back.
It's hard to top for real world practicality, unless you're always hauling heavy things, so it scores an 8 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
With a growth spurt, the new Ridgeline is now 210 inches long, up 3.1 inches over the last versions. The 125.2-inch wheelbase is longer by 3.2 inches, and the pickup bed has 5.5 additional inches of bed length.
The business end of the Pilot is a roomy, comfortable cabin almost identical to the one in the Honda Pilot. There's a marked difference between this unibody pickup truck and other mid-size, body-on-frame trucks: the Ridgeline is far more composed and better appointed, not to mention wider and quieter (in versions with acoustic front glass).
The front seats have a good range of adjustment, even if the seats themselves are a bit flat across the bottom cushion. Storage is excellent, with a deep console between front passengers that can store an iPad—or six of them—under a sliding cover.
Honda claims a couple more cubic feet of interior space than the Colorado and Canyon, and it shows in the back seat. This Ridgeline has better knee and head room than before. It does more with those back seats raised, though. Fold them up against the bed wall and there's a flat load floor that can carry a big LCD TV, a bike with the front wheel on, or a few sets of golf clubs.
Storage and flexibility galore
Where the Ridgeline distinguishes itself best is in its flexible bed. It has more space in some key dimensions, but it also has a raft of features that aren't possible in its rivals.
None are true replacements for a full-size truck with an 8-foot bed, but for drivers who don't need to carry building material all the time, mid-sizers like the Ridgeline make up for the abbreviated bed with clever storage touches.
The Ridgeline's bed has 63 inches of bed length available when the tailgate is closed, and 50 inches between its wheel wells. Sheets of plywood can fit for width, though they'll hang over the end of the tailgate even with the available bed extender. Still, GM's mid-size trucks can't claim the same.
The Ridgeline's bed is sturdy, molded from UV-stabilized plastic similar to decking material, so it doesn't need painting or a separate bedliner. The tailgate is hinged on the bottom and the side, which allows it to fold down or swing to the left side. Eight 350-pound tie-downs are bolted into the bed.
Under the bed floor, the Ridgeline carries over the built-in cooler under the bed floor. With a flat bottom and a drain plug, it's perfect for wet gear or a couple cases of beer. That cooler doubles as a weather-resistant trunk that will hold an 82-quart wheeled cooler or a golf bag.
There's a dry storage pocket on the bed side that hides a 400-watt power inverter when fitted. There's even a setup that turns the entire bed into a speaker for the audio system. Parked or below 10 mph, it'll blast sound for up to 11 hours without the engine being on.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
The IIHS calls the Ridgeline a Top Safety Pick+ and federal testers agree.
Federal testers have given the 2017 Honda Ridgeline a five-star overall score, including five stars in front and side impact protection. The IIHS has called the truck a Top Safety Pick+ thanks to top "Good" crash scores and available advanced safety equipment.
Because of those scores, we give it an 8 out of 10 on our safety scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
While Honda fits an array of safety equipment to all Ridgelines, some features are only offered to buyers of the most expensive versions. All trucks get a multi-angle rearview camera that toggles through a variety of views; hill-start assist; and Bluetooth.
A side-view camera only becomes available on the Ridgeline RTL-T, which is priced at more than $37,000. That's also where Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.
For the very latest in safety technology, Honda requires buyers to choose the $42,270 Ridgeline RTL-E. It gets adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, parking sensors, and swaps the side-view camera for a set of blind-spot monitors.
All Ridgelines have very good outward vision, thanks to the large sliding rear window and a relatively low tailgate, compared to other trucks.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
Kludgy infotainment aside, the Ridgeline is rolling in clever, easy-to-use features.
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline has some fundamentally cool features baked into its pickup-truck body. For the latest in technology, buyers have to spend their way into the most expensive versions—which is why it comes in as a 9 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
With a base price of $30,375, the Ridgeline has standard 18-inch wheels; a 6-speed automatic; and front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive adds $1,800 to the price of any model where it's not standard.
Other standard features include power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cloth upholstery; tilt/telescope steering; a multi-angle rearview camera; and an audio system with Bluetooth audio streaming, seven speakers, 220 watts of power, and a USB port.
Ridgeline RTS trucks get keyless entry, remote start, and three-zone climate control, while a Sport edition takes that gear and tops it with black trim and red ambient lighting. RTL trucks gain power heated front seats and leather upholstery.
The Ridgeline RTL-T is priced at more than $37,000, but it has the features we'd demand in a mid-size truck. It has a side-view camera; an 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite and HD radio, more USB ports, navigation, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Over a few hundred miles, we greeted Apple CarPlay in the Ridgeline with open arms. In a long-term Pilot without the simplified interface, the Honda touchscreen system has proved to be kludgy, resistant to quick input changes, and counterintuitive when programming basics like destinations.
The Apple system responds quickly and smartly through Siri to voice inputs; even answering complex text messages with complex voice statements is possible.
For the latest in safety technology, though, Honda requires buyers to opt into the $42,270 Ridgeline RTL-E. It gets all-wheel drive, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, parking sensors, and swaps the side-view camera for a set of blind-spot monitors.
It also gets a moonroof, a power sliding rear window, truck bed speakers, premium audio, a heated steering wheel, and acoustic glass. The related $43,770 Black edition has all that gear plus black trim, perforated leather seats, and red ambient lighting.
For specific mounts, racks, and add-ons, the Ridgeline has an extensive list of accessories, everything from a CD player; roof attachments for skis, surfboards, and bikes; a bed extender; and our favorite, an in-bed tent.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
The Ridgeline's gas mileage isn't much higher than some full-size trucks.
Honda's improved the gas mileage in the Ridgeline significantly, but it's still just average among mid-size trucks.
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 like the Ram 1500, when fitted with a V-6 and 8-speed automatic. That's enough to earn it a 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
With all-wheel drive, the Ridgeline is rated at 18/25/21 mpg.
While all its gas-mileage ratings are better—by as much as 3 mpg on every test—Honda's ratings are down compared with most versions of the gas-powered Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, which earn 21-22 mpg combined in most models.
The Ridgeline lacks a turbodiesel option like the Colorado, and that gives the Chevy a 3-mpg advantage in its most efficient version.
There's no Ridgeline Hybrid model coming, though a Sport Hybrid model of the Ridgeline's cousin, the Acura MDX, is in the works.