The current Honda Ridgeline is winding down its model cycle, a bold experiment in the midsize truck class on a vehicle that defied easy categorization, and gave a hint at what the future of the segment might look like. But perhaps it was a little too unconventional for mass-market acceptance. Almost nothing about the Ridgeline is remotely like its peers from Nissan, Toyota, or any of the other contenders that have come and gone in the last few years, including the Dodge Dakota.
The fact that General Motors is debuting brand-new midsize trucks sticking with the proven body-on-frame, longitudinal powertrain, rear-leaf formula casts a shadow on the future of Honda's bold unibody, transverse truck experiment. With sales hovering barely over 1000 units per month for most of the past several years, it looked like the Ridgeline would go down as one of those promising concepts that seemed like it worked in theory, but fell short of its potential in the real world. Yet despite the criticism and the calls for Honda to cut its losses on the Ridgeline, it has committed to a second-generation model, but not before a two-year hiatus to regroup, and to focus on higher-volume, higher-profit models in the meantime such as the Acura MDX, Honda Odyssey Minivan, and a next-generation Pilot SUV.
Doing Its Own Thing
For the truck traditionalists, the Ridgeline will always be an oddball, and short of it adopting a body-on-frame, longitudinal, rear/four-wheel-drive layout, may never find the same level of mass-market acceptance as the Toyota Tacoma, or even the upcoming Colorado or Canyon. But for those not asking their midsize trucks to constantly carry a heavy payload or pull a trailer, the Ridgeline's packaging and features make it a compelling choice for weekend warriors.
The transverse powertrain layout pays major dividends in interior room, with the Ridgeline having a low, flat floor, and minimal intrusion from the transmission in the center tunnel. Although the front row has only two seats, the Ridgeline's column-mounted shifter could allow for three-across seating, if the center stack was slightly redesigned to accommodate legs and feet in the middle position. As it is, there's generous space for a handbag, briefcase, laptop case, or whatever you wish to place there, as well as ample center console storage. The rear seat is likewise significantly more spacious than the crew cab variants of either than the Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier, and subjectively, feels far more spacious than the rear seat of the new Chevrolet Colorado.
But in exchange for its relatively short, 206.9-inch length and roomy back seat, the bed is a short 60 inches (5 feet exactly) and does not have a midgate like the recently departed Chevrolet Avalanche to expand the load floor into the cabin. Payload capacity of around 1500 pounds is about on par with the Tacoma and Frontier, and its towing capacity of 5000 pounds splits the difference between the four-cylinder and V-6 models of the Toyota and Nissan.
You would think with a slightly smaller-displacement engine, and a hypothetically lighter weight design, that the Ridgeline would take the Tacoma and Frontier to school when it comes to fuel economy. Unfortunately, the Ridgeline shows no real advantage in this regard, with exactly the same 15/21 EPA rating as the Nissan Frontier V-6 4x4, with the Tacoma actually getting 1 mpg better in the city at 16 mpg. In terms of weight, the Ridgeline is approximately 300 pounds heavier than a comparably configured Tacoma, and about the same weight as a comparable Frontier.
At least unloaded, the 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 has no problem pulling around the Ridgeline's 4529 pounds, although a little more low-end torque would help. The engine makes an enthusiastic growl when pushed, but comes across as a little coarse, especially in comparison with current full-size truck powertrains. In the Ridgeline's defense, neither the Tacoma or Frontier are exactly models of refinement either. Its 0-60 and quarter-mile times of 8.3 and 16.5 seconds are respectable, but not class-leading.
The Ridgeline's four-wheel-independent coil-spring suspension gives it a decidedly smoother, more relaxed ride quality than the Tacoma or Frontier, which can both be a little bouncy with their rear leaf springs, especially unloaded.
The Ridgeline certainly gets points for its user-friendliness, easy ingress and egress, thanks to its low floor, and its handy and innovative in-bed trunk and dual-mode tailgate. But in quantitative utility and efficiency, it shows no great advantage over its more conventional peers.
Preparing a Comeback
It's probably fortuitous that the Ridgeline will be temporarily discontinued for the 2015 model year, as the 2015 GM trucks will likely have a significant fuel economy advantage over the Tacoma and Frontier, and by extension, the Ridgeline. Honda as a company has built its name and reputation on class-leading fuel economy. Unfortunately, the current Ridgeline doesn't live up to this promise.
Honda just released a silhouette sketch of the next-generation Ridgeline, and initial indications are for a much more conventional look. However, the transverse powertrain layout and all-wheel drive look like they will probably carry over. Look for the next-generation V-6 to be substantially more fuel-efficient, however, in the magnitude of 20 percent or more.
From a packaging and features standpoint, the Ridgeline remains a compelling option to its more conventional midsize counterparts. However, its lackluster fuel economy, and slight sacrifice in quantitative, traditional truck utility compared with its peers likely tipped the scales in favor of the Tacoma or Frontier for many buyers.
Will the Ridgeline ever be a large-volume play for Honda? Probably not, but it's clear the company still believes in the promise of the concept, and the burden will be on them to prove its viability with the next-generation model.
|2014 Honda Ridgeline 4WD RTL|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$38,335|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||3.5L/250-hp/247-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4529 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||206.9 x 77.8 x 71.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 83.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.76 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.3 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/21/ mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||225/160 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.13 lb/mi|