► Honda Ridgeline pick-up tested
► Naturally aspirated V6 and AWD
► 2017 model year US-market truck
The extended version of Honda’s 2010 Impossible Dream advert illustrated how Honda has built everything from motorbikes to sports cars, quad bikes to speed boats, private jets to robots. But no mention was made of a pick-up truck, perhaps because the advert was never shown in the US.
Yet Honda has designed and manufactured the Ridgeline – often referred to as a ‘sports utility truck’ – in the US since 2005. The second-generation version was launched at the 2016 Detroit motor show, and CAR took the opportunity to drive the top-spec Black Edition AWD model during a recent trip Stateside.
What platform is the Ridgeline based on?
It’s Honda’s Global Light Truck platform, which features a multi-material mix consisting mainly of super-high- (19.3%) and high-strength steel (35.7%), with a light smattering of aluminium (bonnet, front-bumper hanger) and cast magnesium (steering hanger beam). The suspension is independent at every corner and the Ridgeline measures 5335mm long, weighs 2010kg, offers a 719kg payload, and can tow up to 2268kg.
The Honda uses unitary construction (no ladder-frame chassis here) and has a transversely mounted 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 petrol engine with single overhead cams per bank and four valves per cylinder. It makes 280bhp and 262lb ft, and cylinder deactivation shuts down the rear bank of three cylinders under light throttle loads.
Buyers can opt for front- or all-wheel drive Ridgelines. The all-wheel-drive version is 100% front-wheel drive in normal driving, but Honda claims up to 70 per cent can flow rearwards in more extreme circumstances. Torque vectoring, plus Normal, Snow and Mud and Snow settings help get the power down.
What kind of customer is the Ridgeline aimed at?
Adverts in US car mags pitch the Ridgeline as being ‘as versatile as its drivers’, and shows a queue of builders, active outdoorsy types and office workers wanting to climb aboard. We suspect a self-employed tradesperson with family and some mountain bikes could be the niche’s bull’s-eye. But that’s the marketeers’ job.
What we do know is the Ridgeline really is a versatile bit of kit. The load bed is made from a composite, not exposed metal, so it’s grippy, robust and easily hosed down. Despite the all-wheel-drive system, Honda has also found space for a lockable loadbed below the main deck, albeit right at the back of the bed behind the rear axle. It also contains the spare wheel, offers watertight storage, and can be hosed and drained when needed. Other than that – and some extra storage in the back of the cab – though, your belongings are out on display.
The tailgate is also heavy to lower and lift, and accessing the lockable storage compartment is like getting the fish fingers out of the top-hinged freezer. The tailgate opens in two ways, either hinging at the bottom to lay flat (it’ll support a couple of chunky builders if you want to sit on it), or swinging open like a door.
What’s the Honda like inside?
There’s plenty of room and lots of practical touches. Most impressive is row two. You can get three child seats side-by-side, and the completely flat floor and minimalist seat frames provide storage below the rear bench. Alternatively you can completely fold the rear seat up against the rear bulkhead, or fold it away in a 40/60 split. Honda claims best-in-class interior space, and with those rear seats we found space for six big suitcases.
Up front you’ll find comfortable leather seats, and the leather-trimmed dash and excellent sat-nav (with CarPlay/Android Auto) on our top-spec Black Edition underlined a more upmarket feel than your typical truck. So too the comprehensive driver-assist systems, including the lane-departure warning, collision-mitigation braking, Hill Start Assist and adaptive cruise control systems fitted to our test car.
Does the Honda Ridgeline drive like a truck?
Actually no, it has more of an SUV feel. The first thing you notice is the electrically assisted steering, which is calibrated in this two-tonne truck to feel light and make manoeuvring easy. The standard reversing camera helps too.
It’s surprisingly quiet and refined on the road, again underlying the SUV feel. The Ridgeline has an acoustic-laminated windscreen on higher-spec models, triple door seals, and our Black Edition gets extra sound proofing beneath the carpets. The result is impressive refinement at 70mph.
The Ridgeline gets adaptive dampers as standard. There’s some low-speed fidgetiness, though nothing that really jars, and mostly you notice the soft, compliant and comfortable primary ride, as the suspension rebounds and compresses in a relaxed manner. It can’t suddenly shrug off all that weight like the best SUVs and carve through corners, but it is comfortable and composed and perfectly suited to typical driving.
Priced at $29,475, the Ridgeline competes with rivals including the Ford F-150. If it were offered in the UK, the closest competitors would be Japanese pick-ups like the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi L200.
Tell me about that V6 powertrain…
It’s certainly nice to have a smooth petrol V6 under the bonnet as opposed to the clattery four-banger diesels we’d get in the UK. Even automatically switching to three-cylinder mode can’t spoil things – we didn’t notice the transition – perhaps because active engine mounts work to damp any extra vibration.
Stamp on the accelerator and the Ridgeline will shift along quite briskly. Like the handling though, this is acceptable rather than noteworthy performance. And again, for its intended use, that’s just fine, but some turbocharged flexibility would be welcome – Ford’s smallest F-150 V6 engine has a turbo-boosted 375lb ft.
The six-speed auto is standard fit, and shifts smoothly. Unfortunately there’s no manual mode either on the stick or via paddleshifters, which adds some frustration on twisty roads as you wait for the computer chips to find the lower gear you would have selected a second or so earlier.
We were impressed with the Ridgeline. It looks suitably mean and moody in Black Edition spec, and combines some pleasingly thought-out versatility with surprisingly high levels of comfort and refinement. Offer it with a diesel and it might even make sense in the UK.
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