Mountain Wheels: Acclaimed Honda Ridgeline comfortably blends truck and passenger worlds
2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD RTL-E
MSRP: $41,370; as tested, $42,270
Powertrain: 280-HP 3.5-liter V-6 with six-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 21 combined (18 city, 25 highway)
An acclaimed regional journalist recently told me that no self-respecting, red-blooded truck buyer would ever purchase a pickup with a Honda nameplate (for the record, I think he drives a ratted-out 4Runner of non-recent vintage).
He might be willing to change his mind after a few days behind the wheel in the 2017 Honda Ridgeline, the entirely reinvented, second-generation version of Honda’s pioneering entry into the mid-sized pickup market.
The new Ridgeline, which debuted last fall, has been such a success that it was named the North American Truck of the Year at this year’s Detroit auto show. And after I got to experience the very well-rounded, comfortable and impressively non-truck-like Ridgeline both in urban driving and on an early season trip to Keystone, I think the praise is quite appropriate. Especially if you opt for the mountain-friendly all-wheel-drive version, though a 2WD version is also available.
It’s also about as American as you can get, having been designed in LA, developed in Ohio and being built in Alabama. Take that, 4Runner snobs.
Let’s address the truck part of the equation first, however, for those who might feel this is still some light-duty offering, akin to those El Camino-styled ‘utes you see in Australia. Ridgeline’s cargo credentials are pretty solid: Its bed will haul over 1,500 pounds of payload (gravel, peat moss or uphill rides for the backcountry boys and girls on Loveland Pass), and (with a custom fiberglass bedliner already installed on mine) is a full 4-foot-2 wide and 5-foot-4 long.
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Then comes the bits you’re not going to find on trucks of a domestic stripe. Under the bed, a gigantic cargo storage bin provides locked storage for goods. The tailgate can either open flat like a traditional truck or swing to the side. And options include an 115V AC power outlet good for 400-watt power charging with the engine running, as well as a cool set of in-bed speakers for some serious tailgating.
That’s all the action in the rear; up front, Ridgeline now looks and drives, for the most part, like a taller, five-passenger blend of Pilot and Accord. The older Ridgeline’s shape was definitely awkward and overly angular, while the new Ridgeline is handsome, well-balanced and maybe even reminiscent of an oversized Subaru Outback, with a full-blown truck bed attached.
Continuing our journey in reverse, the rear seat entirely folds up and allows bike- or box-sized versatility. But you also get a full and comfortable cabin experience with leather seating surfaces. Mine also had a remote power-sliding rear window.
In the cabin, you’ll get a mix of the best of Honda’s new design aesthetic, including the drive-nice-and-they’ll-glow-green eco-indicators on the instrument panel, a gigantic center console storage box with a sliding lid and some piano black paneling to keep it all bright.
Power is ample and Ridgeline is certainly built to handle some more-than-rudimentary off-road conditions, as well. The 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 is modern and efficient and good enough for 25 MPG on the highway, but also a competent feeling of sustained power while heading uphill. Ridgeline is competent enough for 5,000 pounds of trailer, as well.
Ridgeline integrates Honda’s new AWD system, Intelligent Variable Torque Management (the Japanese still like their system names), which is Honda’s version of 4×4 road condition selector switch found on other makes. Here, it’s a button behind the gear shifter that allows you to instantly set up mixtures of throttle, transmission and stability controls to optimize for sand, snow or mud. Intelligent Traction Management also pushes the power to the front and back or side to side for optimum traction, plus a bit of torque vectoring for improved cornering.
Happily the cabin does not have the trifecta of screens seen in Honda passenger vehicles; an 8-inch display on mine offered a blend of Garmin navigation, system controls and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. A satellite-linked navigation system, formerly a pretty Acura-styled add-on, can also be ordered to provide 3-D terrain and road sign imagery as you roll along.
Finally, the Ridgeline’s nose and face are definitely striking, with bright LED running lights around the headlamps, bright fog lamps and a chunky chin plate to give it a more rugged look. A special Black Edition is also available for those who want to roll in a gangster-style American-made Honda truck, oxymoronic as that may be in several ways.
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