All right, all right, we've heard it all. After we announced that the Honda Ridgeline was our 2006 Truck of the Year, we received comments like, "This must be a joke, right?" or "How much did they pay you?" or (our favorite) "You can't be serious!" Well, we are, and now we have one for a year to see how it survives in our long-term fleet.
We ordered a topline Honda Ridgeline RTL with the moonroof and navigation system, and no additional options. It bottom-lined at $35K and change, but here's something you might find interesting: We looked up what our Ridgeline would cost with every available dealer-installed option. It would've bottom-lined at $49,613. You can't say Honda isn't giving people a choice.
As to the truck itself, Honda used clever engineering (read minivan platform bracing) to allow for the use of an independent rear suspension that, in turn, allowed for other innovations like the hidden bed trunk and dual-pivot tailgate. While the design may have saved costs and development time, we have some real questions as to whether it'll be able to hold up to the typical work/duty cycle of your average pickup truck. When confronting Honda with this question, the manufacturer responded that its only concern is to get the right vehicle to Honda buyers. Our guess is their buyers don't want a pickup truck with a harsh ride because ride and handling characteristics are clearly more in line with a heavy-duty minivan than a solid rear axle half-ton. Although Honda isn't the first to do it, the swing/fold rear tailgate is still a cool feature. Likewise, the in-bed "trunk" is interesting; however, we learned you don't want to get a flat tire when you're carrying a load of gravel in the bed--it covers up the trunk that holds the spare tire.
But we can't mention enough that the absence of a live rear axle gives the Ridgeline the on-road comfort and ride of a softly sprung SUV. As a result, expect carrying anything near mid- to full-payload capacity (a reported 1500 pounds on our tester) to bottom out the springs to the bumpstops. Likewise, the Ridgeline will never tow a fifth-wheel or carry a big camper shell, but we're guessing most Ridgeline people won't care to anyway. But we do know it'll tow our Jet Skis and dirt bikes just fine.
With that said, so far we've had no mechanical problems with our new long-term Ridgeline, and from camping trips to Moab to home-project visits to IKEA and Home Depot, everyone has found uses for our Truck of the Year winner.
Maybe more than any vehicle before it, Honda put its neck on the line with this Ridgeline; it took a big risk but also brought some fresh ideas. And we'll be testing those ideas to their limits over the next several months. Stay tuned.