Built for everyday practicality and utility
In everyday life, there are many examples of the benefits of working in harmony with nature.
When first venturing out beyond home, parents teach their children to walk with traffic. By going with the grain, a carpenter can achieve a cleaner result on his piece of millwork. Even in competitive sports, one of the secrets of a successful team is one who takes maximum advantage of what the defence gives them.
Wherever you look, there are countless other examples that express why it is better to work with the flow rather than push against it.
Honda’s Ridgeline is one perfect scenario of how Honda Canada has gone with the flow and harmonized with the changing ways that people use pickup trucks these days. Not just as strictly work trucks, but also as their daily drivers for work, play, and fun all year round.
For North Americans, the pickup truck is somewhat of a sacred cow. Our appetite for trucks caught the interest of Japanese auto manufacturers decades ago now, but the two original manufacturers who have stayed in the game, Toyota and Nissan, have continued to stick to the long-held set of conventions that many truck buyers consider obligatory – four-wheel-drive with low range gearing, a solid rear axle, and body-on-frame construction.
According to the Honda, the Ridgeline is designed not necessarily to steal sales from the more traditional trucks sold in North America. Rather, it is to give the 18 per cent of Honda owners who also have a pickup truck in their garage another option from the same company.
Split personality: A truck that rides like a car
When the Honda Ridgeline first appeared in 2005, many called it a “new type of utility vehicle”. With its car-like unibody construction and transverse powertrain layout, it wasn’t quite a “real” truck, but also not a car.
After a two year hiatus, the all-new redesigned Ridgeline is modelled after the latest generation Honda Pilot, but with many components modified to support truck type duties such as hauling and towing. There is a standard heavy-duty-automatic transmission cooler, a heavy-duty radiator, and pre-wiring for a trailer brake controller.
As before, Honda took some risks approaching the design from a different perspective. They decided to focus on the utility of a pickup but with the ride comfort, ease-of-use, and commanding seating position also found in their Honda Pilot crossover. This is perhaps no surprise the Ridgeline shares the same Honda Global Light Truck Platform as the Pilot.
That being said, Honda R&D stated that over 50 per cent of the Pilot’s chassis components were modified or strengthen for use in the Ridgeline, giving the 2017 model 28 per cent more torsional rigidity over its predecessor.
Thus, the Honda Ridgeline enjoys a ride that no live-axle, body-on-frame vehicle could dream of. It’s all about lightness and composure, car-like body control and smoothness. Here, too, the distinction between light-truck-duty Ridgeline and even-lighter-duty Pilot is appreciable.
Whereas the Pilot can wallow and feel a little sloppy, the Ridgeline’s firmer tuning gives it a more controlled ride. The soft brake pedal and light steering are perhaps a little too smooth, but at least their operation is progressive.
What is old is new again
Honda has chosen to keep many features that made the first generation Ridgeline unique. Indeed it shares the same unibody architecture as the Pilot SUV and the next-generation Odyssey minivan.
While the previous generation Ridgeline’s unique C-pillar design allowed for good aerodynamics and reduced turbulence between the cab and tailgate, traditional truck buyers were turned off by its unusual looking design.
For the second generation vehicle, the back half of the Ridgeline now looks like a standard pickup truck, but the smooth front half is more or less identical to the Pilot. There is even an artificial character line to separate the “bed” and the “cab” portions of the truck, just like a traditional pickup truck buyer is used, so as to provide for greater appeal.
According to one of the Ridgeline’s body development engineers, "Utilizing fully boxed frame members for the body sides and rear tailgate frame, the truss-style rear inner construction contributes to the new Ridgeline’s more conventional three-box design profile allowing for the elimination of the buttress-style body structure" of the first generation Ridgeline.
One powertrain choice, but it’s a good one
With 280 horsepower and 262 lbs-ft of torque, Honda’s single engine option, their 3.5-litre corporate V6 engine, offers best in class fuel economy. While it doesn’t necessarily encourage you to drive quickly and is somewhat uninspiring in nature, it is very smooth and unobtrusive in its operation.
There is more than enough power tor passing manoeuvres, and paired with the six-speed automatic transmission with Grade Logic Control, the shifts are swift and seemless. The 2017 Ridgeline’s transmission has 20 per cent wider gear ratios, including a lower first gear and higher top gear, for more power off the line and improved fuel consumption.
All Canadian Ridgelines come standard with Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) all-wheel-drive system, now 22 per cent lighter than before, as well as Honda’s Intelligent Traction Management System (which has dedicated Snow/Sand/Mud modes).
There are no buttons to push as the system is active all of the time and will switch between front wheel and all-wheel-drive as needed. It can also shuffle power side-to-side in addition to front-to-aft as and when traction is needed.
This wouldn’t be a proper truck review without mentioning towing capacity and payload. The 2017 Ridgeline has a class leading maximum 1,584 pound (718.5 kg) payload capacity (varies by trim) and can tow up to 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg).
Party in the back
The Ridgeline’s cargo bed has been lengthened by four inches, to 64.0 inches, making it the longest standard equipment bed compared to the offerings from Nissan, Toyota, and General Motors. However, Honda builds the Ridgeline in only one cab configuration, one wheelbase, and one bed length.
With the Ridgeline’s wheelbase and overall length having grown by three inches (compared to the previous generation), the new dimensions put it right in the mix with the current crop of crew-cab, short-box, mid-sized pickups.
The bed itself is built out of steel-reinforced Sheet Molding Composite (SMC) which is dent resistant, corrosion resistant, and covered by a non-slip coating. Under the bed lies high strength steel-reinforced crossmembers to support loads.
The optional in-bed audio system, standard equipment on my top-of-the-line Black Edition test vehicle, literally turns the pickup truck bed walls into speakers, allowing you to play a wide variety of music from satellite radio to whatever app is on your smartphone.
The system works via two actuators, one on each side of the bed wall. The actuators vibrate the panels turning both into large audio speakers. Since there is no exposed speaker grille, the system is damage resistant and waterproof. There is even a 115V/150W to 400W AC inverter in the bed, enough to power an LED flat screen television for the ultimate tailgate party!
If you need the utility of a pickup truck, but are not willing to put up with the rougher riding and lesser driving experience associated by a traditional body-on-frame truck, this second generation Honda Ridgeline is a stronger offering.
The truck is better than ever, and unmatched in its smoothness and comfort. As before, it is filled with all sorts of innovative features such as its lockable under bed storage and a dual action tailgate.
Catering to the creature comfort wants and needs of the daily driver, the Ridgeline can even be equipped the latest in driver aids that are more often found on luxury cars. These include radar-guided adaptive cruise control (ACC), Honda's lane keeping assist (LKAS), and a semi-autonomous steering assistance system. There is even a heated steering wheel, and heated/cooled front seats!
No matter how it is outfitted, the Ridgeline is a no-brainer of a truck. But since perception is a strong motivator in the light truck segment, the question is whether practicality and innovation will win over credibility.
With the crossover segment booming and buyers flocking to car-like SUVs, here’s hoping that those shopping for a truck won’t overlook the Ridgeline. While its long list of class-leading attributes may not be traditional pickup truck virtues, they’re definite advantages whether you consider this to be a pickup truck, or merely a new type of utility vehicle.
More photos below: