ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: It’s really easy to poke fun at the Honda Ridgeline. Just look at it. I mean, geez — the Chevy Avalanche at least tried to look rugged and still couldn’t hack it in the highly competitive truck market.
I’m not sure what statement the oddly angular yet still snooze-inducing Honda truck-thing is even attempting to make; I honestly thought they stopped making it a year or two ago. And at a time where truck builders are desperately trying to hold on to their rugged, boxy, body-on-frame heritage, the Honda sits on a FWD-biased unibody platform.
So it’s an unusual machine that can’t really go head-to-head with other trucks. But when evaluated on its own merits, it actually isn’t bad.
I know, I know — I’m as surprised as you are. Recent test trucks have included the GMC Sierra Denali and the Nissan Titan, two vehicles that more or less hew to the old-school truck ideal. Plenty of power, four-wheel-drive, huge beds, as boxy as possible while still giving a nod to the constraints imposed by rising fuel economy standards. The Ridgeline, by contrast, makes more sense when viewed as a crossover with a bed. And believe it or not, it does have a historical precedent: Witness the weird VW T2 Crew Cab.
Fittingly, ride is more carlike than trucklike. You might like that if you spend more time soft-roading than off-roading. In keeping with Honda’s cred as a solid motor-builder, the V6 is good. In fact, the V6 seemed better matched to its intended purpose than the beastly V8s in the other pickups I’ve driven lately. I didn’t tow anything, but even with the bed laden with stuff, it didn’t miss a beat. A combined 17 mpg would be impressive, if we actually achieved it — as it stands, the observed 13 mpg matches up with our recent Nissan Titan. Winter driving conditions probably didn’t help much.
I definitely used the heck out of the Ridgeline during my stint, packing its bed with furniture, lumber, car parts, etc. It worked more or less as advertised. Whether that’s an indication of the vehicle’s worth or a proof that it’s really, really hard to screw up the pickup truck formula, I’m not sure.
Yet as functional as the Ridgeline is, it doesn’t quite satisfy like a real truck. Granted, it’s probably more truck than the majority of buyers will ever need — it just lacks the presence and feel as a more traditional pickup. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but years of gravely voiceovers and slow-mo action shots set to Bob Seger seemed to have worked: I’d choose a domestic full-size over the Ridgeline, especially at this price, every time.
Of course, you might not have fallen into the same marketing trap that I (and apparently, given Ridgeline sales, the rest of the country) have succumbed to. It’s really not bad, and it might well meet your needs better than ever-more-gargantuan V8-powered Detroit offerings. Check it out for yourself and see how it fits you.
Do it soon, though. I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be stamping them out.
SENIOR ROAD TEST EDITOR NATALIE NEFF: I’m a domestic-truck homegirl, no doubt, but I have to disagree with almost everything Graham says in his setup. I don’t think it’s easy to poke fun at the Honda Ridgeline. The Chevrolet Avalanche, on the other hand, was laughable exactly because it tried to look rugged. Graham gets it right after 176 words: “The Ridgeline, by contrast, makes more sense when viewed as a crossover with a bed.” Yes, it does, because the Ridgeline is exactly that, a crossover with a bed. I don’t think Honda ever intended — nor did shoppers mistake — it for a Ford F-150 competitor.
And for that reason, the Ridgeline is a vehicle that would suit the needs of 90 percent of “real” truck buyers, those of us (Graham and myself included) who have a somewhat regular need to schlep furniture or lumber or car parts, maybe even do some light towing, but rarely find it necessary to re-enact the script of a “Like a Rock,” “Built Ford Tough” or “Professional Grade” commercial.
Personally, I’d hate to have to drive a truck or SUV every day, preferring instead a car’s inherently superior handling character (e.g., lower center of gravity) and generally smoother ride (excepting the most brutal of sports cars). Even a crappy car usually rides better than most trucky-trucks. That’s another reason the Ridgeline would make for a good choice for most, it has a much more carlike demeanor than your standard-issue “real” pickup truck. Combine that with smooth, solid Honda V6 power, a comfortable, if somewhat spartan, interior and easy-to-navigate climate and infotainment controls, and the Ridgeline makes a pretty strong argument for those who need occasional utility.
That said, the price tag for the Ridgeline takes it out of contention to my mind, especially considering it’s a pretty old vehicle. I was briefly tempted to try and beg, borrow or steal my way into acquiring one when my husband said he’d gladly swap it for his Mercury Grand Marquis (bane of my existence), but for that kind of money, I can think of a few dozen vehicles I’d opt for over this.
2014 Honda Ridgeline RTL Navi
Base Price: $38,210
As-Tested Price: $38,210
Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6; 4WD, five-speed automatic
Output: 250 hp @ 5,700 rpm, 247 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,564 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 15/21/17 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 13.2 mpg
Louisville Kentucky Honda Dealer, Bob Montgomery Honda, http://www.bobmontgomeryhonda.com