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Honda Ridgeline Pickup SUV Review - Faux Wheeler?

Posted in Project Vehicles on August 1, 2005 Comment (0)
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Honda Ridgeline Pickup SUV Review - Faux Wheeler?
Photographers: American Honda
131 0508 01 z+honda ridgeline+front view mud

At A GlancePrice as Tested: $35,155Engine: 3.5L SOHC V-6 with 24-valve VTEC technologyHorsepower: 255 @ 5,750 rpmTorque (lb-ft): 250 @ 4,500 rpmTransmission: Five-speed automaticAxle Ratios: 4.53 front, 3.38 rearSuspension: Fully independent with McPherson struts front, multilink rearBrakes: Four-wheel disc, ABSTires: P245/65R17 Michelin LTX all-terrainsGround Clearance (in): 8.2Payload (lbs): 1,554Tow Capacity (lbs): 5,000Fuel Economy (EPA, as tested): 16 city/21 highway, 18.5

There's no question that the Ridgeline, Honda's first pickup, is a significant addition to the truck market. Its SUV-like road manners, well-appointed interior, and surprisingly strong payload and towing capacities make it a viable player in certain segments of the new-truck market.

Does that include our part of the truck market? Probably not. In its element, the Ridgeline performs admirably. But throw even the mildest trail obstacle in its way and the truck stumbles, sure to disappoint anyone who has driven an F-150, a Silverado, a Tacoma, or any of the other, more traditional, 4x4 pickups.

On paper, at least, Honda had the right idea. According to the company's press materials, the Ridgeline was designed for "trips to remote trailheads for motorcycle, ATV, and mountain bike riding and camping, as well as excellent all-weather capabilities." We'd agree that, thanks to its fully independent suspension and a full ladder frame incorporated into the unibody, the Ridgeline rides and handles on washboard dirt roads better than any other pickup we've driven. No rattles, axlehop, or bumpsteer, just smooth tracking and sure-footed handling.

But its all-wheel-drive powertrain, a single-speed, front-wheel-biased system that can send up to 70 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels, can be easily overwhelmed. Even with the rear diff lock engaged, we were unable to climb a rutted hill at our local off-road park that would have been, well, a walk in the park for any truck with a 50-50 front/rear torque split and low range. We also noticed that the suspension offered little droop in the ruts, easily lifting a wheel where other trucks would have tires planted and working.

While we're complaining, let's talk about the engine. Again, on paper, it should be a winner-a 3.5L V-6 that puts out as much horsepower (255) as some of the other maker's V-8s, and 252 lb-ft of torque. Sadly, though, we never felt that grunt at anything other than highway speeds, probably because both the horsepower and torque peaked above 4,000 rpm.

Despite these issues, we did find things to like about the Ridgeline. The 5-foot bed has two innovative features: a two-way tailgate that swings down like a traditional 'gate or opens like a door hinged on the driver side, and a lockable, underbed storage "trunk" that easily swallows duffel bags and other gear.

We also really enjoyed the Ridgeline's cabin. There's plenty of leg, elbow, and head room inside for five passengers. The cab is filled with storage cubbies galore, and our full-boat RTL test model was outfitted with a host of gadgets that included heated front seats, a power sliding back window, a sunroof, a six-disc in-dash CD changer, and a navigation/satellite radio system that included voice-activated commands for both the nav and audio.

So, what's the Ridgeline's bottom line? It's best suited to owners of Honda products who have dirt bikes, ATVs, or other light-duty hauling chores that can't be handled by the maker's SUVs. For those of us who demand more off-road capability, it's not a practical alternative. Then again, neither was Toyota's first attempt at a fullsize pickup. And look where they are now.

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