The Honda Ridgeline takes a lot of flack from truck enthusiasts. They say a real truck doesn't have an independent rear suspension. A real truck has a V-8. A real truck has low-range. And a real truck never, ever shares a platform with a minivan.

But for the 40,000 or so people who buy one every year, the Ridgeline offers a solid middle ground: a vehicle with a more compliant ride than a traditional body-on-frame truck and a V-6 alternative to the V-8s found under the hood of most "real" trucks. The Honda also has a plethora of standard "hey, check this out!" features, like a trunk and a tailgate that opens in two different ways, and, of course, its versatile bed doesn't hurt. For the 2009 model year, the Ridgeline receives several minor updates, including a mildly refreshed exterior, improved interior amenities, and a slight bump in power. Overall, it's roughly the same truck we crowned the 2006 Motor Trend Truck of the Year, but better.

Most impressive is the performance upgrade. Honda made a few relatively simple adjustments to the engine -- a new camshaft profile, larger intake valves, a revised intake manifold -- squeezing three more horses and a couple extra lb-ft of torque out of its 3.5L V-6. Along with a revised, shorter gearing, the massaged six helps the 2009 Ridgeline accelerate to 60 mph in 7.7 sec (almost a second faster than last year's model) and through the quarter mile in 16 sec, an improvement of a half-second. Those numbers, by the way, are within just two tenths of the 2009 Ford F-150 Lariat with its hulking 5.4L V-8 on board. And the Ridgeline returns slightly better fuel economy numbers than the Ford, at 1city/2 highway mpg higher than the F-150.

Braking and handling performance are roughly equal to those of the previous model. Honda's VTM-4 all-wheel-drive system carries over from last year, as does the Ridgeline's 4545-lb curb weight. Other updates -- including a new auxiliary input jack, a rearview camera, and Bluetooth on the topline RTL/Nav trim -- are welcome additions. New bodywork has been affixed to the front and rear of the vehicle and adds a negligible 0.2 in. to overall length. While it doesn't do much to fix its, ahem, distinctive styling (the new mug has been getting mixed reviews), it does lend the Ridgeline a look more in line with Honda's new design direction.

Overall, picking a glaring fault with the Ridgeline proves difficult. No, it isn't suited for towing yachts or climbing Sand Mountain, two stereotypical truck adventures that don't fit with the Ridgeline's mission. Where Honda's pickup excels is in real-world scenarios like carrying the Costco bounty home or navigating parking structures at the local mall. This is why Honda keeps making the truck and why people keep buying it. They apparently don't care about the flack from the real truck guys.


2009 HONDA RIDGELINE RTL
Base price $28,670
Price as tested $37,189
Vehicle layout Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door, pickup
Engine 3.5L/250-hp/247-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4545 lb (58 / 42%)
Wheelbase 122.0 in
Length x width x height 207.0 x 77.8 x 70.3 in
0-30 mph 2.4 sec
0-40 3.7
0-50 5.6
0-60 7.7
0-70 10.3
0-80 14.3
0-90 18.3
Quarter mile 16.0 sec @ 84.2 mph
45-65 mph 4.2
Braking, 60-0 mph 134 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.78 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 29.3 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 15 / 20 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.2 lb/mile