The Honda Ridgeline is the pickup truck designed for suburban types who don't need a seriously muscular rig or who are not serious about the image pickups project.
Consequently, the Ridgeline is a niche product with a very small audience. Sure, it has a car-like ride and a certain level of pickup utility - as much of it as many buyers will ever need, in fact - but the truth is, the Ridgeline has fallen far short of a sales success. To spur some interest, Honda Canada has lately slapped on a $5,000 factory-to-dealer incentive for cash buyers only.
What they'll get is a smallish pickup with above-average ride and handling. The cabin is reasonably roomy and certainly comfortable, too. Better still, the dent-resistant bed is way cool and an innovative trunk compartment beneath the bed is pretty nifty, as is the two-way tailgate. And crash test scores? Let's just say the Ridgeline sports top crash test scores, too.
The downside? Modest off-road and towing capabilities, two reasons buyers want a pickup or at least think they want one. Power is at best so-so and the V-6 engine delivers unimpressive fuel economy. As well, Honda offers just one body style - four-door crew-cab with seating for five and a small pickup bed in back. Prices: $34,990-$41,490.
The Ridgeline, in fact, is a car-based rig that shares its unibody platform with the Honda Odyssey minivan and the previous-generation Pilot SUV. Both are distantly related to older versions of the Honda Accord.
The car connection explains why the Ridgeline drives so much like a ... well, like a car. There are no heavy-duty underpinnings at play here, which means handling is perfect for suburbia. Being car-based, the Ridgeline has a fairly low ride height and that means the climb into and out of it is very user-friendly - especially for shorter folks.
The relatively low ride height limits the off-road usability here, as does the standard all-wheel-drive system, which lacks low-range gearing. Add in a light-duty suspension and what you have is a pickup built for paved roads or, at the very worst, gravel-strewn cottage tracks and winter drives where you might need to cope with light snow and ice.
All that said, the real story here is the bed. It is just too small for big jobs: 2,006 mm or five feet. Sure, the bed is big enough to lug home a load of mulch for the yard, but if you need to haul full loads - even a pile of yard rubbish to the dump - the Ridgeline is undersized. Even loading three mountain bikes takes more creativity than it should.
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On the plus side, the truck bed here will never rust and never dent. The secret is the bed's composite material - plastic-like and very strong - that is reinforced with steel. Inside the bed and on the floor is a lockable "trunk" compartment into which golf clubs fit perfectly. The trunk is completely sealed and weather-proof - and drain plugs in the bottom allow the trunk to double as a huge cooler.
On the down side, this bed design means the spare tire is tucked underneath the floor. If you have a flat, you will have to unload cargo to get at the spare. While we're talking about the bed, at the very rear, Honda has equipped the Ridgeline with a tailgate that both flips down and swings out like a door. This design is intended to make it easy to load all variety of things.
The Ridgeline, in fact, does a good job of taking on a load of five people, too. Seats up front are comfortable, properly padded and come with solid leg room both front and back. Honda has also equipped this truck with plenty of cabin storage space and nifty 60/40-split rear-seat cushions designed to fold up and make room for larger items such as a television you might not want to carry home in the bed.
The entry-level Ridgeline DX lists for less than $35,000, but it's reasonably well equipped with 17-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, all sorts of power accessories, cruise control and even a six-speaker stereo with an auxiliary audio jack.
As you move up the pricing ladder, extras include dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver seat, bigger and better wheels, a sunroof, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a 115-volt AC power outlet and so on. The big options include navigation ($2,200) and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($2,406).
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For safety, well, you really can't ask for more. Standard gear includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, active front head restraints, front-seat side air bags and full-length side curtain air bags with a rollover sensor. In both U.S. government and insurance industry crash tests, the Ridgeline is a very good performer.
This brings us to power. The only Ridgeline engine is a 3.5-litre V-6 rated at 250 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. Power goes to the wheels via a five-speed automatic transmission. Even with four passengers on board and a bed full of cargo, the power here is perfectly adequate.
Towing is another matter. The maximum rating is 2,047 kg or 5,000 lbs, but the Ridgeline is hardly ideal for yanking around big trailers of any sort. If you want to pull something of any substance, you should look elsewhere.
Now if you want to look at something similar, with similar limitations, Ford offers the similarly sized Explorer Sport Trac and Chevrolet has the full-size Chevrolet Avalanche. Both, like the Ridgeline, are personal-use pickups. If you want something more serious, look at the full-size Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Dodge Ram, Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra. Somewhat smaller pickups include the Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma, GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado and Ford Ranger.
Whatever you zone in on, remember that Honda is not the only auto maker in Canada loading up pickups with generous incentives. Come ready to deal, and you'll get a good one without question.
2010 Honda Ridgeline EX-L
Type: Mid-size pickup
Base Price: $41,490; as tested, $43,080
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6, DOHC
Horsepower/torque: 250 hp/247 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.1 city/9.8 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Chevrolet Avalanche