Honda is a world champion in the sedan and SUV segments, but the Japanese giant has never been a truck contender.
The company pulled its only truck, the slow-selling Ridgeline, from the market in 2014. Now it has brought the perky pickup back to America as a 2017 model.
It’s a winner, but it’s a little weird. For better or worse — mostly for better — it’s not really a pickup truck at all.
Sometimes referred to as a sport utility truck, the Ridgeline compares favorably with traditional pickups in multiple ways.
It’s really quiet, almost entirely free of the wind and tire noise that make most trucks a drag to drive on the freeway.
It’s really plush, too, fitted with electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering and independent four-wheel suspension that together provide a cushy, comfortable ride.
Unlike a lot of small and midsize trucks, some of which require a stepladder to gain entry, the Ridgeline sits at slide-in height. That means the ground clearance isn’t great — 7.8 inches — but front and rear legroom and headroom are generous, and the backseat passengers will like having their own climate control zone.
It motors like a sedan, jumping from zero to 60 in a reported 6.4 seconds and accelerating with agility into passing position.
The Ridgeline borrows its powertrain from other products in the Honda domain. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine, which makes 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, can also be found in Honda’s Pilot and sister company Acura’s MDX.
Like the MDX, the Ridgeline comes in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. The model I drove was a top-of-the-line RTL-E version, with all-wheel-drive.
Despite its suburban SUV characteristics, the Ridgeline performed beautifully off the road as well.
Over three hours of canyon carving, I wasn’t even required to engage the special sand, snow or mud driving modes. I left it in “normal” and let the Ridgeline work out the high spots and soft sections on its own.
A very basic two-wheel-drive Ridgeline can be had for about $30,000, with the all-wheel-drive version available as a $1,900 upgrade. The RTL-E costs quite a bit more. But it comes standard with a host of amenities.
Some are for comfort, such as the leather interior, heated steering wheel, heated front seats and illuminated cup holders. (This is attractive, but what problem, exactly, does it solve?),1,0,13>
But others are for utility. The dual-action tailgate swings down, like most tailgates do, but it also swings out like a refrigerator door. It opens to reveal a locking, in-truck “trunk,” which has 7.9 cubic feet of storage space. I found that big enough for two overnight bags and a laptop. (The compact spare tire is down there, too.)
There are also a 2.9-cubic-foot storage compartment under the folding rear seats and a locking glove compartment — a feature I wish more vehicles offered.
Despite the short look of the bed, Honda says it will accommodate a 4-by-8 sheet of plywood, and I proved it will carry a motorcycle — with the tailgate down, anyway.
A trailer hitch is standard, and the workmanlike truck bed comes standard with an array of tie-down cleats. The bed is lighted, which is handy for loading things at night. It also has exterior speakers and a 400-watt AC inverter, which would allow you to plug in a big-screen TV, play music and find other ways to disturb the peace or ruin a camping trip.
The interior is similarly practical. Despite a dizzying array of buttons on the steering wheel — 20 of them, by my count — most of the vehicle’s functions are intuitive and within easy reach. Although I had persistent difficulty getting the Ridgeline and my iPhone to get along, the audio quality was very good. (The Ridgeline is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatible.)
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