First Drive: 2017 Honda Ridgeline

Back in 2005 when announced and released the first generation Ridgeline as a 2006 model the automotive world was a buzz. How dare Honda produce a vehicle that they call a truck, market as a truck and that looks like a truck – on a unibody chassis. It was a first in the market and it was a hard pill to swallow for many, especially truck owners and enthusiasts.

But Honda is making another go at it, this time with less controversial styling, more focus on the market and a clear vision of the goal for the Ridgeline.

The Ridgeline was called out for not being a “real truck” for years despite winning many awards such as North American truck of the year as well as 2006 Motor Trend truck of the year.  The coil spring rear suspension was also a first in the truck segment and certainly did not help Honda’s fight to prove they were building a truck that was still capable despite the lack of rear leaf springs.

Fast forward to 2009 and Dodge introduced the RAM with rear coil springs and all of a sudden the Ridgeline didn’t look so out of place. Here we had a proven truck platform also moving to coil springs, perhaps a truck could be built a different way. Despite fanatical owners, proven versatility and forward thinking the Ridgeline was never a huge seller for Honda and was left to dwindle away with very little updates until its final year in 2014.

But Honda is making another go at it, this time with less controversial styling, more focus on the market and a clear vision of the goal for the Ridgeline to focus on buyers looking for that extra utility that a pickup truck offers, while concentrating on what owners of mid-size trucks do day in and day out with their trucks.  Which is simply drive them to and from the office.

In Canada the 2017 Ridgeline will be available in five trim levels starting with the LX at $36,590.  All Ridgelines in Canada come standard with a 3.5L i-VTEC Direct injected V6 producing 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Ridgeline is also exclusively offered with a torque vectoring all-wheel drive system similar to that available on the Pilot. Fuel economy for the Ridgeline is rated at 9.5 l/100 km highway and 12.8 l/100 km city for a combined rating of 11.3 l/100 km.

Standard features on the LX include the patented dual-action tailgate, in Bed Trunk, 8.0-inch display audio touchscreen, Apple Carplay / Android Auto, 225-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, remote engine start, heated front seats, front wiper de-icer, body-coloured heated power door mirrors, proximity key entry with pushbutton start and a multi-angle rear-view camera.  Adding to the features of the LX is the Sport model at $39,590 which adds: Sunroof, 10-way power driver’s seat, tri-zone automatic climate control, Honda LaneWatch blind spot display, mirror-integrated LED turn signals a power sliding rear cabin window and more.

By any other construction: Why the 2017 Ridgeline is Not a “Real” Truck but that’s OK

The EX-L trim adds some luxury trim to the Ridgeline such as Perforated leather-trimmed interior, heated rear seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, auto-dimming rearview mirror, four-way power passenger’s seat, rear climate controls and acoustic front windshield glass to reduce the NVH levels in the a cabin.  The EX-L is priced at $42,590 for an additional $4,500 you can step up to the Touring model that comes with Navigation, Blind spot indicators with rear cross traffic monitor, LED headlights, ventilated front seats a 540-watt premium audio system, Rain-sensing windshield wipers and an industry first Truck-bed audio system (more on that later).

Also a first for the Ridgeline is a “Black Edition”, priced at $48,590 this model features 18-inch Black aluminum wheels, Black emblems, Red contrast stitching on the seats, black chrome front grille and black bumper skid garnish and door/tailgate handles.

Styling / Design

The first generation Ridgeline was a love it or hate it design, it was somewhat traditional in its look from a base styling perspective with hard edges and squared off fenders in an attempt to look macho. Due to the unibody design the bed portion of the truck was attached via a buttress that extended from the cabin area of the truck which reduced some functionality of the box and created some odd styling.

The 2017 Ridgeline has been completely redesigned with a different philosophy in the styling department.  With a more car like front fascia and rounded profile the Ridgeline could be mistaken for a small crossover when seen from the front, but the side and rear profiles are all truck with the more traditional square box / cabin design.

On the inside Honda has answered the concerns of previous generation owners by upgrading the technology to be more current and create a more upscale cabin environment.  It is pretty clear that Honda took the styling for the interior right out of the Pilot, the result is more an SUV / car feel than that of a truck while you are sitting on the inside -- in the mid-size segment I think that works out just fine.

Driving on and off road

Most buyers of mid-size trucks use them as their daily driver to haul air and themselves to and from the office day in and day out.  They are looking for that smaller platform to allow for ease of parking when shopping or heading downtown for an evening on the town.

The interior is quiet and the ride quality of the Ridgeline is miles ahead of others in the segment.  The traditional body on frame truck designs with solid axles, ride rough are noisy and they hop and skip over anything but smooth as glass roadways.  The Ridgeline on the other hand, due to its stiff unibody design and multi-link rear suspension with coil springs, simply drives like a car with smooth on road performance that translates into a comfortable ride no matter the state of the roads in your area.

In back-to-back testing against the competitors (Chevrolet Colorado and Toyota Tacoma) we headed off road and through some fields to test the capabilities and ride quality of the trucks.  The Ridgeline with its torque vectoring all-wheel drive system was more than capable of keeping up with the competition on the more off-road type obstacles like sand and rock climbing while offering even more confidence in the fields as power is transferred to the outside rear wheels in order to help turn the vehicle when it begins to understeer.  Dare I say it was actually fun to drive flat out in an autocross type setup with the Ridgeline on dirt -- it felt very car like, heck even sports car like!

Towing / Hauling

Honda spent a lot of time with us trying to prove to us that the Ridgeline, despite its unibody construction is still plenty capable of towing and hauling a load when called upon.

The new squared back box is now four-inches longer for a total of 5-foot 4 inches and is rated to carry a payload of 718 kg (1,584 lb).  The bed liner itself is newly upgraded for the 2017 model and is now scratch proof. The previous bedliner was a painted material the new material is embed with a UV protection that ensures the bed stays black and fresh for the life of the vehicle.

Inside the bed are eight standard tie-down points each rated for 350 lb. Inside the bed is a truck exclusive bed box that is capable water tight and lockable, also located inside the bed is a spare tire which is kept out of the salt and dirt to keep it protected and clean.  The Honda patented swing out tailgate remains for the 2017 Ridgeline and allows for easy access to the bed when loading large objects.  Also inside the bed is a smaller storage box on the right side that is watertight and offers an A/C outlet that is rated at 150 watts with the engine off and 400 watts with it running.

Honda is very proud of their Truck Bed speaker design as well, which does not use speakers but audio exciters mounted on the inside panels of the bed.  These exciters vibrate the bed itself and use the bed as the speaker.  The result is actually loud and clear audio that is weatherproof and reliable -- this feature could be useful when camping or tailgating, a feature more important for the US market than Canada.

We did get a chance to test the Ridgeline with an ATV loaded in the bed but the one provided was a mere 400 lb, not nearly heavy enough to convince me that I would want to load 1,500 lb in the bed and head down the highway.  That said I wouldn’t want to load 1,500 lb in any mid-size truck and head down the highway for fear of being overloaded, these smaller trucks are just not up to a task that large.

We also had a chance to tow with the Ridgeline as well during our testing, Honda provided an opportunity to pull a 3,500 lb boat out of the water as well as to tow 3,600 lb of Honda ATVs on a short road loop.  With a rated towing capacity of 2,268 kg (5000 lb) the Ridgeline is quite capable of towing small utility trailers, dirt bikes and ATVs.  When towing the 3,600 lb loaded trailer I did notice quite a bit of reverse shock from the trailer pulling the truck on bumps and ruts so I’m not sure I’d want to max out the towing capacity due to the lightweight nature of the truck itself.  But for occasional towing and putting that boat in the water the Ridgeline performed well as expected.

Overall

After a few hours behind the wheel towing, hauling, off-roading and highway driving I have to admit the Ridgeline does all of the tasks well.  It really is a great car and a good truck too and if you are looking for that extra utility that a pickup offers without the negatives such as a rough ride and noisy interior the Ridgeline ticks a ton of boxes.  I’m not really sure the Tacoma and Colorado are genuine competitors to the Ridgeline, it seems as though the Ridgeline is in a class of one.

A vehicle that is capable of performing like a truck for many light and medium duty tasks while offering the comfort and convenience of a car or crossover for the majority of the time that owners will be driving their vehicles.  With the new styling and upgraded technology I think Honda may have to ramp up production for 2017 there are going to be a lot of current Ridgeline owners lined up for an upgrade and many SUV buyers looking for a little more utility that will take the plunge as well.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline will be available in showrooms later this summer.

Pricing: 2017 Honda Ridgeline
2017 Honda Ridgeline LX: $36,590
2017 Honda Ridgeline Sport: $39,590
2017 Honda Ridgeline EX-L: $42,590
2017 Honda Ridgeline Touring: $47,090
2017 Honda Ridgeline Black: $48,590

Back in 2005 when announced and released the first generation Ridgeline as a 2006 model the automotive world was a buzz. 5/12/2016 9:21:35 AM