LeftLaneNews

Review: 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Does Honda\'s alternative pickup work in the real world?

When we first drove the 2017 Honda Ridgeline earlier this year, we came away pleasantly surprised by its composure and capability. With time for reflection and a second chance to drive it, have we changed our minds? Read on to find out.

What is it?A fine question. The 2017 Honda Ridgeline is built on Honda's updated global light truck platform. While the first-generation Ridgeline was essentially developed independently of Honda's other SUVs, the 2017 shares a significant portion of its fundamental structure and mechanical components with the Pilot.

That's not to say that Honda didn't put the Ridgeline's utility front-and-center. Rather, the design and engineering teams simply put less of a priority on making it different just for the sake of doing so.

For that reason, the new Ridgeline retains all of the utility of the old model (tow/haul capacity, under-bed trunk, etc.) but looks a lot more like what it actually is--a Pilot with a bed instead of a covered cargo area.

You'll find a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link setup in the rear. The fundamental architecture may be from a unibody SUV, but the chassis has been beefed up to support the Ridgeline's more rugged mission. The Ridgeline has it where it counts.

Under the hood, you'll find Honda's 3.5L V6. It produces 280 horsepower and 262lb-ft of torque. That power goes to the ground by way of a six-speed automatic transmission and either all- or (for the first time) front-wheel-drive.

Unlike its competitors, the Ridgeline embraces a one-size-fits-all strategy. While customers may choose how many wheels they want driven, the Ridgeline's other truck credentials remain constant.

There's just one bed length (64 inches, or roughly 5 1/3 feet) and one cab size (crew). Front-wheel-drive models can tow 3,500 pounds and all-wheel-drive bumps that to 5,000. The only somewhat variable figure is the payload capacity, which simply fluctuates slightly depending on the Ridgeline's equipment level.

What's it up against?In terms of size and capability, the Ridgeline sits fairly low on the U.S. market's pickup truck totem pole. Its closest competitors would be the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. On the domestic side of things, it competes with the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

All of those trucks are body-on-frame machines and offer more traditional pickup capability (all of them best the Ridgeline's maximum towing capacity by a minimum of 1,000 pounds, for example), but their old-school architecture makes them compromised in different ways.

How does it look?It looks like a Pilot. There's no getting around that. Even after a few days of having the Ridgeline around the office, we still mistook one for the other frequently in traffic.

The old Ridgeline could have been accused of being ugly. While that's not the case with this model, we wouldn't exactly call it pretty. The boxy rear doesn't really flatter the sleek, crossover-like lines of the front end, making the Ridgeline's profile somewhat incongruous.

There's no rule that says pickup trucks have to be all squares and rectangles, but the Ridgeline definitely occupies an aesthetic space that is outside the norm for American pickup trucks. That's something Honda is probably counting on.

And on the inside?At the risk of sounding like a broken record, yeah, it's more Pilot. Now, to be fair, the Ridgeline does change up the formula quite a bit once you step inside.

There's no third row, of course, which is a mighty big change, but even the Ridgeline's rear seats are a significant departure from the Pilot's second-row setup. The Ridgeline's back seats flip up out of the way to expose a full-width storage area that is partitioned off from the rest of the rear floor.

It's a handy spot for storing things that you don't want rolling and clanking around as you go and there's enough clearance under the seat bottoms that even larger items (say, standard plastic grocery bags) can be stashed there too, provided they aren't packed to capacity.

While it's technically not accessible from the inside, we're going to take this opportunity to mention the Ridgeline's large in-bed trunk. It's a secure space that can be used as a conventional trunk, but thanks to its drain holes and plastic lining, it's far more versatile.

But does it go?This seems a somewhat shallow question in the context of a pickup. Yes, the 280-horsepower V6 helps it get out of its own way admirably, but there's a lot more to the Ridgeline than its raw performance.

It seemed foolish to have a Ridgeline in the driveway and not do some "truck stuff" with it, but putting it to the test proved more difficult than we'd anticipated. If you don't own a truck, you likely embrace a lifestyle that doesn't require one. Such was our dilemma.

So, we did the obvious and unoriginal: We went to Home Depot.

Predictably, the Ridgeline made easy work of our modest truck needs. We stocked up on deck planking for some porch repairs, shopped for appliances and casually tossed loaded bags of solar salt and sand into the bed without having to think twice about organization.

There was nothing we couldn't do in the Ridgeline that wouldn't have also flummoxed a far larger, far more robust machine. Put another way, it was all the truck we needed. More, even.

But is it as much truck as we want?

The Ridgeline occupies a somewhat tenuous position. It's not cheap (disregard the cost of our loaded-up tester; even the mid-trim models at $31,XXX are plenty dear). It's not even particularly efficient (18 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 21 combined).

What it truly has going for it is its manners. It is head-and-shoulders above any other pickup in the segment in terms of ride quality and handling. It's truly not even close. It drives like a car, plain and simple.

The logical conclusion then is that the Ridgeline is the perfect truck for people who don't actually want one. Honda found that segment of shoppers the first time around. Time will tell whether they can do it again.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe last time we drove the Ridgeline, we said Honda had built a better mousetrap. We still think so.

2017 Honda Ridgeline RT-E base price, $41,370; as-tested, $42,270Destination, $900

Photos by Byron Hurd.

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