By Jim Bray
Honda's odd-looking pickup truck of old is gone, replaced by a new generation - its second - that brings a much more conventional demeanour to the marketplace.
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And other than some "Honda-isms" that mar an otherwise great interior, it could be the perfect choice for people who need a pickup truck sometimes, but whose hauling needs aren't heavy duty and who prefer the driving feel of an SUV or crossover to that of a "regular" truck.
Part of the reason for that different feel from other pickups is because the Ridgeline isn't a "regular" pickup truck at all. It features a unibody, er, body, which is more like today's cars and SUV's than the "body on frame" construction of the garden variety pickup. This makes the Ridgeline feel more like a Honda Pilot than, say, a Toyota Tacoma, and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, as a "not a truck guy" kind of guy, I'd look to the Ridgeline before any other pickup truck on the market if I ever needed to buy a truck.
Well, except for the Honda-isms the company still hasn't figured out.
Those "isms" include such silly oversights as not giving you a volume knob for the audio system: recent Hondas I've driven have used a virtual sliding potentiometer on the centre stack's LCD screen (to be fair, there's also a volume control on the steering wheel, but that doesn't help front seat passengers) and it's difficult to use, especially on curves or bumps. Ditto for their radio station tuning: no knob, so you have to tune via the LCD screen, a recipe for distracted driving.
Hondas of late have also been a real pain if you want to pair your Android cell phone (I don't know if this issue affects iPhones), and their voice recognition is also clunky and annoying. And don't get me started on the "BRAKE!!!!!" warning if the Honda thinks you're about to rear end another vehicle, even if you aren't, and the audible seat belt warning that hollers if you undo the belt before the vehicle is stopped.
Other than these annoyances - each of which is fairly minor in the grand scheme of things but when added together could be a deal breaker - the 2017 Ridgeline is a terrific vehicle, and its new exterior treatment is a lot less dumpy-looking than its first generation.
According to Honda, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline has been redesigned from the ground up to "offer both recreational and work users a higher degree of utility and versatility in a modern, rugged and sophisticated midsize pickup with the largest and most flexible cabin in its class." I can't argue that; you may not want to drive a Bobcat into its bed, but it'll delight in accommodating your dirt bikes, or tents, or your toolboxes.
Honda also claims a 5,000 pound towing capability on the higher trim levels and, depending on the trim level, the Ridgeline also offers a "class leading maximum 1,584 pound payload capacity."
The new Ridgeline sits on Honda's Global Light Truck Platform (as does the Pilot) and features fully independent suspension fore and aft, which helps give it the "SUV-like" driving feel that eschews traditional trucks' bounciness for a tauter driving and handling experience. It even manages to feel kind of sporty, basically like a Pilot with a bed.
And, since it's a Ridgeline, it also has a trunk!
Ridgelines get their power from a direct-injected 3.5 litre i-VTEC V-6 engine coupled with a six speed automatic transmission and the new and optional Intelligent Variable Torque Management torque-vectoring all-wheel drive the company says is "the most advanced AWD technology in the midsize truck class." This supposedly results in "class-leading…fuel economy ratings along with superior all-weather traction and handling capability and robust medium-duty off-road performance."
Power and torque are just fine. Honda rates the Ridgeline's V6 as having a peak output of 280 horsepower (up 30 from the previous version) with 262 lb.-ft. of torque (up 15). The vehicle is also lighter than before, which makes it even a tad more spry than the old model.
New and/or enhanced features for 2017 include the new, and standard, eight inch Display Audio touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility and an optional new generation navigation system. You can also get Tri-Zone Automatic Climate Control, Push-Button Start, Remote Engine Start, Smart Entry, a power sliding rear window, LED exterior and interior lighting and plenty more.
You can seat five in the Ridgeline, and the rear seat is wide enough to not force its passengers to sign waivers against lawsuits for unwanted touching. The front seats are more comfortable than the rears, which should surprise no one, and the driving position is great. The instrument panel is laid out well and is efficient, not gimmicky. The HVAC controls work well and are easily at hand.
Ridgelines continue to offer their atavistic but cool dual action tailgate, which you can either open downward like a conventional truck's, or to the side like you use to see on 1960's-era domestic station wagons. If you open it to the side, it's easier to put stuff into the bed or trunk.
Thanks to that rear-of-the-bed-mounted trunk, the Ridgeline could just be the perfect tailgating vehicle: you can load it with ice and beer and when the ice melts you can drain it via a plug at the bottom. The trunk is also a great place to store stuff you don't want ripped off from the bed - luggage, for instance, if there isn't room inside the cab.
Depending on the trim level, you can turn the Ridgeline's bed into a gigantic speaker, thanks to what Honda bills as the world's first Truck Bed Audio System, a cool idea with, according to Honda, "six weatherproof audio exciters that transform the bed walls into resonant speakers." There's also AC power available back there, so you could bring along a flat screen TV and Blu-ray player for those times when you really want to annoy campers in the sites near you. Honda says the Truck Bed Audio system will also operate while the vehicle is moving slowly, so you can spread your audio joy even wider.
There's good storage space inside the cabin and the rear seat is a marvel of simplicity when it comes time to stowing it: you can do it with one hand, and when it's stowed (the bottom cushion folded up against the rear wall), you probably have room back there for a bicycle, or maybe a Smart Fortwo.
You can avail yourself of other nice features as well, available as options such as a heated steering wheel and rear seats, and ventilated front seats.
Naturally, you can get the full meal deal of safety stuff, from the usual belts and bags to available nannies like adaptive cruise control, that damn forward collision warning, emergency braking, lane keeping assist, lane-departure warning, and blind spot warning.
Ridgelines start at $36,590 CAD (for comparison, the Toyota Tacoma V6 starts at $40,445 for the four door "double cab" version) and you can option/trim level it up to over 50 grand for the Black Edition.
Traditional truck owners may look down their noses at the Ridgeline's compromise between truck and SUV (does that make the Ridgeline a crossover?), and undoubtedly with good reason depending on what you need to do with your truck.
I have a feeling, however, that the Ridgeline will still find a good audience with others who need some truck functionality but prefer a more car-like experience, a scenario in which the new Ridgeline does a really good job.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
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