Half-ton pickup appeals to buyers with active lifestyles
By Nina Russin
Honda was the first automaker to conceive of vehicles as rolling toolboxes. The funky Element quickly won favor among triathletes because of its versatile interior which could be configured to hold multiple bicycles.
When Honda introduced the Ridgeline half-ton pickup truck in 2005 for the 2006 model year, designers used a similar strategy. Since chief engineer, Gary Flint, was a recreational mountain biker, it made sense that the Ridgeline's interior should be roomy enough to provide secure storage for his gear.
By making the second-row of the crew cab more spacious than its competitors and designing the seats to flip up and out of the way, the cab could hold a mountain bike with the front wheel removed.
Its versatile interior is just one of the features which buyers with active lifestyles will love about the Ridgeline. A dual-action tailgate is hinged to both the bottom and side for better cargo bed access. Four cargo lights illuminate the bed at night, making the Ridgeline the ideal choice for a weekend camping trip. A hidden storage area under the cargo bed floor keeps gear which can't fit in the passenger compartment safe and dry.
The Ridgeline tows up to 5000 pounds and has an 1100-pound payload rating. Honda accessories configure the cargo bed to hold motorcycles and ATVs.
A new Sport grade gives the Ridgeline a more stylish exterior, with a blacked-out grille, black headlamp and brake light housings and black 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside the Sport features a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, rubber floor mats, auxiliary jack and tinted rear glass.
Base price is $29,995. An $810 destination charge brings the MSRP to $30,805.
Test drive in Arizona
I spent a few days behind the wheel of the Ridgeline this past week. Although the truck has all-wheel drive with a variable torque management lock button (similar to a locking differential), the black alloy wheels made me hesitant to try any serious off-road trails. Instead, I drove on paved roads northeast of town in bordering the Tonto National Forest.
I wanted to see how well Honda's 3.5-liter V-6 VTEC engine would handle urban traffic and elevation changes. The Ridgeline is a heavy vehicle: curb weight is just over 4500 pounds. Unlike many competitors, Honda uses a five-speed automatic transmission in lieu of a six-speed box. My concerns were that the transmission might produce more shift shock during hard acceleration, and that fuel economy could suffer from the lack of a second overdrive gear.
Although the automatic transmission is a smooth performer, fuel economy is not particularly good by today's standards. The EPA-estimated 17 mile-per-gallon fuel economy which was competitive just a few years back seems low as compared to other vehicles in the segment.
The engine itself is a beautiful piece of machinery, with excellent response throughout the power band. The block produces almost as much torque, 247 foot-pounds, as it does horsepower. Peak torque is available at 4300 rpm, for excellent acceleration in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range.
The block reaches peak horsepower at 5700 rpm: well below its 6300 rpm redline. As a result, drivers can access maximum power for passing on the highway.
I was pleased with the truck's maneuverability through dense freeway traffic. Outside of town, the engine had plenty of power for the 2000-foot elevation gain during the test drive.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the truck quickly if necessary, in linear fashion.
Unlike many pickup trucks, the Ridgeline is unibody constructed and utilizes a four-wheel independent suspension. The idea is to give passengers a car-like ride. The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link suspension with trailing arms in the back. Stabilizer bars on both axles prevent excessive roll in the corners.
Along one of the rural roads, I took some decreasing radius turns and sharp dips at speed to see how well the suspension could recover. In both cases, I was pleased with the response.
A power rack-and-pinion steering system provides more assist at low speeds for maneuverability, while maintaining a heavier feel on the highway for on-center response. Turning diameter isn't especially good: 42.6 feet. This is due in part to the truck's long wheelbase (122-inches), and also to the large wheels.
Since the bed is relatively short, overall length is a reasonable 206.9 inches. I had no problems parking the Ridgeline in my garage.
Visibility around the exterior is surprisingly good, considering the truck's thick rear pillars. I had no problems monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes on the highway. Although the test truck did not have a rearview camera, I was able to drive in reverse and park with relative ease.
Engineers did a good job of isolating the cabin from road, wind and engine noise, making it easy for both rows of passengers to converse.
Designers did an excellent job of utilizing space inside the passenger cabin. I was impressed with the ease of access and egress to the second row. The rear door is as large as the front and is hinged at the B-pillar. Because the truck has no floor tunnel, three adults will fit comfortably in back.
Grab handles on the A and B pillars also help with access and egress. There are large rings around the door handles which passengers can also grab onto. I would guess that this saves wear and tear on the handles themselves over the life of the vehicle.
Manual seat adjustments for the captain's chairs up front are easy to use. I had plenty of lower lumbar support for my two-hour test drive. The steering wheel tilts but does not telescope, which might be a problem for smaller drivers. A dead pedal keeps the driver's left foot in an ergonomic position during long drives.
Knobs for the center stack controls are big enough to use with gloves on. I found both the gauge cluster and center stack displays easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions.
Cupholders in the center console will hold everything from 12-ounce cans to liter bottles. There is a large tray in front of the center console bin for holding moderate-sized packs and small computers. A tray with three segments above the glovebox is handy for cell phones. The center console bin is shallow enough to secure small electronic devices. A fold-down armrest in the second row adds cupholders for rear passengers.
Overhead reading lamps over both rows of seating illuminate the interior at night.
The Honda Ridgeline comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, vehicle stability control, antilock brakes and daytime running lamps. The all-wheel drive system automatically transfers engine power from the front wheels to the back to enhance traction on wet or snow-covered roads.
Honda builds the Ridgeline at its Lincoln, Alabama assembly plant
Likes: A good choice for buyers with active lifestyles, the Ridgeline has a roomy, versatile interior with room for inside bicycle storage and 1100 pound payload capacity. The interior is easy to clean out. Cargo area lights come in handy for loading gear up after dark.
Dislike: Five-speed automatic transmission hurts overall fuel economy as compared with a six-speed box.
Model: Ridgeline Sport
Base price: $29,995
As tested: $30,805
Horsepower: 250 Hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 247 lbs.-ft. @ 4300 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 15/21 mpg city/highway