2014 Honda Ridgeline First Test
What Was, And Could Be
The word different is filled with ambiguity and loaded meaning. After tasting some new kind of food, or looking at the latest fashion item, or new car model, the term "that's… different" usually connotes uncertainty, reticence, or resistance. When punctuated by an exclamation point in a marketing context, it may connote excitement, newness or originality. Whatever your feelings are on the 2014 Honda Ridgeline, there's no denying it's different. And with the news that production of the current-generation Honda Ridgeline will end in mid-2014, we wanted to take one last ride in the truck that was the 2006 Motor Trend Truck of the Year.
Even eight years after its debut in 2006, it remains in a class of one, if you define that class as unibody, transverse-powertrain midsize trucks. There have been plenty of rumblings of potential models joining it with a similar configuration, and Dodge (before it was Ram) showing the Rampage Concept, and Toyota the A-BAT. But Honda remains alone in having the boldness (or foolishness) of bringing one to market.
Even the imminent arrival of two brand-new midsize twins from General Motors proves the basic midsize truck formula of longitudinal powertrain, body-on-frame and rear leaf springs hasn't changed that much. With efficiency having improved so dramatically on full-size models with their conventional configurations, is there any merit or potential left in the Ridgeline's unique configuration?
Well, at least Honda thinks so. Within the last several weeks, Honda has released a side profile silhouette of the next-generation Ridgeline, due in two years. Not much can be gleaned from the photo other than the fact it will look more like a "normal" pickup, with a more traditional rear window angle and bed box shape. But we fully expect it will retain a transverse powertrain and unibody construction, as well as its famous in-bed trunk.
Is Different Better?
Looking objectively at the merits of the Ridgeline's configuration, there's no denying the benefits of the transverse powertrain layout in terms of interior room. The Ridgeline's cabin has a low, flat floor, and minimal intrusion from the transmission in the center tunnel. Although the front row has only two seats, the Ridgeline's column-mounted shifter could allow for three-across seating, if the center stack was slightly redesigned to accommodate legs and feet in the middle position. As it is, there's generous space at the base of the console for a purse, briefcase, laptop bag, or whatever else, as well as ample center console storage. The rear seat is also significantly more spacious than other current midsize crew cabs, and subjectively, feels far more spacious than the rear seat of the new Chevrolet Colorado.
The tradeoff for its relatively short 206.9-inch length and roomy back seat, is a short 60-inch (five feet exactly) bed, and no Chevy Avalanche-style midgate to expand the load floor into the cabin. Payload capacity of around 1500 lb is about on par with the Tacoma and Frontier, and its towing capacity of 5000 lb is in-between the rated capacities for the four-cylinder and V-6 models of the Toyota and Nissan.
No Gain at the Pump
With Honda's deliberate decision to forsake the traditional pickup powertrain configuration for that of a more carlike transverse layout, you'd think the Ridgeline's big trump card over Toyota and Nissan would be fuel economy. Unfortunately, that's not the case. The Ridgeline delivers exactly the same 15/21 EPA rating as the Nissan Frontier V-6 4x4, with the Tacoma actually getting 1 mpg better in the city at 16 mpg. In terms of weight, the Ridgeline is approximately 300-lb heavier than a comparably-configured Tacoma, and about the same weight as a comparable Frontier. So much for unibody being lightweight.
At least unloaded, the Ridgeline's 250 hp 3.5-liter V-6 has no problem handling the truck's 4529 pounds, although a little more low-end torque would help. The engine makes an enthusiastic growl when pushed, but comes across as a little coarse, especially in comparison to current full-size truck powertrains. In the Ridgeline's defense, neither the Tacoma or Frontier are models of hushed refinement either. Its 0-60 and quarter-mile times of 8.3 and 16.5 seconds respectively are respectable, but no better than its peers.
So if its layout doesn't save you money at the pump, does it do anything else well? In terms or ride and handling, the answer is yes, with the Ridgeline's four-wheel-independent coil-spring suspension giving it a decidedly smoother, more relaxed ride quality than the leaf-spring Tacoma or Frontier, both of which can have a bouncy ride, especially unloaded.
The Ridgeline earns practicality points for its easy ingress and egress, thanks to its low floor, and its clever in-bed trunk and dual-mode tailgate. But in terms of quantitative utility and efficiency, it shows no great advantage over its more conventional peers.
Preparing a Comeback
The curtains coming down on the current Ridgeline for 2014 is probably a good thing, as the 2015 GM trucks will likely have a significant fuel economy advantage over the Tacoma and Frontier, and by extension, the Ridgeline. Honda as a company has built its name and reputation on excellent fuel economy. Unfortunately, the current Ridgeline doesn't live up to this promise. Look for the next-generation V-6 to be substantially more fuel-efficient, potentially in the magnitude of 20 percent or more.
From a packaging and features standpoint, the Ridgeline remains an attractive alternative to its more conventional midsize counterparts. However, its lackluster fuel economy, and slight sacrifice in quantitative, traditional truck utility compared to its peers likely tips the scales in favor of the better-selling Tacoma or Frontier for many buyers.
The Ridgeline will probably never be a large-volume play for Honda on the order of the Accord or Civic, or even the CR-V, but it's clear the company still believes in the promise of the concept. We'll see in two years how far it has raised the bar for personal-use midsize truck design.
|2014 Honda Ridgeline 4WD RTL|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$38,335|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||3.5L/250-hp/247-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4529 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||206.9 x 77.8 x 71.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 83.9 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.76 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.3 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/21/ mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||225/160 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.13 lb/mi|