For years trucks have been the workhorses of the automotive world and loved by everyone who’s ever needed to tow a trailer, haul a load of mulch or load up an ATV. As good as trucks are at getting difficult tasks done, they come with some compromises. Ride quality isn’t as good as other vehicles, driving dynamics aren’t the best and they lack easily lockable trunk-like storage, making trucks somewhat poor choices for the everyday American family. That’s where the Ridgeline comes in.
Honda took its usual practical route to building a vehicle and applied it to the pickup market. The company worked to eliminate all the things that people dislike about trucks and made the 2017 Ridgeline into the ultimate pickup for the average American family. While the company tried to do this before with the first generation Ridgeline, the polarizing styling turned some people off and over the first generation’s lifetime, fuel economy and the level of technology made it obsolete long before Honda removed it from the lineup. Now, Honda has a new Ridgeline, and we got to spend a few days with it in San Antonio, Texas.
Let us be clear up front. The 2017 Ridgeline is not like an F-150 or a Silverado. Heck, it’s not even like a Tacoma or Colorado –
Honda’s approach to building a practical, unibody truck came out of studying how and why people use trucks. They found that most truck owners use their trucks as commuter vehicles during the week and then use them to tow and haul things on the weekend. Almost all of those people never tow more than 5,000 lbs. These weekend warriors wanted a smoother ride and better handling because they’re primarily using the truck no different than most people use a regular car or CUV.
The Ridgeline drives so much like a car that if you couldn’t see the bed in the rearview mirror, you’d probably forget you were in a truck. The interior is sleek, simple, spacious and comfortable. It looks a lot like the Honda Pilot’s interior and is
Driving the Ridgeline isn’t exciting. Instead of the typical truck ride, which actually requires a lot of input from the driver, you kind of just sit there. With the
“ The Ridgeline is probably one of the best family vehicles out there. ”
The truck isn’t meant to be fun to drive or ride like a regular truck. The goal of the Ridgeline is to be a truck that works for the everyday person who has to drop the kids off to school, get to the office, go pick the kids up, grab some groceries for dinner and then head for home. Oh, and they may need to tow a speed boat to and from the lake a few times a year and get a load of mulch or gravel every once in a while. In short, they’re too busy worrying about practical things to care how their truck handles on the twisties. They just want it to be comfortable and easy to use. The Ridgeline definitely fits the bill and is probably one of the best family vehicles out there.
The most interesting thing about how the Ridgeline drives is Honda’s i-VTM4 AWD system. The torque vectoring of the AWD system does wonders to get power to the wheels that really need it. It makes the Ridgeline extremely easy to drive in just about any condition, something we came to learn when Honda had us take the Ridgeline through an off-road course. Even on dusty trails and muddy paths little effort is needed to make the truck go where you want it. There are drive modes you can toggle through – normal, snow, mud and sand – so the distribution of power is better suited to the conditions. They work well, with noticeable changes in performance, but even in normal mode, the AWD system is impressive. We found little need to switch to any other mode. While we don’t anticipate many Ridgeline owners doing much off-roading, power to all four wheels is definitely important when the weather turns bad.
Towing with the Ridgeline is as easy as doing anything else. One Honda rep kept saying, “it’s pretty uneventful right?” We had to agree. When you’re towing a trailer, uneventful is exactly what you want. We got a chance to tow about 3,600 lbs. and the Ridgeline performed exactly how we hoped it would. You could feel the weight of the trailer, but the little truck was un-phased by the load. Towing is where the Ridgeline falls behind some of the competition (the Chevrolet Colorado can tow up to 7,000 lbs.), but Honda explained that less than 6 percent of people who tow recreationally will ever tow more than 5,000 lbs (the Ridgeline’s maximum). Most people only ever tow a small boat trailer or camper for family getaways.
When it comes to family vehicles, a locking trunk is a huge plus and the Ridgeline has big one. Groceries are no problem, and if you have an event you're supposed to bring drinks to, you can stick an 82-quart cooler in there. If you don’t have a cooler, just dump a few bags of ice in the trunk and stick your drinks right
The trunk isn’t the only thing that's well thought out. Every feature of the Ridgeline was designed with a purpose. The in-bed audio, which utilizes things called audio exciters to turn the bed into a giant speaker, basically makes the Ridgeline a tailgater’s fantasy. You can even hook up a TV in the rear of the truck via an auxiliary power outlet in the bed to make frat boys drool. The bed is good for work as well as play, being perfectly wide enough to lay drywall sheets flat, although they will stick out quite a bit due to the short bed length. The spacious rear seating area is big enough to fit a bicycle in, so you don’t have to put it in the bed. And no matter what you toss in the
While the 2017 Ridgeline is an innovative and impressive vehicle in most respects, we weren’t without some minor gripes. For instance, there’s no manual shift mode. While this isn’t too much of an issue because the 3.5-liter V6 paired with the 6-speed automatic transmission performs so well, we still want the option. Also, the little donut tire accessible via the trunk was a bit of a letdown. Honda should give Ridgeline buyers a big-boy spare. Also, there are virtually no options to change the truck’s configuration. There are different trim levels, but those do nothing to change the overall truck. We’re sure this is a cost effective way of building a pickup, but in a segment that is full of highly customizable vehicles (the Tacoma comes in five different models all with at least a few trims) the Ridgeline kind of feels like the un-customizable iPhone on the shelf next to all the Android phones. People seem to love the fact that Apple did all the difficult thinking for them, though, so maybe Honda’s on to something.
Specification and Pricing
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission
Towing Capacity: 5,000 lbs.
Payload: 1,584 lbs.
Fuel Efficiency: 19 city, 26 highway (2WD) / AWD 18 city, 25 highway
Price: (2WD) MSRP $29,475-$35,930 / (AWD) MSRP $31,275-$42,870