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2009 Honda Ridgeline
2009 Honda Ridgeline

2009 Honda Ridgeline EX-L

A handy rig for weekend warriors Add to ...

When Honda introduced the Ridgeline pickup, midway through 2005, it took pains to point out that you could carry a full-size motorcycle in the back.

True, you had to load the bike at an angle - corner to corner - while leaving the tailgate down and nudging the front end hard against the cab, but it could be done - apparently.

Interestingly, at the launch, they had an ATV - not a motorcycle - on hand to demonstrate the load-carrying capabilities of the Ridgeline, and I have always been skeptical about this vehicle's ability to accommodate a full-size bike like a Harley ElectraGlide or Honda Goldwing. You may be able to get one of these bad boys aboard, but it'll be a struggle and you'll definitely need all hands on deck to get it done.

But the point Honda was trying to make was that the Ridgeline is not a working truck in the same way as, oh, a Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado. It's a go-to rig for weekend warriors who want to get away and take their toys with them.

With the body and ladder frame welded together as one component, it lacks the traditional body-on-frame construction of most other full-size trucks and the bed is actually part of the body structure and not just bolted to it.

The Ridgeline was not designed to haul a couple of yards of sand or gravel - although it probably could, and is really as much an SUV as it is a pickup.

And that's okay. This is a recreational vehicle and pretty good at it what it does. It may struggle when it comes to handling a full-size cruiser or touring bike, but it'll take one or two dirt bikes, no sweat, and you can actually drive an ATV right up on to the bed.

It also has a few slick extras in the form of a dual-action tailgate that opens out to the side or downwards, a built-in lockable storage compartment under the cargo bed, eight tie-down cleats and an additional "hidden" storage compartment under the floor.

For 99 per cent of the people who need a truck, it does the job just fine. Before it introduced the Ridgeline, Honda researched this market to death and discovered that, like the majority of SUV owners, most people simply don't use their trucks for work; they use them for fun and the toughest duty most will see is hauling yard scraps to the dump on the weekend.

But if you need to tow something, the Ridgeline can pull up to 2,268 kilograms and its 3.5-litre V-6 develops some 250 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. There is but one transmission: a five-speed automatic, and the Ridgeline has full-time all-wheel-drive.

Again, not really up to crashing through the really rough stuff, but for dealing with snow and mud, and for most off-road forays, it's more than adequate. The AWD system has a front-drive bias, but can redirect up to an impressive 70 per cent of power to the back wheels.

Fuel economy is actually pretty decent for a 2,070-kilogram truck: 14.1 L/100 km in town and 9.8 on the highway. The Ridgeline's closest competitor, the Chevy Avalanche, is a titch thirstier, and so is the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, but not by much.

The made-in-Ontario Ridgeline also seats five adults, no problem, and back-seat access is as straightforward as if you were getting into a sedan.

Honda has dropped a trim level for 2009 - the LX model - but standard equipment level is high for all three remaining versions.

The usual convenience and comfort features, such as air conditioning, one-touch-power windows, tilt steering and remote keyless entry are all in evidence, and the Ridgeline has a cool power-sliding rear window and centre console/storage bin as standard kit as well.

If you want to step up a little in comfort/luxury, you can also get a full leather interior, back-up camera, front fog lights and a compass built into the rear-view mirror.

My tester, a top-of-the-line EX-L Navi, had all of the above, plus larger 18-inch alloy wheels and tires, power sunroof, eight-way power driver's seat, a dual-zone climate control system, navigation system with Bluetooth capability ($2,200) and an additional 115-volt power outlet.

Aside from a rather peculiar body style, it's hard to find fault with the Ridgeline.

I suppose one could whine about the lack of a V-8 engine - 250 horsepower isn't really that much in a full-size truck and, with a $34,000-plus base price, there isn't a stripper version.

But this hasn't stopped buyers from visiting Honda showrooms; the Ridgeline has been a nice little success story for Honda, and, in its own way, it has redefined what pickup trucks are all about.

globeauto@globeandmail.com

***

2009 HONDA RIDGELINE EX-L NAVI

Type: Five-passenger pickup

Base Price: $40,790; as tested: $44,650

Engine: 3.5 litre V-6

Horsepower/Torque:

250 hp/247 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km):

14.1 city/9.8 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Avalanche, Ford Explorer SportTrac, Dodge Durango, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma

***

Like

Versatile

Lots of little extras

Highly driveable

***

Don't like

Still odd-looking

A V-8 engine option wouldn't hurt

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