You'd imagine the unanimous vote for the Honda Ridgeline would be a surprising conclusion to our 2006 Truck of the Year showdown. Truth is, after two long days thudding over concrete freeway expansion joints, howling around a tight handling course, and skittering along a stony off-road trail, this one was about as simple as it gets. Which only makes the truck market's hesitance toward this newfangled but remarkable machine all the more puzzling.
We'd wager more than a few of those check-writing hands have been frozen by the Ridgeline's eye-of-the-beholder angular bodywork and bent-bed profile. We can understand that. Others have balked at its premium price, which ranges anywhere from $28,250 to $35,190 for our loaded, moonroof- and nav-equipped RTL example (the average out-the-door tab being about $32,000). Yet, it's tricky to gauge the Ridgeline's value without a reference to judge it against, and at the moment the Honda's in a class of precisely one. Compared with some of this year's other contestants, the Ridgeline's price really doesn't seem too far out of line. But for the same number written on the check, you could just as easily have, say, a V-8-equipped Ford F-150 4x4--and on the face of it, a lot more hardware than the V-6-engined Honda.
So how did the Ridgeline win over the judges? Because from behind the wheel, the Ridgeline's a revelation, upending every attempt at a conventional dollars-and-cents calculation. It's brisk, needing just 8.5 seconds to reach 60 mph (matching, by the way, the time of our V-8-powered 2004 Ford F-150 winner). "The Ridgeline's handling didn't seem overly impressive until I looked at the speedo," said one editor. "The fact is, I was confidently carrying much more speed than in the other trucks, but it seemed like a Sunday drive."
While the Ridgeline's steering is unusually crisp, its brakes' triggerlike response is somewhat supernatural for a truck. Around our cone-course evaluation circuit, every Ridgeline driver's first lap was reliably (and amusingly) punctuated with laughably premature stops, tens of feet before they were needed.
But the biggest surprise comes when you're doing almost nothing at all, just cruising along. The Ridgeline's granitelike hybrid monocoque structure (torsionally 20 times stiffer in the bed area) plus independent front and rear suspensions allow it to motor down the freeway virtually exorcised of the rear-axle hammerings that bedevil the genre. There's next to no groaning and creaking.