First Test: 2006 Honda Ridgeline

Evolution or footnote?

Allyson Harwood
Sep 17, 2005
Photographers: John Kiewicz
A great deal of debate surrounds the Honda Ridgeline. Does it represent the next line-blurring vehicle on the market, joining the Avalanche, Explorer Sport Trac, and H2 SUT, among others? Is it a truck? Does it redefine the pickup? These questions aren't easily answered by looking at the vehicle's attributes. It's on a modified version of the Odyssey/Pilot platform, but said to be 93 percent unique from any other Honda. Like those vehicles, the Ridgeline uses unibody construction, but adds a reinforced boxed ladder frame. It's got a transversely mounted engine and coil-spring multilink rear suspension (unlike any other pickup this large) and all-wheel drive. Yet, it offers a 1558-pound payload capacity, some off-road capability, and can tow 5000 pounds.
From the ground up, the Ridgeline was built for everything Honda buyers and owners would want in an SUV, plus the anticipated capability they might need in a truck. A good example of this compromise is the way Honda engineers straddled the fence between a car and truck platform--specifically, a unibody chassis that has a ladder frame inside. There are seven steel-reinforced crossmembers that, along with the lower part of the unibody, form six fully boxed support zones. It's meant to allow for independent front and rear suspensions that will improve the vehicle's handling and safety as well as provide better use of space. The MacPherson struts work with coil springs in front; it's a match that's proven successful in many trucks and SUVs. However, the rear suspension mates a multilink trailing-arm setup with coil springs.
Photo 2/9   |   2006 Honda Ridgeline top Rear Right View
While this provides for excellent on-road handling and makes the ride comfortable in many conditions, our concern would be with the Ridgeline's capacity for extended hard work. Still, after driving the Ridgeline over our local commuter route for several days with close to 900 pounds in the bed, we were impressed with how it performed.
Honda's updated Variable Torque Management four-wheel drive (VTM-4), as seen in the Pilot, is what provides all-season traction for the Ridgeline. But don't be fooled. This is not meant to be a heavy-duty four-wheel-drive system, but it will offer plenty of grip when the road surfaces get dicey. Briefly, it works on three levels; it distributes torque to help reduce torque steer, it directs traction to wheels that have more grip, and it has a pushbutton center-diff lockup that sends the maximum amount of torque to the rear wheels. A 50/50 split only happens under six mph and gradually decreases as speeds increase to 18 mph, when the locking feature is disengaged. Get back under 18 and the "locker" reengages. While it's not a true four-wheel-drive system, it does help when climbing a steep hill on a dirt road, as long as you have the momentum.
Photo 3/9   |   2006 Honda Ridgeline top Side View
The 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6, putting out 255 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque, has a pretty good fuel economy of an EPA-rated 16 city/21 highway. During our two tankfuls of driving, which included our loaded bed, we averaged 17.8 mpg. Given that we tend to be heavy-footed, this bodes well for those hoping to brush up against the 20-mpg mark when comfortably driving around town.
Honda engineers tell us that at least some of the shape of the Ridgeline was determined by what it needed to do. To get the ride and noise levels right, it had to be a unibody, but in order to keep the bed and body one piece, structure and bracing needed to be added to the thickened C-pillar. Honda used high-strength steel and heavy-duty crossmembers underneath the vehicle, but found areas where weight could be reduced without losing the necessary structural rigidity. The bed is 49.5 inches wide and 78 inches long (tailgate down), providing enough room for everything from ATVs to home-improvement supplies. The in-bed trunk is weathertight and offers 8.5 cubic feet of locking storage space in an area that other manufacturers have had to ignore because of traditional live-axle/leaf-spring rear ends. The bed also contains three sets of wheel supports in the front wall (for motorcycles), six tiedowns, and a tailgate with a load rating of 300 pounds. In addition, it's our hope every pickup truck built from now on offers the dual-action fold-down or swing-out rear tailgate option. After one use, you'll wonder how you ever did without it.
Truck, crossover, SUT--whatever you call it, the Ridgeline is a solid vehicle to drive. Its ride is comfortable and compliant, without lulling you to sleep. Just as you'd expect, it absorbs bumps and potholes like no other truck on the market. The rack-and-pinion steering is predictable and communicative. Need nav? This system is one of the best available, with a large, high-definition screen and an easy-to-follow menu.
Photo 4/9   |   2006 Honda Ridgeline front Interior View
Photo 8/9   |   2006 Honda Ridgeline side Angle View
With all that said, as pleasant as the Ridgeline is, it's not a pickup truck, and it's not for serious truck people. Although durability is a Honda trademark, we'd be worried about enlisting the Ridgeline into hard work for too long with its transverse-mounted V-6 and coil springs. Likewise, we like a four-wheel-drive system with more meat--specifically, with a low-range gear, or at least a lower first gear. And then there's towing. We'll wait to pass judgment here until a more thorough test; however, we do like that Honda has added more cooling changes to this V-6 than any other platform where the 3.5 is offered. Bottom line: This one is a truck for people who don't like trucks and don't want any of the typical compromises. The problem is that we like trucks and we understand the compromises. Guess we're not the target, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of people who are. If a nontruck pickup works for you, this vehicle surely will, too.
Photo 9/9   |   2006 Honda Ridgeline top Side View
2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL
General
Location of final assembly Alliston, Ontario, Canada
Body style 4-door, 5-pass pickup
EPA size class Light truck
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Airbags Front, side, side curtain
Powertrain
Engine type 60o V-6, all aluminum
Bore x stroke, in 3.50 x 3.66
Displacement, ci/L 212/3.5
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 automatic
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 70.3
Track, f/r, in 67.1/66.9
Headroom, f/r, in 40.7/39.1
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
Approach/departure angle, deg 24.5/22.0
Bed size LxWxD, in 60.0x49.5x20.7
Curb weight, lb 4568
Max payload capacity, lb 1558
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 Var assist power 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 245/65R17
Load/speed rating 105S
Performance
Acceleration, sec
0-30 3.1
0-40 4.5
0-50 6.4
0-60 8.6
0-70 11.1
0-80 15.3
0-90 19.9
Standing quarter-mile, sec @ mph 16.46 @ 84.19
Braking, 60-0, ft 139
Lateral acceleration, g 0.77
Speed through 600-ft slalom, mph 57.5
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy 16/21
Observed fuel economy 17.3
Price
Base price $32,005
Price as tested $35,155
On sale Currently

Alternatives
It's hard to categorize the Ridgeline, but the vehicle still has competitors. We assume you're not going to buy it without cross-shopping. So how does it match up against the rest?

  Wheel
base, in
Length/
width/
height, in
Horse
power
Torque, lb-ftGround clear-
ance, in
Towing cap, lbGVWR, lbMSRP*
Chevrolet Avalanche 1500130.0221.7/
79.8/
73.6
2853258.681007000$37,010
Dodge Dakota SLT Quad Cab131.3218.8/
71.7/
68.7
2503007.968006010$25,665
Ford Explorer Sport Trac XLT125.9205.9/
71.8/
70.4
2052407.949904740$28,415
Honda Ridgeline RTL122.0206.8/
87.3/
70.3
2552528.250006050$32,640
HUMMER H2 SUT122.8203.5/
81.2/
81.2
32536510.067008600$52,485
*Mid-level models, per IntelliChoice

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