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Respectable Ridgeline: Honda's 2017 Midsize Pickup

By Frank A. Aukofer, June 25th, 2016

There will be pickup truck drivers who will scoff or disagree, but the 2017 Honda Ridgeline stands out as the best in the midsize pickup truck class.

Wait. It's not supposed to be. We're talking here about revered midsize stalwarts with the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, as well as critically acclaimed 2016 Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.

All of these, after all, follow the good old American formula of a rugged body-on-frame construction, rear leaf springs to enhance load carrying, rear-wheel drive with available four-wheel drive and a long list of variations to suit any customer.

Then there's the Ridgeline. Launched 10 years ago in 2006, it was derided by some as a pale imitation of a real pickup truck, more like a crossover sport utility vehicle with an open cargo bed. Instead of a body-on-frame, it came with a car-like unit body. Though it had all-wheel drive, it was based on a front-drive system.

But it also came with one intriguing, unique feature: a weatherproof, lockable trunk underneath the floor of the cargo bed. That attracted any number of tailgaters; some of whom didn't need much daily heavy-duty hauling.

The second-generation 2017 model still has those attributes, improved, as well as other desirable features. But it also now earns credibility as a fully realized pickup truck.

As mentioned, Ridgeline competes with the Tacoma, Frontier, Colorado and Canyon. They are all roughly the same size and weight: between 17 and 18 feet long and curb weights within 135 pounds of each other. Payloads vary, as does towing capability; variations depend on equipment and the choice of model. The latter four use rugged rear leaf springs to enhance load carrying.

But the Ridgeline comes equipped with a multi-link rear suspension system that enhances ride and handling. Yet it can carry payloads up to 1,499 pounds. Competitors' payloads range from 1,120 to 1,590 pounds.

In Honda orchestrated comparison tests with competitors Colorado and Tacoma, the Ridgeline delivered equal capability but better handling and comfort on and off road.

The Ridgeline's 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine delivers 262 lb.-ft. of torque, enabling it to tow up to 5,000 pounds. All Ridgelines come standard with tow hitches. Unloaded fuel economy is rated at 18/25/21 mpg. Competitors have towing capabilities ranging from 3,500 to 6,100 pounds.

There are seven versions, starting with the base RT model, with a $30,375, including the $900 destination charge, and ranging up to the top-line Black Edition at $43,770. It features interior, exterior and wheels all painted black, no doubt for customers who want to appear mildly menacing.

Driven for this review was the RTL-E, with a $42,270 price a notch beneath the Black Edition. Both versions come standard with all-wheel drive. Front-wheel-drive is also offered.

All Ridgelines carry the same 3.5-liter V-6 linked to a six-speed programmable automatic transmission. Front-drive models come with a snow setting to minimize slippage. All-wheel drive models come with settings for normal, snow, sand and mud. The settings, along with nearly 8 inches of ground clearance, impart substantial off-road capabilities for the all-wheel drive versions.

strong>Several Ridgeline innovations deserve mention: the sheet molded compound bed liner sustained no damage in a demonstration in which 1,500 pounds of rocks were dumped from 6 feet high off a front-end loader. A reinforced rear cabin can keep a 1,100-pound load from intruding into the passenger cabin in a 30 mph frontal collision, Honda says.

All Ridgelines arrive with full basic safety equipment. The tested RTL-E also came with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring. Curiously, only one model, the RTL-T, is equipped with Honda's Lane Watch system, which shows the right side blind spot on the center screen.

Super cool for tailgating is an audio system that uses so-called exciters to convert the cargo area into a giant loudspeaker. The weatherproof exciters, similar to the magnets in audio speakers, are attached to the insides of the vertical side and forward bed liners. They vibrate the liners into giant speakers. Audiophiles might get picky but they sounded fine to these ears.

If potential customers can get over stereotypes and take a discerning look at the Ridgeline, it should soon become a respected member of the midsize pickup class.

Specifications

Base price $41,370 (as tested: $42,270)
Curb weight 4,515 lbs.
Displacement 3.5-liter
Engine type 24-valve V-6 iVTEC
Epa mileage rating 18 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 19.5 gal.
Horsepower (net) 280 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 210 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 262 at 4700 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD midsize pickup
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