If Honda has its way, every garage will have two CR250R dirt bikes, an AquaTrax watercraft, Honda generator and lawnmower, and a new Ridgeline to tote them all around. It's not a bad market strategy (complete and total garage domination), considering the Ridgeline will be a smooth transition into a pickup for those used to driving Accords to work.
The Ridgeline is Honda's first attempt at a pickup truck, and, although it sports a polarizing design, it offers surprising ride and handling characteristics and several clever packaging advantages that'll have the guys in Detroit wondering why they didn't make it happen first.
The Ridgeline rides on a modified Honda Pilot platform, which itself is derived from the Honda Odyssey minivan. The most significant change to the chassis is in the unitized underbody and additional crossmembers (unique to the Ridgeline), which are designed to work together for greater rigidity and overall strength. In fact, this Honda is rated for 1500 pounds of payload (due in large part to added crossmembers under the bed) and comes standard with a 5000-pound tow rating. The wheelbase is 16 inches longer than that of the Honda Pilot or Acura MDX, and it has a wider track, too. This, and the fact that the Ridgeline is the first midsize, heart-of-the-market pickup to offer a four-wheel independent suspension (we don't count the Hummer H1 or Subaru Baja), gives the Ridgeline an untruck-like feel on winding roads. The squatty stance of this vehicle allows it to grip a twisty road better than a traditional body-on-frame truck with a more elevated live-axle/leaf-spring combination.
The Ridgeline uses the same transverse-mounted 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission from the Odyssey/Pilot/MDX (here tuned to 255 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque). Traditional truck buyers may scoff at a transverse-mounted engine because of durability issues (especially for extended periods of hard work), but Honda hopes its reputation, plus the extra engineering it put into the truck, will help address much of the skepticism. In addition, all Ridgelines use the Honda VTM-4 automatic AWD system, with a selectable center-diff-lock button when in first gear. No low range here, but we did navigate chewed-up dirt roads and rutted hill climbs with great success.