Honda's pickup forgoes the typical V8 and ladder frame, but not the capability
If we hear one more pundit claim that the Honda Ridgeline is not a "real" truck, we might have to start a Dukes of Hazzard bar room brawl. Yes, unlike every other pickup truck on the market it uses reinforced unibody construction instead of a ladder frame, bolts in a robust all-wheel drive system versus a heavy 4x4 setup and forgoes V8 power for a V6 engine. The thing is, it will still more than hold its ground against the Dodge Dakota, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier set, and it's a much better riding pickup with fuel economy as good as 9.8 L/100 km (29 mpg) on the highway.
Every Ridgeline model, from the $36,580 base DX to the $45,280 EX-L with navigation, comes with a 3.5-litre SOHC V6 engine, making 250 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. You may remember the powerplant from such mainstream Honda models as the Accord sedan and Odyssey minivan - though it lacks the active cylinder deactivation here. The engine's a notable smooth operator, and mated to the truck's only gearbox - a five-speed automatic - it allows the Ridgeline to tow a respectable 5,000 lbs. and haul 1,550 lbs. of payload in its bed.
The Ridgeline handles and rides noticeably better than its peers. Its construction makes its lighter and more agile on its feet, while Honda's Variable Torque Management four-wheel drive system (VTM-4) and rear independent suspension deliver a ride that's more reminiscent of a crossover vehicle's than a pickup.
Again, this is an arena where the Ridgeline scores highly. Once drivers get past the controversial exterior styling, they'll discover an interior with plenty of room for five as standard, copious storage, power plug-ins and even a good old fashion column shifter (leaving room for a multifunctional centre console). The pickup offers up the same high standard of materials and build quality that made its Civic sibling famous.
For such a large machine, we found sight lines and climbing in and out of the Honda quite easy. Those horse-collar door pulls aside, some of the switchgear is small and not work-glove friendly. Six airbags and stability control are standard and a backup camera is optional.
Here is where the Ridgeline really takes its competitors to tasks. Let's start inside: The rear bench seat can fold up and is split 60/40. A mountain bike will fit inside with the wheels on. What's more, there's all kinds of storage space under that rear seat. Let's move on to the tailgate, which not only drops like other pickups, it also swings to the side. It's no coincidence that the Ridgeline's dent and corrosion-resistant cargo box can hold the Honda toys like ATVs and motorcycles.
The drop/swing tailgate also makes it easier to access the In-Bed Trunk. The latter brilliantly addresses an ongoing issue with other pickups: A huge foot print and a big old cargo bed, but nowhere to store valuables in a clean, dry and convenient place. Because the Ridgeline does not have a ladder frame, there's plenty to room under its box for a sizeable trunk comparable to some midsize sedans.
Typical of Honda products, the Ridgeline shines because it tactfully addresses most of the drawbacks inherent in other mainstream pickup trucks. It's too bad some drivers will pass it by simply because of its off-beat design on top and underneath and the fact that it's not a Ford, Dodge or GM. For those with wider horizons, this Honda pickup is hard to beat.