Mountain Wheels: Honda’s newly truckified Ridgeline offers ample cargo and passenger room
I had a Zoom meeting in April, back when that was standard operating procedure, offering me a virtual overview of the all-new and more truck-like version of Honda’s successful midsized pickup, the Ridgeline.
I see today from my notes that I totally disregarded the main message of that presentation: “Ridgeline is an all-wheel drive standard truck that’s all new from the A-pillar forward. But it’s not made for rock crawling. People who want that style and image should buy a Honda quad instead.”
Gosh. Maybe that makes more sense as I look back at very nearly getting myself into real off-road trouble up on one of those heinous Clear Creek County mining trails a few weeks ago when I actually got to drive the 2021 version of the Ridgeline.
I was perhaps over-excited as it was a very showy Honda Performance Division build of the truck, with massive plastic fender flares; 18-inch, gold-colored alloy wheels; moderately aggressive all-terrain tires; plus a unique grille and more decals than a late-1970s van. All of that at the $2,800 option, on top of the AWD Sport model’s $36,490 base price. Oh, and it was red, too. That was probably it.
Power comes from a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter, V-6, giving it a pretty reliable 23 to 25 mpg but occasionally requiring steady pedal pressure on uphill highway drives, consistent with everyone else in this category.
The good news is that the versatile and exceptionally pleasant-to-drive Ridgeline is built with an integrated unibody construction that makes it feel less bonky and truck-like than Ranger, Frontier and everyone in Colorado’s Tacoma.
That gives it a grounded feeling during regular usage and a cabin that, while a bit austere in design, is more spacious and less knees-in-the-face than all of that midsize competition. As my Honda Zoom session noted, it’s not just simply a Pilot with a bed — in this case, a nearly 64-inch-long, 50-inch-wide bed, complete with a gigantic, lockable, water-tight storage tub hidden under the deck.
But it is also not supposed to be a Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, even with those chunky tires, a slightly widened track width and the new, very aggressive and truck-like face. There’s no AWD mode switchgear inside – you can select traction modes that offer different responses in mud, sand and snow – and the standard ride height is pretty standard, complete with air skirts under the front fascia to help give it a more aerodynamic ride, but are only about six inches off the road.
I of course ignored all of that and in my traditional Central City-area test chute, it performed marvelously. Give it a little time and its i-VTM4 AWD system very capably clambered all the way up a steep and dusty slope, gingerly tip-toed over rocks and even cleared a huge rock outcrop on the way down.
This of course led me to believe it was a good idea to head down Hamlin Gulch Road, just north of Fall River Road, even though a threesome of kids on dirt bikes had passed me, then turned around and headed the other direction. Plus the internet-famous sign declaring that this is a real 4×4 road, for all of you rental car/GPS route dum-dums. Ugh.
The good news is that Ridgeline survived everything I threw at it. Plus, I had the good sense to do a very challenging quarter-mile in reverse and a 16-point backing turn to avoid the shelf road outcrop I later saw in YouTube videos that even scares the pants off drivers of lifted Wranglers.
The Ridgeline’s length — while certainly beneficial for hauling actual loads of building supplies, moving boxes across town or even dirt bikes — made it a little sketchy when the single-lane routes turned to boulder fields and I needed to bug out.
Again, should have read the notes and consulted the maps before venturing forth, but the truck did about 150% more than it was built to do. And as a Honda underneath, you know that reliability of that VTEC engine and the rest of the components will far outpace at least the domestic midsize competition.
Other niceties added in this mostly external update include an actual volume knob on the radio, an optional truck bed audio system and, well, a starting price that’s lower than Tacoma, which is a big deal. It can also tow up to 5,000 pounds and carry a 1,583-pound payload.
More importantly, it comes with a five-star safety rating. I would just maybe steer clear of the really hairy off-road stuff, unless you’re sporting some SEMA build with a lifted chassis.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Golden. Contact him at email@example.com.
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