“It’s kind of ugly” — my girlfriend’s response to a picture I texted her of the newly delivered Honda Ridgeline sitting outside my apartment. “It looks like an Odyssey with the back chopped off,” said my esteemed colleague Bryan Campbell as we discussed the good and the bad of the Ridgeline weeks earlier. In all fairness to the Ridgeline, that’s exactly what it is. I like how the Ridgeline looks, not because it’s particularly pretty, but because it doesn’t look or feel anything like any other pickup on the road.
There’s a running theme in the truck industry, and it goes something like this: Built Ford Tough. Chevy — Like a Rock. Guts. Glory. Ram. Trucks are rugged, for manly men getting work done, pulling construction equipment around and hauling gravel, crawling over mounds of dirt and rocks. They have flat, tall front-end fascias chiseled to look like a Union Pacific freight liner and suspension so tall you need an automatically deploying step to get in.
As of now, some 2.4 million pickup trucks have been sold in the US in 2016, with an average transaction price around $41,000. Trucks are far from the utilitarian workhorses they once were, now saddled with features you can also find in a luxury sedan. They’re the everyday vehicle of choice for many Americans — but pickups don’t actually make particularly good everyday vehicles. Trucks are big, unwieldy and far from efficient.
Engine: 3.5–liter V6
Transmission: 6–speed auto
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Towing Capacity: 5,000 lbs
Payload Capacity: 1,600 lbs
Drivetrain: FWD; AWD (as tested)
Fuel Economy: 19/26 mpg (FWD); 18/25 mpg (AWD)
Buy Now: $29,475+
The Honda Ridgeline, however, rectifies all of these problems. The Honda Ridgeline, unlike any other truck you can buy today, has a unibody construction and is, in fact, built on the same basic platform as the Honda Odyssey minivan. The downside here, admittedly, is the loss of towing capacity. Competitors like the Toyota Tacoma and Chevy Colorado can handle 6,500 and 7,000 pounds, respectively, while the Ridgeline can only muster 5,000 pounds. That, however, should be plenty, because 5,000 pounds is still a hell of a lot. Here’s a short list of fun things you can tow with the Honda Ridgeline: a Spec Miata racer, a modestly sized fishing boat and most camping trailers short of an Airstream Land Yacht.
The upside to the Ridgeline’s unibody architecture is that it’s incredibly well packaged. Unlike other trucks, the floor is much lower, making ingress and egress easier, which helps also increases legroom and interior cargo space. Fold the rear seat down and you get a flat floor and a cavernous amount of space. But even folding down only half the bench in the back left me enough room to carry a road bike, a hard-shelled suitcase and an entire human who didn’t once complain about a lack of space.
The best statement the Ridgeline makes is that it doesn’t make much of a statement at all.
This added space also benefits the bed area where an enclosed trunk — big enough to hold Yeti Tundra cooler and two rucksacks — is hiding, and made accessible by a tailgate that closes downwards (traditionally) and sideways, so there’s no need to hunch over the open tailgate to reach the trunk within the bed. That’s fantastic news for those who appreciate the unencumbered hauling space a truck bed provides but don’t want to give up the security of an enclosed trunk.
Ride quality is easily the Ridgeline’s best attribute. In a normal body-on-frame truck, the body and the frame are connected by a rubber bushing. Go over a bump and you really feel that bump through the frame. The cab and bed have a tendency to bounce and shake afterward. Most body-on-frame trucks are big and unwieldy in the corners, but the Ridgeline doesn’t feel any different from a modestly sized crossover. It isn’t fun, but it glides over bumpy roads and turns smoothly and sharply. The ride is truly unremarkable, which, in the context of the segment is itself remarkable.
An Odyssey with the back hacked off doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? I won’t pretend that something like a chiseled, fast and beefy Ford Raptor doesn’t appeal to me, but for the pragmatist who really just wants a truck for their day-to-day, the Ridgeline makes sense. The best statement the Ridgeline makes is that it doesn’t make much of a statement at all. For all the overly masculine, rough-and-tumble, do-it-all marketing hype that surrounds pickups, they should, at their core, be honest. So maybe that’s really the reason why I like the way the Ridgeline looks — it’s the only pickup that’s honest about what it is.