What makes a truck? For traditionalists it requires two things: A body and a frame. But since it was announced to the public over a decade ago, the Honda Ridgeline stood to challenge this tried and tested law of truck. While it hasn’t really taken much bite out of the bigguns like the F-150 or GM products, it has always been popular with fans. This all-new Ridgeline spawns off the freshly minted Pilot platform, and it’s immediately evident in the nose. Everything but the Pilot’s transmission are now in the Ridgeline. It’s now got the same modern styling inside and out.
(Editor’s Note: Dan is our resident Canadian family man, so this review reflects that perspective. Jesus, our man from Texas, also covered the Ridgeline from a “truck country” perspective. To view his take, click here.)
Is the Ridgeline a truck? No. Not by the traditional standards. However, it does pack a practicality three-punch that other light duty trucks can’t touch. For urbanites who want a truck, but don’t really need a full-size, the Honda Ridgeline is the perfect tool for the job.
Strengths for the Honda Ridgeline come from its roots; the Pilot and much anticipated Odyssey. Because these vehicles are already functional powerhouses, Honda engineers have boosted and industrialized many of them into the Ridgeline. It’s immediately obvious when the height is compared. The Ridgeline stands a bit taller on its feet than the Pilot, much more so than the Odyssey. As a vehicle to drive, the work done to strengthen the Ridgeline can be felt. There’s no body wiggle in the bed like some weaker C-frame trucks. Ride is stiff, but comfortable. It straddles the line between truck and SUV, which makes sense.
On the highway, or in the city, ride is surprisingly smooth and muted. It’s chasis makes the Ridgeline ideal for navigating urbanite obstacles. Things like busy parking lots or packed streets are more manageable than in a full-size. But, because of the beefed suspension, you haven’t fully lost most of the visibility or ride height a full-size truck gives you. Reduced overall weight make an already peppy 3.5L V6 feel downright spritely. Power is shifted through a six speed transmission, which feels more like an eight speed. Highway and city fuel mileage is about what you’d expect from a minivan or SUV, but it’s excellent for a truck.
Honda chose to separate the Ridgeline from the rest of the pack by loading the latest HondaSense technology into the base model. Entry level pricing also gets you Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. This means, even at the bargain basement LX trim, the Ridgeline has adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and forward collision warning and avoidance technologies. If you use and Android or Apple phone, which the vast majority of people do, you get a full suite of infotech thanks to Android Auto or Apple Car play. While this Touring level tester had Honda’s navigation system, Google Maps works quite nicely in its place. Word of caution, though: It’s can get data heavy. There are a lot of toys on offer at base trim, which should make the Ridgeline an attractive option.
At top trim, the Ridgeline feels luxurious. Touring trim also adds their class exclusive 400W Truck-Bed audio system. At first it felt like a novelty, but at a big Easter family gathering, it proved to be a useful source of outdoor music and entertainment. Touring trim also comes with full LED headlights. Their worth mentioning because the IIHS has started testing headlight functionality. Among all the trims of all mid and full sized trucks, the Ridgeline Touring’s LED lights were the only to score a G, or good, rating. Standard trim lights scored poorly. Because the Ridgeline borrows the same structure as the Pilot and upcoming Odyssey, you know it’s safe. No wonder it was a 2017 TopSafety Pick+, and aced all tests.
There are many things the Ridgeline does that others in it class can’t. For families, you’re hard pressed to get three kids seats side to side in the second row. In the Ridgeline, it’s not even a squeeze. Hard stems on the buckles hold them up, which was miraculous when buckling up booster seats. It’s also the only truck in its class that’ll take a full sheet of plywood in the back, full flat. Tailgate has to be down, naturally. This truck is also the only to have a large, weatherproof trunk space under the bed. Access is locked with the vehicle, and is a great place to store luggage that doesn’t fit in the cabin, or tools without sacrificing precious bed space to a box. Access is easy thanks to the dual action tailgate. A composite bed liner is extremely durable, easily handling hard abuse.
The not so good
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Because the Ridgeline is a unibody, sans frame, it doesn’t have the payload or towing its competitors have. Limited to 5,000 pounds, if you aren’t carrying five adults, or just over 1,000 pounds of payload. You lose rigidity that a frame provides, particularly under load. It’s enough weight to handle the vast majority of things an urbanite may use, but any family towing a trailer would quickly reach the limits of the Ridgeline. It’s also not much to look at. The chop line where the Ridgeline differs is harsh. Truth be told, though, it does grow on you.
While the dual function tailgate is great for access, the tailgate itself doesn’t actually lock. This isn’t a new thing for the Ridgeline, however. Current owners will be familiar with both the bed trunk, and lack of locking tailgate. Visually, because this is the El Camino version of the pilot, the walls of the truck bed are not as high as other pickups. They’re actually even lower than the outgoing version of the Ridgeline, despite the box itself being slightly larger.
Trucks are often off-road toys, and Honda has addressed this with an intelligent all wheel drive system. Fully independent suspension may actually be a plus for off-roading, but the system lacks a differential lock up. Locking up the rear diff is essential for getting out of really deep stuff, like mud or snow. We didn’t get to fully test how the intelligent torque vectoring handled non-city streets. Honda has also opted for tried and true over the latest and greatest when it comes to the Ridgeline’s transmission. While the new Pilot has an eight and nine speed, the Odyssey will have both as well, the Ridgeline is stuck with six. While this is in line with most, the F-150 is now rocking a double digit 10 speed transmission. It feels like a lost opportunity to gain another competitive advantage.
(Editor’s Note: The truck reviewed in this article was a Canadian-spec vehicle. Many of the components are available in both countries, but some features may vary. There is no Touring trim in the United States, so pricing is based on the comparable RTL-E version.)
Should I buy this car?
Do you live in the country and own an acreage, or a farm? Do you tow heavy equipment, plow or payload more than 1,500 lbs? Then no. But, if you’re someone who lives in the city, doesn’t tow much, and only wants a pickup for the looks, the Ridgeline is absolutely for you. If we’re honest, there’s not much need for an urbanite to own a full-sized pickup truck. Yet, every 30 seconds or so, we’re out there buying one. The Ridgeline will do 80% of what a full-sized will do, but at less cost. Maintenance is cheaper, and fuel is cheaper. Power is plentiful. The Ridgeline is a functional, family-friendly machine.