There’s no denying it; trucks are getting softer, but that’s not such a bad thing.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Power: 280 hp, 262 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 18 city, 25 hwy, 21 combined (4x4)
US Price: Starts at $29,475
Don’t get me wrong, I love old pickup trucks, but those seriously yearning for the days of grandad’s three-on-the-tree Chevy are blinded by nostalgia, as today’s crop of pickup trucks are more comfortable and capable than ever before. In fact, from behind the wheel, modern trucks are beginning to feel more like large crossovers, and none more so than the Honda Ridgeline.
Honda’s small pickup is returning to the market in 2016 after taking a short hiatus, with many of the essentials staying the same as the previous generation truck. The Ridgeline continues to be a unibody vehicle riding on fully independent suspension, packing a bed that features a trunk and dual-hinged tailgate.
It Looks Like a Real Truck
But Honda knew that its small truck needed a big makeover, and the first big change is immediately apparent; the Ridgeline now looks more like a traditional pickup. Though the original truck has its oddball charm, the large buttresses connecting the cab and box give it a pseudo-truck appearance. Honda even says that most of the Ridgeline’s conquest buyers don’t come from other pickups — they come from crossovers and SUVs, driving home the point that not many folks were cross shopping the Ridgeline with trucks like the Toyota Tacoma.
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Honda is hoping the new classic truck style will change that perception. A boost in power doesn’t hurt either.
The revised i-VTEC 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection now puts out 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, with peak hp hitting at 6,000 rpm while all that torque is available at 4,700 rpm. Fuel economy has been improved thanks to the engine upgrade, netting an EPA rating of 21 mpg with four-wheel drive. In our two days spent with the truck, we managed a 22 mpg rating over 150 miles of mixed driving.
That puts Honda’s pickup at the top of the midsize segment when it comes to gasoline-powered pickups, with only the Chevy Colorado diesel offering better mileage. Best of all, the Ridgeline doesn’t pay for its good fuel economy with a lack of power. It feels plenty fast at full throttle, with Honda claiming the fastest zero-to-60-mph time in the segment.
Doesn’t Drive Like a Truck
One other area is clearly dominated by the Ridgeline in the midsize segment: handling. Thanks in large part to a new torque vectoring system that can re-route power to each individual wheel depending on the situation, the Ridgeline rotates well through corners, and even jumping on the throttle mid-corner on a dirt road won’t upset the back end. The fully independent suspension also plays a large part in this, taking away some of the stiff and choppy ride associated with leaf springs and a solid rear axle. Now, this does take some of the fun, tail-happy pickup truck nature away from the Ridgeline, but it adds confidence and an absolute sense that the truck is under control at all times.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Toyota Tacoma Review
A responsive and communicative steering rack also does wonders, allowing the truck to be both confident and comfortable while cruising down a rutted dirt road or interstate. Interior noise is well muted, though no better than the Chevy Colorado or GMC Canyon, which are both known to be quiet trucks.
New technology also helps to make the Ridgeline safer. Honda Sensing is now available on the truck, bringing along adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert and a blind spot monitor. Out of all those systems, it is the lane keep assist that makes itself known most often and can be a little intrusive when driving on the highway. It works to keep your vehicle in the center of the lane, which is ideal, but even the slightest amount of drifting, the truck pulls against your hands rather hard to right itself, feeling unnatural.
An all-new interior in the Ridgeline offers style and substance, with clear layout and operation along with good looks from piano black accents and tan leather on some models. The frustrating lack of a volume knob aside, Honda’s infotainment system worked well, offering tons of connectivity options with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and its own set of built-in functions including great Garmin navigation.
So it drives better than its competition, but how does the Ridgeline handle heavy labor? First, there have been some changes in the bed to help with hauling, the most important of which is a new 1,584-lb payload rating. An extra four inches of bed length have been added, bringing total length to 5′ 4″, fully usable for an ATV or dirtbike to fit in the back. Eight tie-down points also come standard, set up in convenient locations in the corners of the bed both high and low.
The in-floor trunk is still brilliant, but it does come with some downsides. The bed of the Ridgeline is quite shallow compared to its competitors thanks in part to the lid of the trunk, which also makes the load-in height of the Ridgeline’s bed even higher. Opening the tailgate to the side does help you to get nice and close to the rear of the bed, but it’s still a high lift to get your cargo into the rear of the small truck.
Two more bed innovations have arrived for the Ridgeline, an in-bed audio system and a 400-watt plug in the bed. You can now crank your tunes through six exciters that turn the bed walls into speakers, offering a great tailgating option or an easy way to bring music to the worksite. As for the plug, it’s excellent to have it in the bed, but it only offers two prongs. While many 400w devices don’t need that third prong, it still seems like an oversight on Honda’s part.
Towing is also in the Ridgline’s skillset, with the 5,000-lb maximum tow rating remaining for the truck. Tooling around Texas hill country with a 4,000-lb load of Honda ATVs, the dynamics of the Ridgeline were not upset by the load, with the truck keeping its planted nature intact. Even with the extra weight pushing from the rear, corners were not enough to ever make it feel like the load was controlling the truck. The only part of the truck that felt strained with the trailer was the engine, as it has to reach high into its rev-range to access the power needed to pull the truck over hills.
Honda doesn’t anticipate a lot of folks buying the Ridgeline specifically for trailering, but still, the lack of a tow/haul mode seems like an oversight. There is also no integrated trailer brake controller, but in this segment, that’s normal, with only the diesel-powered GM trucks getting one.
We also had the chance to take the Ridgeline into the dirt to test the truck’s off-road chops and its new off-road setting, which includes mud, sand and snow. It tailors the truck’s power delivery and gear shifts to better suit the drive for each situation. For example, we drove through a sand pit in sand mode, which starts the truck in second gear and allows it to have a nice smooth take off.
There are two issues we noticed with the rig when it hits the trails, though. First is the simple fact that the articulation from the independent rear suspension will never be as good as a truck with a solid axle. Next, the sound deadening in the floor seemed to be lackluster, as hitting big bumps and potholes brought forth a lot of unwanted suspension noise.
What Does it Cost?
A base Ridgeline will set you back $29,475 (not including delivery), which nets you a front-wheel drive model. That makes this Honda nearly $9,000 more expensive than a Chevy Colorado to start, although that Chevy has a four-cylinder and a regular cab, where as the Ridgeline is only offered as a crew cab with one bed length. Moving to the top-trim model, this Honda pickup will cost $42,870, which is competitive with what other small fully loaded pickups are selling for these days.
The Verdict: 2017 Honda Ridgeline Review
Buyers searching for a pickup truck that will offer comfort and predicability from Monday to Friday, but can then haul their family and toys around the weekend, should certainly consider the new 2017 Honda Ridgeline. The pickup has a lot to offer and is a well-rounded truck.
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