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.

The Ridgeline is the first pickup to offer what amounts to a sizable, lockable, weather-sealed trunk in the rear of the bed. The in-bed storage area has a floor drain that allows it to be filled with ice and beverages for any number of tailgating opportunities. Another interesting detail is the dual-action tailgate that operates as a conventional drop-down gate or a swing-open door, also used currently on the GMC Envoy XUV. However, unlike the XUV, the Ridgeline doesn't offer any type of midgate or rear-bulkhead pass-through.

We ran the Ridgeline against the Ford F-150 5.4-liter V-8, each with a 5000-pound trailer in tow. Through the course, the race was tight, and the Honda barked at the Ford's heels the entire time. The Ford definitely felt stronger off the line, but the competition was close, and, with a heavy-duty cooling package, the Ridgeline never lost its cool.

It's not likely Honda will convince full-size pickup owners to trade in big trucks for a Ridgeline, but would-be four-door Tacoma, Dakota, Frontier, and Colorado buyers might want to take a closer look. The Ridgeline could prove to be the right vehicle for minivan moms and dads looking to bulk up their image. Of course, it doesn't hurt that if Honda gets even a small fraction of midsize car and minivan buyers to look at the new Ridgeline, the company will double its projected 60,000-unit yearly sales. Look for a more thorough road test when we get a Ridgeline in-house.

2006 Honda Ridgeline
General
Location of final assembly Allison, Ontario, Canada
Body style Four-door, five-pass pickup
EPA size class Light truck
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Airbags Front, side, side curtain
Powertrain
Engine type 60-deg V-6, alum block & heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.50 x 3.66
Displacement, ci/L 220/3.5
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Valve gear SOHC, 4 valves/cyl, VTEC
Fuel induction Multipoint
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 255 @ 5750
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 252 @ 4500
Transmission type 5-speed auto
1st 2.69:1
2nd 1.57:1
3rd 1.02:1
4th 0.73:1
5th 0.53:1
Reverse 1.89:1
Axle ratio 4.53:1
Final-drive ratio 2.40:1
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 122.0
Length, in 206.8
Width, in 87.3
Height, in 68.1
Track, f/r, in 67.1/66.9
Headroom, f/r, in 38.7/39.0
Legroom, f/r, in 40.8/36.4
Shoulder room, f/r, in 63.2/62.6
Total cargo area volume, cu ft 41.4
Ground clearance, in 8.2
Bed size LxWxD, in 60.0x49.5x20.7
Approach/departure angle, deg 25.0/22.0
Breakover angle, deg 21.0
Weight dist, f/r, % 58/42
Curb weight 4500
Payload capacity, lb 1500
GVWR, lb 6050
GCWR, lb 10,085
Towing capacity, lb 5000
Fuel capacity, gal 22.0
Chassis
Suspension, f/r MacPherson strut/multilink with trailing arm
Steering type Variable-assist pwr rack and pinion
Ratio 18.5:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.38
Turning circle, ft 42.6
Brakes, f/r 12.6-in disc/13.1-in disc, 4WABS
Wheels 17x7.5-in aluminum
Tires P245/65R17 105S
Performance
0-60 mph, sec 8.2 (est)
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 16/21
Price
Base price $27,500 (est)
Price as tested $32,000 (est)
On sale March 2005
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