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2017 Honda Ridgeline: One of a kind, or a glimpse of future midsize pickups?

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on July 6, 2016
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Photographers: Courtesy of Honda

Honda recently unveiled the second-generation ’17 Honda Ridgeline in Texas, and we were there to get a look at this unusual pickup truck. One of the things that sucked us in was that Honda was promising a “Ridgeline Off-Road Experience,” which indicated that Honda put emphasis on off-road performance. That got our attention.

Why do we say the Ridgeline is unusual? Well, pickup trucks currently sold in the U.S. consist of body-on-frame construction and four-wheel-drive–equipped trucks are fit with a two-speed transfer case. This is where the Ridgeline is unique. The truck is of unibody construction, has IFS/IRS, and uses an AWD system with no transfer case.

The previous-generation Ridgeline, which was in production from 2006-2014, was also unibody, but the structure of the new Ridgeline has improved body rigidity. Honda says that torsional rigidity has been improved by 28 percent. The new Ridgeline’s structure also features things like collar and butterfly subframe mount braces (said to increase stiffness by 45 percent) and C-pillar critical unibody joints comprised of spot welding, structural adhesive, and mechanical fastener.

The AWD Ridgeline uses the Intelligent Variable Torque Management System (i-VTM4). This system is used on other Honda vehicles, including the Pilot, but the Ridgeline gets several exclusive items including upgraded axleshafts and driveshaft. Quite simply, a driveshaft runs from a front-mounted power take-off unit to the rear-drive unit that’s mounted in the rear suspension subframe. This high-tech system has the ability to send up to 100 percent of available torque to the front wheels during normal cruising but can send up to 70 percent of available torque to the rear wheels when needed. Additionally, up to 100 percent of the torque sent to the rear axle can be applied to either the left or right wheels as needed.

One of the most fascinating areas (to us anyway) of the Ridgeline is the cargo bed. It carries over many features of the first-gen Ridgeline, but is wider and longer than its predecessor and it has some improvements including a UV stabilizer imbedded in the glass-fiber reinforced SMC bed interior. This means it won’t fade. Other areas of interest include bolt-on rear fenders, a dual-action flip-down and swing-open tailgate, and an in-bed trunk. Further, with a width of 5 feet and a length of 5 feet 4 inches, the bed allows 4x8 sheet goods to lay flat, though they will extend over the tailgate.

We had a chance to drive the Ridgeline on-road, and not surprisingly, it drove more like a car than a truck. We also towed and hauled with the Ridgeline and were impressed at the power generated by the direct-injected 24-valve 3.5L V-6 engine and the smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission. Off-road was where things got interesting. The Ridgeline has an approach angle of 20.1 degrees, a departure angle of 22.1 degrees, a breakover angle of 19.6 degrees, and 8 inches of ground clearance. These numbers are competitive with the Chevy Colorado Crew Cab Z71 we tested at Pickup Truck of the Year 2016 but not as good as the Toyota Tacoma Double Cab TRD from the same test. On the Honda-designed off-road course, the Ridgeline ate up everything we threw at it, including slow-speed off-camber crawling and faster-than-recommended passes over rough terrain. The i-VTM4 worked seamlessly to send power where it was needed. At speed in the rough stuff, the IFS/IRS helped the truck exhibit surprisingly good handling and control.

We approached the Ridgeline skeptically, but in the end, we were mostly impressed by the Ridgeline’s overall function and many of its features. We especially liked the functionality of the dual-action tailgate, and there’s no arguing that i-VTM4—though complex, it works very well. The truck is tailor-made for the “I want a truck, but I don’t want a truck” buyer. We’re less than enthused about unibody construction for pickup trucks, but we wonder if it’s the future of small and midsize pickup trucks. If so, Honda is on the leading edge.

The Ridgeline is powered by a transverse-mounted direct-injected 3.5L V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The interior is well designed and all the latest tech is available. This is the interior of the Black trim Ridgeline. There are six other trim levels available.

At 50.2 cubic feet, the Ridgeline has best-in-class cargo volume with the rear seats folded. This compares to the Chevy Colorado with 44.6 cubic feet.

This center console-mounted button controls the Intelligent Traction Management (ITM) system. It allows the driver to toggle between Normal, Snow, Mud, and Sand settings.

ITM settings are displayed in the instrument cluster. These settings alter the drive-by-wire system, power delivery to the wheels, transmission settings, and VSA and TCS systems to tailor the vehicle’s capability in specific off-road conditions.

The Ridgeline has a glass-fiber reinforced SMC bed interior, and Honda demonstrated its durability by dropping a load of rocks into the bed.

The Ridgeline’s dual-action tailgate is pretty slick, and when it’s used in the swing-open mode, it allows easier access to the cargo bed. We thought the in-bed trunk was a neat feature; though, if cargo was being hauled, it would probably have to be removed to access the trunk.

Pricing
There are seven trim levels of the ’17 Honda Ridgeline available and all are available with AWD. Pricing for the base-level AWD Ridgeline in RT trim starts at $31,275. Pricing tops out at $42,870 for the Ridgeline AWD in Black trim.

Towing and Hauling
The AWD Ridgeline has a towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds and a total payload capacity of 1,499-1,584 pounds depending on trim level.

MPG
Honda says that the AWD Ridgeline has EPA fuel mileage ratings of 18 city, 25 highway, and 21 combined across all trim levels. Factored with the 19 1/2-gallon fuel tank, this gives the Ridgeline a maximum 487 1/2-mile cruising range.

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