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First Drive: 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Back In The Game: Honda’s Midsize Alternative Returns

Aug 11, 2016
Photographers: William Walker
Since its introduction in 2005 as an ’06 model, there has been constant talk around the office water cooler about Honda’s entry into the midsize pickup segment. The Ridgeline was an oddball, an outsider if you will. Everything about the vehicle was unique to the segment. It featured unibody construction, an independent rear suspension, a transverse-mounted engine, and unique all-wheel-drive system. A 3.5L V-6 engine was the only option, as was its four-door cab configuration. By all accounts the Ridgeline was a fantastic vehicle, even winning Motor Trend’s coveted Truck of the Year award for 2006.
Despite having a 5-foot open-air bed, debate raged on whether or not the Ridgeline was fit to be called a truck. After all, up until this point, all pickups were body-on-frame construction, with a separate cab and bed and optional four-wheel drive—Ridgeline lacked all of these. Many even likened it to the Subaru BRAT, Chevrolet El Camino, or Ford Ranchero. However, the Ridgeline quickly carved out its own little niche space in the market, cumulatively selling nearly 250,000 units, and it even developed a healthy enthusiast following. That is, until Honda decided to end production of the Ridgeline during the summer of 2014.
Fortunately for Honda fans, the Ridgeline has returned after a brief two-year hiatus. During its time away, Honda’s engineers retooled every aspect of the Ridgeline, turning it into a true force to be reckoned with.
Photo 2/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Side View
Truck-Like Exterior
One of the most heard complaints from naysayers of the first-generation Ridgeline circled around the truck’s admittedly awkward exterior styling. Some from Honda claim that the unique “sail-panel” side profile was done to purposely set the truck apart from the competition, while others claim it was a simple styling miss. Either way, the ’17 Ridgeline comes to us with an all-new body, styled after the more traditional three-box pickup. While still a unibody, due to length the side panel stamping now had to be comprised of two pieces instead of one, and this in turn gives us the faux bodyline separating the cab and bed. Make no mistake, underneath the skin the bed and cab structure are still one piece.
The new Ridgeline shares about 50 percent of its parts with Honda’s new Pilot SUV, as is evidenced when viewed from the front, and it’s built on Honda’s new global light truck platform. The chassis features Honda’s next-generation Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, which provides excellent occupant protection and helps the Ridgeline achieve a 5-star Overall Vehicle Score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ultra-high-strength hot-stamped steel, aluminum, and magnesium are all used throughout the body to enhance rigidity and reduce weight. The ’17 Ridgeline is as much as 73 pounds lighter than the previous generation, depending on trim level.
Photo 3/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Rear Quarter
Photo 4/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Trunkbed
Photo 5/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Trunk Storage
Looking to the rear, the Ridgeline’s bed is where the magic really happens. For ’17 Honda has extended the bed’s length by 4 inches over the previous generation’s 5-foot length, and the company widened it by 5 1/2 inches. Still constructed of proprietary Sheet Molded Composite, Ridgeline’s bed is one of the most durable on the market. It’s also fade- and scratch-resistant, and overall, it’s an improvement over the first generation. Returning on the second-generation pickup are innovative dual-action tailgate and in-bed trunk. Also new for ’17 is the in-bed audio system, which uses six exciters to essentially turn the bed into one giant speaker. Pair together the trunk—which makes an excellent cooler—in-bed audio, and the 400-watt AC inverter and the Ridgeline is one awesome tailgater.
Our opinions are still up in the air on styling. While the new truck is much better looking than the first generation, it still leaves us scratching our head. With so much carryover from Pilot, when viewed from the front, the Ridgeline looks more akin to a Pilot SUT. From the side and rear it’s more like a traditional pickup. So while the styling is still growing on us, we understand why Honda went this route and appreciate their desire to appeal more to traditional pickup buyers.
Photo 6/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Engine
Under The Skin
Specs matter. And when you’re the oddball they matter even more. As with the previous Ridgeline, all models come with a single engine and transmission choice. Displacement remains at 3.5-liters, but that’s where the similarities end. The new Earth Dreams V-6 cranks out 280 hp at 6,000 rpm and 262 lb-ft of torque at 4,700. While this may seem a bit high in the rpm range for a pickup, it should be noted that available torque stays above 200 lb-ft for nearly the entire engine speed range. Ridgeline’s new V-6 is also equipped with Variable Cylinder Management technology, which is Honda’s form of cylinder deactivation. The transmission is a six-speed automatic unit. Equipped with exceptionally low first and second gears, the Ridgeline boasts a 20-percent wider gear spread than the previous generation and the quickest claimed acceleration of any midsize pickup. These changes, coupled with the weight savings, equate to 1.8-second reduction in 0-60 mph times and an increase of up to 5 mpg.
While the majority of Ridgelines are expected to be equipped with all-wheel drive, Honda is offering a front-wheel-drive–only version of the truck as well. Still missing is a true two-speed transfer case with a low-range gear. However, an all-new torque-vectoring Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) AWD system is mated with a new wet-clutch-based torque-vectoring rear differential and new Intelligent Traction Management system. Operated by a push button, the driver can now choose between Normal, Mud, Snow, and Sand modes with AWD and Normal and Snow on FWD models.
Photo 7/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Awd
The i-VTM4 AWD system may seem complicated at first glance; however, its functionality is simply explained. During normal on-highway driving conditions the system sends 100 percent of available torque to the front wheels. In hard cornering or heavy acceleration, up to 70 percent of torque can be directed to the rear wheels. And of that 70 percent directed to the rear, up to 100 percent can be sent to either the left or right wheel, depending on conditions. When deemed necessary the rear differential can also lock, sending equal torque to each wheel. While we’d love a button to manually lock the rear differential, we can understand why there isn’t one.
Ridgeline’s traction management system operates no differently than any other on the market. When a new mode is selected the vehicle’s computer calibrates transmission shift points, engine throttle response, and all-wheel-drive system characteristics to best suit the selected terrain.
Photo 8/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Hitch
When it comes to towing, the Ridgeline fits right in with the rest of the midsize crowd. On the lower end of the spectrum, at only 3,500 pounds of towing capacity, are the FWD models. We’d consider this only marginally acceptable. However, opting for all-wheel drive brings on the addition of a heavy-duty transmission oil cooler and bumps towing capacity up to a respectable 5,000 pounds. Payload, when properly equipped, is a class-leading 1,584 pounds. Both figures are plenty to get your boat, motorcycles, or travel trailer anywhere you want to.
According to the EPA, the ’17 Ridgeline is rated at up to 26 mpg. Front-wheel-drive models click off 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 combined. All-wheel-drive models lose 1 mpg from each.
Photo 9/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Driver Seat
Car-Like Comfort & Safety
It’s no secret that Honda is a car company. So, then, it should come as no surprise that the Ridgeline’s interior is a bit less rugged and a touch more civilized then you might expect from a pickup. The new interior features soft-touch materials and premium touches throughout. The instrument panel is highlighted by a 4.2-inch full-color multi-information display and an 8-inch audio touch screen is available. LED lighting can be had throughout the cabin, and leather seating is available on the top four trim levels.
Gone is the traditional column shifter, in favor of a console-mounted unit. A new multi-function center console (Honda’s words, not ours) offers up a seemingly unending combination of useful storage spaces. We have to question though, with such focus on the center console, why did they take up space by moving the shifter from the steering column? The world may never know. It’s also worth noting that, thanks to its unibody construction, the Ridgeline has the most interior storage space in the class.
Photo 10/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Dash
Photo 11/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Rear Seats
Photo 12/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Rear Seats Folded
Along with the spacious and well-appointed interior comes a whole host of safety and security features—after all, the Ridgeline is still a Honda. The comprehensive range of safety features includes Vehicle Stability Assist with Traction Control, Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering, and Brake Assist. Most impressively, though, is the ability to option the Ridgeline with Honda Sensing, a suite of technologies designed to help drivers respond to road hazards. Honda Sensing includes collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, road departure warning, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. It’s worth noting that of these technologies, only forward collision warning is currently available on a midsize pickup. Also available are Honda LaneWatch, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic monitoring.
One interesting feature that we found buried deep in the technical specs is tire fill assist. Also new for ’17, the feature works with the tire pressure monitoring system to provide an audible chirp and flash of the parking lights when any tire being filled reaches the correct pressure.
In true Honda fashion, while there are many options available, buyers aren’t allowed to mix and match. There’s a list of seven trim levels, each more opulent then the last, and if there’s a specific option that you seek then you get all that comes with that package, like it or not. The seven trim levels, from least to grandest, are RT, RTS, Sport, RTL, RTL-T, RTL-E, and Black Edition. Pricing starts at $26,475 for RT FWD and works its way up to $42,870 for Black Edition AWD.
Photo 13/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Interior
Behind The Wheel
Though our time behind the wheel of the Ridgeline was brief, it was nothing but enjoyable. From the moment we pressed the ignition button and fired up the engine we knew we were in something different. The ’17 Ridgeline is noticeably quieter than anything else in the midsize class. Both engine and wind noise is significantly reduced over the competitive Colorado and Tacoma.
If you’re at all familiar with the Pilot, then you’ll feel right at home in the Ridgeline. Seating position is proper, and the seats are quite comfortable. They have a good, upright and tall seating position, not down and on the floor like Tacoma. Forward visibility is excellent thanks to the truck’s hood and fender design, and the optional technology suite in the higher-trimmed trucks helps you see what your eyes can’t. Both the blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control were welcome features not otherwise found on midsize pickups. Ridgeline’s lane departure warning and lane keep assist worked well with little intrusion, although we did find the warning to return our hands to the steering wheel a bit comical.
Acceleration is quite brisk and fits perfectly with Honda’s claims of having the quickest acceleration of any midsize. Brakes are adequate and never left us wanting more but didn’t overly impress at the same time. With a fully independent suspension, one would imagine that ride quality would be superb, and there’s no surprise that it was indeed. Highway expansion joints, speed bumps, and potholes are nothing to be feared, and the rear end buck typically associated with pickups is nearly nonexistent. Cornering is predictable, but still reminiscent of a pickup or mid-size SUV. The Ridgeline was never built to be a canyon carver, but when the opportunity arises it handles itself with poise and dignity.
Manufacturers have done study after study to determine how their product is used in the real world, and they all vary wildly. Honda’s study shows that the Ridgeline spends most of its time on the highway with nothing in the bed or in tow. Fair enough. Still, they found it prudent to tune the suspension and all-wheel-drive system for that off chance that a Ridgeline owner heads off the pavement. We were treated to a course that demonstrated the truck’s ability to conquer terrain and show off the iVTM-4’s torque vectoring abilities. A hairpin-laden dirt course was cut through a field and strewn with obstacles that included railroad ties, river rock, shallow whoops, sand, and even a stream crossing.
Photo 14/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Steering Wheel Controls
Driven back to back with a competitive Tacoma and Colorado, the Ridgeline tackled every obstacle with the same relative ease as the more traditional pickups. However, the Ridgeline’s ride was smoother, power delivery was better, and traction control more deliberate. This was all to be expected since Honda built the course to showcase their pickup. Nonetheless, the Ridgeline completed all of the obstacles and demonstrated that it can go anywhere 95 percent of owners would want to go. And while the Tacoma and Colorado would surely walk away from the Ridgeline on a proper rocky trail where four-wheel Low is required, that’s not where Ridgeline owners are going to go anyway.
Lastly, we saddled up a trailer weighing about 4,000 pounds and threw about 500 pounds of payload in the bed and hit the road. Our time with weight in tow was again brief, but it gave an OK feel for how the truck would do on the open road. Our convoy only made it up to about 40 mph. However, the truck had no issues moving the load from a dead stop to that speed. Rear end sag was minimal, and the suspension remained just as compliant as unloaded, with no odd pitching or rolling. We can’t really comment on braking since they had installed aftermarket trailer brake controllers on the truck, but we suspect all would be fine.
We have no problem fully admitting that we went into this drive with a degree of prejudice and a few preconceived notions, but by the end of our short time with the Ridgeline, these had all been wiped away. Overall, the truck is a fantastic piece of craftsmanship from a company that is known for building simple, safe, efficient, and reliable automobiles. While it may not be the right truck for everyone, it sure gives the rest of the midsize class a run for their money. And, as you may have noticed throughout this piece, we believe the Ridgeline fully deserves the title of pickup. As times change so should our definition of things, and while Ridgeline doesn’t fully subscribe to the traditional guidelines of body-on-frame with a separate bed and two-speed transfer case, it tows, hauls, and off-roads with the best of them. And in the end, isn’t that what being a truck is all about?
Photo 15/15   |   2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive Rear
2017 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition
Vehicle type: 5-passanger pickup
Base price: $26,475
Price as tested: $42,870
Engine: 3.5L iVTEC V-6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 262 @ 4,700 rpm
Curb weight: 4,500 lbs approx.
Towing capacity: 5,000 lbs
EPA mileage rating: 18 city/25 hwy/21 comb

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