Don’t call the new Honda Ridgeline a pickup truck, even if it looks more like one than it used to.
Like the Honda Pilot crossover it’s based on, the Ridgeline’s body is the frame, so it’s more of a car. For most drivers, this is a good thing.
That was also true of the first-generation Ridgeline, the one with the big flying buttresses that even its otherwise happy owners told Honda they really didn’t love. They’re gone, replaced by a more traditional pickup profile that’s grafted onto a near-perfect port of the front end of a Pilot … which doesn’t look much like a truck … hmm. Did I mention that it’s front-wheel-drive and has a four-wheel independent suspension?
What it all means is that the Ridgeline remains a unique vehicle that blends car-like comfort and amenities with the capability to satisfy a large segment of pickup buyers who don’t need the heaviest of haulers, but do sometimes haul around dirty things.
That’s not to say it doesn’t come ready to play, or get some work done. It has the same 280 horsepower V6, six-speed automatic transmission and available all-wheel-drive system as the Pilot, is light and quick on its feet, despite its beefed-up chassis and suspension, and gets 25- 26 mpg on the highway.
With a starting price of $30,375 — a fully-loaded one goes for $43,770 — the Ridgeline has the largest bed in the small crew cab class. It features a scratch-resistant composite surface that’s nearly flat, with barely-there wheel humps and 4-feet, 2-inches between them, so it can rock the sheet rock. Things with wheels — like those motorcycles and ATVs that Honda also makes — roll in easily. It can handle a payload up to 1,584 pounds, depending on the model, which puts it ahead of the Nissan Frontier and into the same league with the Toyota Tacoma, Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon.
But while their beds can carry stuff, they can’t hide it. Or sing a song. The Ridgeline has a trunk hidden under the bed that’s easily accessed via a dual-action tailgate that can either flip down or swing out like a door. The compartment is waterproof and has a drain, so you can fill it with ice and the wonderful things that go with it.
The bed is also equipped with an audio system that uses exciters to vibrate the walls and turn them into speakers. Audiophiles may balk at the idea, but it sounds surprisingly good. Besides, who’s going to complain about clarity at a tailgate party?
But don’t get any ideas about using it for a victory parade. It turns off when the Ridgeline is moving, so you’ll need a boom box or a band for your float. But not a very big one. The Ridgeline’s tow rating is 5,000 pounds, which is far below the best of the midsize pickups and solidly in crossover country. I tried towing a Honda Civic on a trailer with it and it managed fine, though a little more power would have come in handy going uphill.
With just 7.87 inches of ground clearance, the Ridgeline rides lower than a Subaru Forester, let alone a lifted rig. You won’t want to stray far from something that at least resembles a road, especially without a low range or locking differentials to get you out of serious trouble. But the all-wheel-drive system does an excellent job on flat, slippery surfaces.
It’s best on the street, though, where a smooth ride, tidy body control and a luxury car-quiet cabin will have you looking over your shoulder after a few miles to make sure you’re still in a pickup. From the front seats forward, the Ridgeline’s interior is exactly the same as a Pilot’s, wide and comfortable seats included. An available tech suite that includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and a lane-keeping assist system is a segment first, though the touchscreen infotainment system is as much in need of volume and tuning knobs here as it is in the rest of Honda’s vehicles.
The rear doors and seating area are a little smaller than the Pilot’s, but the floor is flat, and there’s enough room for small golf bags and backpacks under its flip-up split bench. Between that space and the trunk, you may never need to use the bed.
But you might, which is why you wanted a small pickup. What’s missing from this one is that “keep on trucking” feel. Honda doesn’t even offer a Western-themed version. Instead, there’s a street smart Black Edition. The only rocks you’ll want to drive it on are the cobblestones in the cool part of town.
But if you’re all hat, no cattle, and that hat is a baseball cap or a trilby, the Ridgeline is very likely the not-a-truck for you.
2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD
Base price: $30,375
As tested: $42,270
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 18 city/25 hwy