When the Honda Ridgeline won our 2006 Truck of the Year competition, we fully expected the hard-cores to be outraged. "It's a modified minivan!" they all screamed. True, we noted, but it also challenges an entire industry to rethink some old definitions. As noted by several staffers, this vehicle isn't just an evolutionary step for the pickup truck; this is a turn-the-world-on-its-head revolutionary risk. And as with any gigantic risk, there are those who love it and those who hate it.
Traditional truck guys don't seem to feel it qualifies as a pickup truck because of its modified unibody chassis and transverse-mounted engine-and it's funny-looking. Others see the Ridgeline as a clever solution for those who don't want the compromises you typically find with a full frame: stiff ride, horrible fuel economy, and miserable handling. However, after a year and 24,000 miles in our long-term fleet, we found the Ridgeline surprisingly capable-and capability is king, wherever you stand.
We put this vehicle through its paces, as evidenced by its ending odometer reading of 24,219-just about double the average number of miles generally put on a long-term truck. There were several trips to Nevada (multiple jaunts to Reno and Las Vegas), one voyage deep into Utah (on a rafting trip down the Green River outside of Canyonlands National Park), and even out to Flagstaff, Arizona, for some time well spent at the Grand Canyon-all the while with about 1000 pounds in the bed.
Our vehicle never had any service issues, and it gave us a best real-world fuel economy of 19.6 mpg during flat highway driving between 65 and 68 mph. Most of the combined city/highway fuel-economy numbers hovered around 17.3, the worst hitting the 14.0_mpg mark when the Ridgeline was loaded with camping gear and four adults as it slogged through Death Valley with the A/C at max. On the highway, it averaged 350 to 370 miles on a tank before the "low fuel" light came on.
We ordered our Ridgeline in top-level RTL trim (Honda-speak for everything except a navigation system), but we needed nav, too, knowing this vehicle was going to be popular for the more outdoorsy staffers. Brian Vance spent several weekends loading the Ridgeline with coolers and buddies for several summertime high-mountain outings. He noted the lockable trunk, hidden under the rear floor of the truck bed, served as an ideal place to secure food from bears. Likewise, senior editor Ron Kiino found a unique use for the bed trunk-he kept fresh-caught rainbow trout there so they wouldn't stink up the interior.
That Honda's first truck in the U.S. market is clever and well-built is no surprise, but we did discover a few quirks. The first oddity was when the service lights started to flash at 5000 miles. Like all conscientious enthusiasts, we immediately took the Honda into the dealership and were turned away, after being told the oil shouldn't be changed until the 7500-mile mark. Turns out Honda puts special break-in oil in new vehicles, and it needs to bond with the engine metals for a set amount of time. The "break-in" oil actually leaves behind slippery agents that reduce subsequent wear. Still, there seems to be some confusion between the oil-life sensor on the vehicle and Honda dealer recommendations.Later, when we did bring the vehicle in for its first service, all went smoothly, as did our two later services (at 6000-mile intervals) as well. Each service cost less than $50. During our second service we had the door cable clips replaced under warranty, as requested by a Product Update letter we received in the mail.
Interior gripes from editors were minimal, with the possible exception of the gearshift lever, which tends to obscure some important A/C and radio controls, depending on the gear the truck is in. Additionally, you can forget about manual shifting due to the clumsy detent mechanism.Outside, the consensus was that the Ridgeline is so ugly, it's almost cool. The slab sides, huge rear buttresses, and sloping bed rail make the little pickup look like its constantly bending over a hilltop. We would've preferred the tiedown cargo hooks higher in the bed for better cargo access, instead of near the bed floor. And although the vehicle feels nimble and agile when driven empty, when loaded, especially near its respectable 1500-pound capacity, it drives like a slug-butt drooping, wheels splayed, rear coils mashed. This one doesn't like max capacity driving. On the flip side, we all liked the mammoth lockable storage trunk under the bed (which also holds the slideout spare tire and set of tools), the flip-up back row seats and flat floor, the dual-open tailgate, and the lower center of gravity and resulting sport-sedan ride and handling (again, when empty).
Ultimately, whatever side of the fence you're on, this is a truck for car guys as much as it's a car for truck guys. And it works well in that niche. Of course, nothing will be all things to all people, but we appreciate how this experiment pushes the boundaries. We're not sure how long it'll be before we put 24,000 miles on another vehicle in 12 months, but whatever that vehicle is, it's unlikely to be as versatile as the Ridgeline.
| 2006 Honda Ridgeline |
| Base price || $28,395 |
| Price as tested || $35,155 |
| Vehicle layout || Front engine, AWD, 4-door, 5-pass truck |
| Engine || 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6 |
| SAE net hp @ rpm || 247 @ 5750 |
| SAE net lb-ft @ rpm || 245 @ 4500 |
| Transmission || 5-speed auto |
| 0-60 mph, sec || 8.5 |
| EPA, city/hwy, mpg || 16/21 |
| Total mileage || 24,311 |
| Avg fuel economy, mpg || 17.3 |
| Observed worst mpg || 14 |
| Observed best mpg || 19.6 |
| Average distance per fill-up, miles || 224.9 |
| Average cost per fill-up || $40.05 |
| Average cost per gallon || $2.96 |
| Number of services || 3 |
| Overall service cost || $189.96 |
| Problem areas || Door cable clips replaced |