Honda Jumps Into The Crossover-Pickup Fray With A Brand-New SUT
Nope, it's no April Fool's joke. Honda really is jumping into the pickup-truck wars with its newest offering. The new pickup-SUV is called the Ridgeline, and it should be showing up at Honda dealerships around the time you read this.
Contrary to the industry pre-buzz, the new Honda is not simply a "Pilot with a bed." While it shares some DNA with its sister SUV, as well as with the Acura MDX, over 90 percent of the components on the Ridgeline-including the chassis and body, interior, suspension, and four-wheel-drive system-are unique to the vehicle.
Powering the new SUT is a slightly goosed version of the Acura 3.5L 24-valve aluminum passenger-car V-6, now rated at 255 hp at 5,750 rpm and 225 lb-ft of torque at 4,500, and an MDX-sourced 5AT five-speed automatic transmission. With widely spaced First and Second gear ratios and 4.55 axles, the slightly undersquare V-6 is able to generate a strong and steady torque curve from idle all the way to 4,000 rpm. Dual-stage induction improves airflow, and overall, the 4,500-pound truck accelerates surprisingly well under midsize V-6 power. EPA mileage estimates are 21 highway, 16 city. At our media introduction, a few malcontents were heard grumbling for a V-8, but hey, Acura owners have been doing that for years. Perhaps for 2007?
Suspension is independent at all four corners: MacPherson struts and coilover shocks up front, and a multilink/trailing-arm setup with coilovers out back. Combine this street-tuned suspension with a rigid unitized body-on-frame, power rack-and-pinion steering, and a relatively wide (67-inch) track, and it's no surprise that the Ridgeline delivers a controlled and carlike pavement ride, with excellent lateral stability and cornering characteristics at freeway speeds.
The Ridgeline's four-wheel-drive system, called Variable Torque Management (VTM-4), should be thought of as a part-time "variable" system. At normal cruising speeds, the Ridgeline functions in front-wheel drive. Whenever front-to-rear differentiations in wheelspeed are detected-be it during acceleration, in corners, or in low-traction conditions-torque is transferred to the rear by a single-speed transfer case as the system's ECU sees fit; max rear-wheel torque transfer is 70 percent. There's also a pushbutton "lock" function on the dash, which, when activated, engages a set of electromechanical clutch packs in the rear diff to maximize torque delivery to each rear wheel. The locker (technically, a limited-slip) will stay engaged in First, Second, or Reverse gear at speeds below 18 mph. Once up to speed, the system shuts off automatically.
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So can you actually four-wheel this thing? Yes, and it's a lot more capable than you'd imagine. We had a chance to spend an afternoon flogging the Ridgeline around an off-road course in the hills outside of San Diego, and we came away impressed by the SUT's willingness to tackle just about anything we threw at it. There was plenty of power on hand to blast up steep, loose-dirt hillclimbs; the stiff chassis and relative lack of suspension uptravel helped us keep all four wheels on the ground, even at rally-car speeds on uneven dirt; and the pushbutton limited-slip worked seamlessly on those occasions when we lifted a rear tire at slower speeds (though the first time we tried it, we had to wait a couple of seconds for the coils in the diff to heat up). The disc brakes seemed a bit grabby, particularly the 13-inch rears, but the rack-and-pinion made tight corners (and controlled drifts) a breeze; it's also well insulated-we didn't feel much if any feedback being transferred through the column on our flog. About the only kind of discipline we didn't attempt was rockcrawling, but that's OK-the Honda's 8.2 inches of ground clearance are fine, but with a 25-degree approach angle and 12.26:1 crawl ratio (no low-range, remember), we didn't need proof that the Ridgeline's not too keen on rocks.
Honda claims the Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds, and to prove it, they let us hitch up a twin-axle trailer filled to max load capacity and turned us loose on a paved slalom course. The 3.5L struggled a bit to get up to speed, but road feel and roll stability remained exceptional (despite our being a tad over the rated tongue weight), even when stuffing the Honda into corners at speeds we'd normally never attempt while towing. Honda equips the Ridgeline with auto-tranny and power-steering coolers from the factory, so this truck was built with more than passenger hauling in mind. The Honda's 5x4-foot bed, while small, has ample storage space, with a waterproof underbed compartment that can accommodate the spare tire, coolers and/or tailgate goodies (it's got a drain plug), and the bed's six tie-downs and swingdown/swingout tailgate should make loading and unloading bed toys a snap.
While we won't be seeing the Ridgeline at our 2006 Four Wheeler of the Year test (sorry-no low-range, no invite), we're sure we'll be seeing plenty of them on the road in the coming months. With a competitive base price ($27,000)-not to mention Honda's loyal consumer base and worldwide reputation for build quality and resale value-the Ridgeline figures to attract plenty of buyers looking for the work ethic of a pickup truck, the road manners of a fullsize sedan, and the mileage and safety features of a minivan. Honda forecasts sales of 50,000 units, in three trim levels, for the coming model year.
Vehicle model: '06 Honda Ridgeline
Base price: $27,000
Type: 600 aluminum V-6
Displacement (liter/ci): 3.5/214
Bore x stroke (in.): 3.50 x 3.66
Valvetrain: SOHC: four valves/cyl.
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Mfg.'s hp @ rpm: 255 @ 5,750
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 252 @ 4,500
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Axle ratio: 4.553
Low-range ratio: N/A
Crawl ratio: 12.261
Frame: Integrated unibody
Body: Stamped steel
Front: IFS, coilovers, stabilizer bar
Rear: IRS, coilovers, trailing arms
Type: Power rack-and-pinion
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.38
Front: 12.6-in. discs
Rear: 13.1-in. discs
Tires: P245/65R17 105S
EPA city/highway mpg: 16/21
Base curb weight (lb.): 4,503
Wheelbase (in.): 122.0
Overall length (in.): 206.8
Overall width (in.): 76.3
Height (in.): 68.1
Track f/r (in.): 67.1/66.9
Minimum ground clearance (in.): 8.2
Bed dimensions (LxWxH) (in.): 60x21x50
Max interior cargo volume (sq. ft.): 41.4
Approach/departure angles (deg.): 25/22
GVWR (lb.): 6,050
Payload (lb.): 1,549
Maximum towing capacity (lb.): 5,000
Fuel capacity (gal.): 22.0
Seating, persons: 5