The Toyota Tacoma is as traditional a truck as you can get.
It features body-on-frame construction, a live rear axle, and plenty of ground clearance. Thanks to these attributes, it can tow, haul and off-road as well or better than any other midsize pickup on the market today. These traits have also made it a popular option; Toyota sells every Tacoma it can build.
How could a modified minivan ever compete with this proven winner? Well, product planners at Honda think they’ve got the Tacoma and similar rigs snookered with their all-new Ridgeline. It carries itself in an unabashedly car-like fashion, which is convenient since that’s basically what it is with a unibody structure and transversely mounted powertrain. Innovation is this pickup’s stock-in-trade.
Gruff and Tumble
Toyota’s offering in this Quick Comparison is all about variety. There are two cab configurations, two engines, three transmissions and a choice of either rear- or four-wheel drive. There’s a Tacoma for practically every type of customer.
The top powertrain is a 3.5-liter gasoline V6 that delivers 278 horsepower along with 265 lb-ft of torque. It can be paired with a six-speed transmission, either manual or automatic, which is a breath of fresh air in a segment where three-pedal driving is nearly extinct. Aside from this, there’s also a base 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine, but it’s only good for 159 asthmatic horsies.
Underscoring its traditional capability, the Tacoma can tow up to 6,800 pounds when properly equipped. This far exceeds what the Ridgeline can drag, which maxes out at 5,000 pounds.
Despite its impressive spec sheet, this Toyota doesn’t feel particularly sturdy. When equipped with four-wheel-drive, the ride is jiggly and its structure feels rather flexible.
At low revs, there’s not a lot of torque to be had; the V6 needs a good head of steam before it comes alive. However, once it’s turning at a decent pace, there’s plenty of power.
When it’s time to slow things down, the brake pedal is quite soft, almost like stepping on a water balloon, which isn’t confidence-inspiring. Appallingly, the Tacoma still comes with rear drum brakes. What is this, 1979?
Likewise, this truck’s interior is somewhat disappointing. The driving position is very low to the floor and quite uncomfortable. As for the remainder of the interior, it gets the job done, though it’s not quite as modern or stylish as what you find in other midsize pickups. Sturdy, functional and easy to figure out best describe it.
Overall, the Tacoma is exceedingly truck-like. It’s great for towing, off-roading, or hauling heavy loads, and given Toyota’s reputation for quality it should last – literally – forever, but like a game of tic-tac-toe, for every X there’s an O, every advantage is countered by a downside, which makes it something of a mixed bag. Will the Ridgeline fare better?
|Vehicle||Toyota Tacoma||Advantage||Honda Ridgeline|
|Engine||3.5-liter V6||-||3.5-liter V6|
|Torque||262 lb-ft||Tacoma||265 lb-ft|
|Transmission||Six-speed automatic||-||Six-speed automatic|
|Curb Weight||4,445 lb||Ridgeline||4,259 lb|
|EPA Fuel Economy (MPG)||20 combined||Ridgeline||21 combined|
|CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km)||12.0 combined||Ridgeline||11.3 combined|
|US Price (Estimated)||$38,995||Tacoma||$42,270|
|CAN Price (Estimated)||$51,322||Tacoma||$55,633|
A New Take on an Old Formula
After a just few dozen turns of the wheels, Honda’s dramatically friendlier on-road performance becomes obvious. It drives more like a high-riding Accord than you might expect, opposed to the Tacoma which is decidedly Conestoga-esque. None of the Toyota’s shudders or shakes are present in this highly rigid, unibody trucklette. The Ridgeline’s ride motions, NVH and general comfort are a step or two above what its rival offers.
The Tacoma gives buyers lots of choice, but that’s not the case with Honda’s Ridgeline. Just one engine is available, a 3.5-liter V6. It delivers a stout 280 horsepower with 262 lb-ft of torque. Likewise, whether you get a base RT model or the range-topping Black Edition only a single transmission is offered, a six-speed automatic.
Lack of choice aside, there is at least one powertrain option in this truck: you can get either front-wheel drive or the company’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) all-wheel-drive system.
But where this pickup really shines is on the innovation front. It offers features and amenities you won’t find on other trucks at any price. There’s an in-bed trunk for securing smaller items; the tailgate moves in two directions, both folding down and swinging to one side, which makes loading different types of cargo easy; you can even get speakers and a 400-Watt power outlet in the bed for maximum versatility.
Beyond all of this, Honda Sensing is also on the options menu, the firm’s suite of advanced driver-assistance features. It includes things like lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and more.
The Ridgeline’s maximum payload is rated at around 1,500 pounds, though it varies slightly with different trim levels. Surprisingly, this is nearly identical to what the Tacoma can handle despite its traditional frame.
Driving the Ridgeline is a relaxed experience. It’s smooth, quiet and every bit as easy to live with as an Odyssey or Pilot. Sure, its steering is numb but this isn’t a sports car, it’s a pickup truck, and one that’s extremely versatile.
The Verdict: 2017 Honda Ridgeline vs Toyota Tacoma
If there’s a clear-cut winner in this quick comparison, it’s almost certainly the Ridgeline. Honda’s offering is simply more modern and livable than the aging Toyota Tacoma, though, admittedly, it’s probably nowhere near as capable off road or while towing.
Aside from its luxury-like refinement, the Ridgeline also brings tons of innovation to a dyed-in-the-wool vehicle segment. But its fresh ideas aren’t just frivolous add-ons, this pickup could probably do 75 percent of what 75 percent of today’s full-size truck buyers need all in a smaller, lighter more efficient package, something that underscores its victory here.