When Honda reintroduced the Ridgeline for 2017 after a two-year hiatus, the truck, in many ways, became a new benchmark among midsize pickups when it comes to real-world usability. Two years later, trucks like the Jeep Gladiator and Ford Ranger are raising the bar for their class, redefining what a midsize truck should be. Do those exciting new entries relegate the Ridgeline to the shadows, or does a spotlight still beam upon Honda’s pickup?
Work that unibody
At first glance, the Honda Ridgeline appears to be a conventional, body-on-frame pickup truck, but it’s not. The Ridgeline actually rides on a crossover-like unibody chassis, sharing underpinnings with the Honda Pilot and Passport crossover SUVs, plus the Odyssey minivan, all which roll off the same assembly line in Lincoln, Alabama.
Thanks to its car-like underpinnings, the Ridgeline offers an Easter egg that body-on-frame pickups only dream of: An in-bed trunk. Open the tailgate, lift up on the handle on the edge of the bed floor and you’ll open a portal to an additional 7.3 cubic feet of storage. At the bottom you’ll find a drain plug in there, meaning this trunk can be used as an ice chest, making the Ridgeline the ultimate machine for any tailgate bash.
If you’re aiming to work instead of play, the Ridgeline has you covered with a payload rating up to 1,465 pounds for front-wheel-drive models and 1,580 pounds for all-wheel-drive models. That’s more than the Chevrolet Colorado and Nissan Frontier, but less than the Ford Ranger (1,860 pounds) and Toyota Tacoma (1,620 pounds). Towing capacity for FWD Ridgelines is 3,500 pounds, while AWD models can tow up to 5,000 pounds, placing the Honda in last place among its peers. The new Jeep Gladiator, which sits near the top of the midsize pickup class, can tow 7,650 pounds, while the GMC Canyon (and its Chevy Colorado twin) can tow up to 7,700 pounds when motivated by diesel power.
If you’re simply hauling humans, though, none of the competition can match the creature comforts here. The Ridgeline offers plenty of space for up to five occupants. The rear row of seats are a little upright for my liking, but are still well-suited for extended road trips thanks to an abundance of legroom. Up front in the driver’s seat, after a six-hour stint to San Francisco, my body was no worse for the wear. Honda complements that comfort with quality cabin plastics and, in the case of my tester, durable-feeling leather seats.
Lack of standard tech
At its $31,035 starting price (including $1,045 for destination), the Ridgeline comes up short on standard tech. All you get is a 5-inch touchscreen and a seven-speaker stereo. You have to opt for the RTL-T trim level at $38,045 in order to get an 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and embedded navigation.
The two highest Ridgeline trims (RTL-E and Black Edition, starting at $42,965 and $44,465, respectively) feature an 8-speaker, 540-wattthat actually doesn’t sound that premium. The two top trims also include a truck bed audio system that uses six exciters to turn the Ridgeline’s composite truck bed panels into speakers, thus reinforcing the whole “ultimate tailgating machine”.
When it comes to standard advanced driver-assistance features, the Ridgeline has none. My loaded RTL-E tester, however, comes pretty well-equipped with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, as well as front and rear parking sensors, automatic high beams and LED headlamps.
Driven to please
The Ridgeline’s party piece is the way it drives: not like a truck. Conventional, ladder-frame pickups have come a long way with how car-like they can feel, but the unibody Ridgeline offers a smoother ride and sharper handling dynamics compared with the competition. The steering is quick, accurate and offers some feedback, too. Take a turn sharply and there’s relatively little body roll as this truck demonstrates nimbleness that belies its 4,500 pounds.
The Ridgeline’s 3.5-liter V6 engine also harbors a similar disregard for weight. Making 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque channeled through a six-speed automatic transmission, the Honda moves down the road with caffeine urgency if you’re heavy on the gas, but pulls away from the lights smoothly if you’re being more mellow, thanks to a well-modulated throttle pedal. The same can be said for the brake pedal.
The EPA rates the front-wheel drive Ridgeline at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg highway, which is good, but not the best in the class. The Chevy Colorado can get 20/30 city/highway mpg when equipped with a diesel engine. Even the Toyota Tacoma can get up to 20 mpg in the city. My all-wheel-drive Ridgeline is rated for 18/25 city/highway mpg, but after 909 miles of mostly highway testing, I only averaged 22.5 mpg.
Still a solid contender
The midsize pickup class is more competitive than ever before. Honda needs to step up the Ridgeline’s game to help the truck become a segment star again. No need for a full reboot yet, though. More standard cabin tech and advanced driver-assistance technology would elevate the Ridgeline back near the top.
Even as it stands, the Ridgeline is well worth considering. Its on-road manners make it perfect for the way most people use their pickups: commuting. For the day-to-day commute, the Ridgeline is still hard to beat.