2017 Honda Ridgeline Review

Everything makes a comeback.

The El Camino, for instance. Only today it’s called the Ridgeline — and Chevy doesn’t make it.

Honda does.

But it’s the same thing, basically:

A car with a pick-up bed.

Better, in some ways.

Because it has four doors instead of just two, no driveline hump dividing the floor pan in half, cramping up the interior (because it’s based on a FWD design, engine and transmission/axle mounted together and sideways, up front, not front-to-back as in a rear-drive truck) and can be ordered with an all-wheel-drive system — something the rear-drive-only El Camino never offered.

So, it’s better in snow — on paved roads, even the FWD version — because it’s better, traction-wise, to pull than push. And it can haul more people more comfortably.
It can also cart up to 5,000 lbs. — much more than most cars and almost as much as many mid-size trucks.

One of the few things it hasn’t got that the El Camino did have (until near the end) is a V8 engine.

And, of course, a Mr. T air freshener hanging from the rearview… optionally available.

WHAT IT IS

The Ridgeline is Honda’s fusion of car and truck themes.

It looks like a mid-sized/crew cab truck — and has a bed, like a truck — but under the skin, it has more in common with cars. Including most notably its car-type FWD (AWD optional) drivetrain, integrated (unibody) frame and chassis and its car-like easy-access step-in height.

The classic El Camino (last sold new back in ’87) actually had more in common with trucks even though it looked more like a car. Because it was based on a rear-wheel-drive layout, like a truck — and came with V8 power.

Like the El Camino, the Ridgeline pretty much has the market to itself because no one else makes a direct competitor. There are cars and crossover SUVs on the left — some of which offer AWD and a bit more ground clearance but all of which have fully enclosed passenger/cargo areas, limiting what you can cart around. Most can’t pull much, either.

And on the right, there are trucks — which have beds and can cart (and pull) stuff around — but which are also… trucks. Which in 2WD form suck in snow — unless you order them with 4WD. With a driveline hump — even without 4WD — dividing the interior, eating up the space available.

Which are harder to climb aboard because of their jacked-up ride height.

And which ride and drive like… trucks.

In the middle — and all by itself — stands the Ridgeline.

Base price is $29,475 for an RT trim with FWD.

Adding the available AWD system increases the sticker price to $31,275.

There are also RTS, Sport, RTL, RTL-T and RTL-E trims, each available with or without AWD. All are crew cabs (four full-size door) and come with a 5.3 foot bed.

The top Ridgeline trim is the all-black (even the wheels) Black Edition, which comes standard with the AWD system and pretty much everything that’s standard (and optional) in the lower trims, plus unique all-black leather seating with contrast red stitching and ambient red interior lighting.

It stickers for $42,870.

The next-closest thing to a Ridgeline is a mid-sized “real” truck like the Chevy Colorado (and its GMC twin, the Canyon) crew cab, which starts at $24,990 for a 2WD (rear-wheel-drive) model with a four cylinder engine. A more comparably equipped V6/2WD Colorado crew cab stickers for $27,120.

Adding 4WD ups the MSRP to $30,365.

You might also take a look at the Toyota Tacoma — same basic thing as the Colorado/Canyon.

Or maybe check the classic car classifieds for a nice old El Camino!

WHAT’S NEW

The Ridgeline is back after a two year “vacation.”

It’s been thoroughly gone over — retaining the elements that made the original popular (including the multi-function bed with large/lockable under-bed storage area) plus some important tweaks to correct design aspects of the original that were less than ideal, such as the plasticky interior, semi-cramped rear seats and — most of all — the body-cladded neo-Aztekian exterior styling and loose-toothed acceleration.

Also, you can buy a lower-cost FWD version now.

The previous Ridgeline came only with AWD.

However, it’s still made in just the one take-it-or-leave-it crew cab (and short bed) body style.

WHAT’S GOOD

Most of what makes a light-duty truck useful, without the downsides of actually owning a truck.

It’s quick: zero to 60 in six seconds vs. 8.3 before.

It’s no longer ugly. Non-Aztekian exterior styling.

Drives like the car that it is under its skin.

Can carry about as much in its bed as a “real” mid-sized truck with a short bed; like the Chevy Colorado crew cab; maybe more stuff because of its clever under-bed storage area.

Spacious/versatile interior — especially the back seats.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Tap/swipe touchscreen can be hard to use accurately when you’re moving.

Wider turning circle than before (44.4 feet vs. 42.6 for the previous Ridgeline — and 41.3 for the current Chevy Colorado crew cab).

Hasn’t got a real spare tire — and the donut spare it does have is located under the bedliner. If you get a flat and have stuff in the bed, you’ll have to unload the bed before you can change the tire.

Gas mileage is better than before, but it’s still about as thirsty as a mid-size truck (and thirstier than a mid-sized truck with a diesel engine, like the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon can be equipped with).

UNDER THE HOOD

As before, the Ridgeline comes standard with a 3.5 liter V6. Unlike before, it has gumption now: 280 hp (vs. 250) and it’s paired with an also-new six-speed automatic (a five-speed automatic was used previously).

You can choose either FWD or (optionally) AWD in all trims except the Black Edition, which comes with AWD standard.

To Honda’s credit, the Ridgeline’s optional AWD system is not marketed as “4WD.”

Technically, it would be accurate to describe it that way, since all four wheels are driven. However, it would also be at least a little bit disingenuous, because “4WD” has traditionally been used to describe a truck-type system, one based on a rear-wheel-drive layout, that’s usually part time (usually, the rear wheels are driven when the 4WD is not engaged) and which has a two-speed transfer case and low-range gearing.

The Ridgeline’s AWD system is full-time and (usually) most of the power goes to the front wheels, with power kicked back to the rear wheels when the front wheels begin to slip.

Also, there is no two-speed transfer case and so no low range gearing.

It is a much lighter-duty system than most truck-type systems, designed chiefly to increase traction on paved roads when it rains and snows. It is not designed to tackle unpaved (or unplowed) roads and deep mud.

But — and this is important — AWD — is the better pick for on-road driving.

And for that matter, so is FWD.

AWD systems are (usually) full-time, or always on. Most truck-type systems are either on (you’re in 4WD) or not on (you are in 2WD… which means rear-wheel-drive… with not much weight on the rear wheels … which usually means lots of wheel slip in snow (and wet).

AWD also helps with cornering traction on dry roads; 4WD isn’t really meant for that. It’s designed to increase traction in a straight line and (read the manual) should not be left on when you’re driving (and cornering) on dry, paved roads. Doing so can result in excessive/premature wear and tear.

Truck-type 4WD also adds weight — several hundred pounds, typically. Much of that coming from the (usually) cast iron transfer case, which the Ridgeline’s AWD system doesn’t have.

Speaking of which, the new Ridgeline itself is much lighter: 4,242 lbs. for the FWD version vs. 4,504 lbs. before. This plus 30 more hp is probably why the ’17 is so much quicker (zero to 60 in about six seconds vs. 8.3 before) and also more fuel efficient: 19 city, 26 highway for the FWD version vs. 15 city/21 highway for the old AWD Ridgeline.

And the new Ridgeline with AWD (also lighter than before) isn’t too bad on gas, either: 18 city, 25 highway — better than the previous AWD Ridgeline and in line with the mileage of gas-engined mid-size trucks like the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins.

However, it’s not quite as good as the mileage delivered by the diesel-engined versions of the Colorado/Canyon, which rate 20 city, 29 highway — and can also pull up to 7,700 lbs.

The lighter-duty Ridgeline maxes out at 5,000 lbs. — but this is still much more than most cars, which usually max out at 3,500 lbs.

ON THE ROAD

It’s not overwhelming. That’s the first thing you notice.

Today’s “real” trucks — even mid-sized ones — can be.

Even if you are a large man — as I am — current pick-ups are sometimes just a bit too much. They stand so high they make even someone six feet three (like me) feel small. You have to climb in them and the bed walls are so tall you can’t see what’s in the bed (much less get to it) unless you’re standing on a milk crate. Some new trucks actually have ladders built into the tailgate.

It’s that bad.

They do drive nicely, though — even the huge (1500s and up) ones. Super quiet and (amazing, given many have leaf spring/not-independent rear suspensions) not rigid-riding. But they can be a handful.

The Ridgeline isn’t.

It is as easy to get into as any car, just about. Because it is not jacked-up off the ground, as most “real” trucks now are. It has the design advantage of a car-type chassis with its naturally lower floor pans. Most trucks — especially trucks with body-on-frame construction — are a climb to get into (and into the bed) because the cab is stacked on top of several inches of I-beam-like frame rails. Some also have another inch (or more) of rubber biscuits in between the frame rails and the body. Here you just open the door and get in.

The door sills/floor pans are only 20 inches off the pavement; for perspective, the Jeep Cherokee — a crossover SUV — I test drove last week is about the same (19 inches).
Although you do sit higher up than you would in a car, it’s more like being in a crossover SUV like the Honda Pilot — which is the DNA donor for the Ridgeline. This (crossover/car-like) is how the Ridgeline behaves on the road, too.

It is not a handful.

You face a car-like, easy-to-read gauge cluster and there’s a car-like/console-mounted gear selector rather than a truck-type column shifter.

No additional shifter for the 4WD system (because there isn’t one). If you bought the optional AWD, the only additional control surface is a little button behind the shift lever which you depress to toggle through the terrain management modes (Normal, Snow, etc.) that’s it. Unlike a part-time 4WD system, which requires more thought — and input- the Ridgeline’s system is (as in an AWD crossover) minimalist in terms of the attention it demands.

The one area where — ironically — the Ridgeline turns out to be more truck than “real” trucks like the Chevy Colorado is its turning radius — which is 3.1 feet wider than the Colorado crew cab’s (44.4 feet vs. 41.3 feet). This despite the Honda being about three inches shorter overall (210 inches vs. 212.7 for the Chevy) and having a shorter wheelbase (125.2 inches vs. 128.3 inches).

It’s also five feet wider than the Ridgeline’s half-brother, the Honda Pilot (39.1 feet). But then, the Pilot is also stubbier (194.5 inches, bumper to bumper).

But overall, it is a very easygoing, easy to live with truck.

Also, a quick truck. Much quicker than a diesel-powered Canyon or Colorado. Quicker than the gas-engined versions, too. Because it’s lighter than they are — and more aerodynamic, too.

AT THE CURB

The new Ridgeline looks more like a truck than an Aztek with a bed. This is a good thing.

So also the retention of the design features that made it possible to overlook the Aztekian looks of the original Ridgeline. Like the dual-purpose bed.

You get two. One — the obvious one — is the Ridgeline’s 5.3 foot main bed. This bed is actually slightly longer than the Chevy Colorado crew cab’s standard 5.1 foot bed. It’s also wide enough to take a 4×8 sheet of plywood or drywall lying flat; in other mid-sized trucks, you have to carry them canted at an angle — which makes it harder to carry as many.

Underneath the main bed is a second bed. Well, a well. A large, bathtub-like storage area. It’s big enough to hold several bags of ice and a few cases of your favorite beverage. It’s also hidden– and can be locked. It’s a very handy feature that’s unique to the Ridgeline. Also handy is the dual action (and likewise lockable) tailgate, which folds down conventionally as well as outward and sideways.

Not so handy is the location of the spare tire — which (because of the bathtub-like storage area) is not located under the bed, as in other trucks. It is located in a storage cubby just ahead of the bathtub-like storage area. You may see where this is headed.

To get at the spare, you must raise the lid of the bathtub-like storage area. But this is hard to do with stuff in the bed, on top of the closed lid. So if you get a flat while carrying cargo, you will have to unload the bed first.

And the spare isn’t a real spare.

It’s one of those temporary use-only mini-spares that’s not meant to replace a flat tire but only to let you gimp the Ridgeline to the nearest tire store to buy a real tire to replace the flat/damaged one.

This is ok in suburbia but not-ok if you’re in The Woods. But then, you really ought not to be there in the first place.

The bed and additional storage area — in addition to being more versatile (and spacious) than a regular crew cab pick-up’s short bed — is also easier to use because it’s lower to the ground. The Ridgeline is not afflicted with the super tall bed walls now (unfortunately) typical of even mid-sized trucks.

A step ladder is not necessary.

Inside, you’ll find more usable room, too. The second row has 36.7 inches of legroom (vs. 35.8 in the Colorado crew cab) and the back seats easily fold up to create additional room for cargo you’d rather not carry in the bed. The floor is also flat — no driveline hump — because the Ridgeline doesn’t have the space hogging driveshaft tunnel that’s part of what you get in a rear-drive-based “real” pick-up truck.

The flatness (and fold up seats) makes it feasible to carry a bicycle inside the cab.

THE REST

Some reviewers fault Honda for offering just the one body/bed configuration. It would be more El Camino-like if you could buy one with just two doors. But people mostly buy two-door trucks for work — and the Ridgeline is more for play. And for everyday use. Hauling the kids to school in the morning and hauling dirt bikes to the country come the weekend. In between daily commutes. So I don’t see a problem with the Ridgeline’s one (and only) layout. Keep in mind that real mid-sized trucks like the Colorado/Canyon and Tacoma are also hard to find in other than four-door/shorty bed layouts.

The same even goes for current 1500 trucks. They’re available — theoretically — but check out what’s sitting/ready to go on most dealer’s lots.

I would have preferred a more feedback friendly touchscreen. Trying to tap/swipe it in just the right place while you’re moving down the road is a lot like trying to shoot a gun accurately from a moving platform. The Ridgeline’s LCD looks great, but knobs and buttons would work better. Fortunately there are redundant button/knob controls on the steering wheel for many functions.

The base trim comes with a very decent (200 watt/seven speaker) audio rig, push button ignition, tilt and telescoping wheel, 18 inch wheels, LED exterior lights, receiver hitch and back-up camera. If you’re cross-shopping the Ridgeline against trucks like the Colorado/Canyon and Tacoma, take note that the lower priced “work truck” versions do not have many of these niceties.

The higher trims offer even more decent audio rigs (540 watts, eight speakers) leather seating and trim, heated seats and steering wheel, sunroof and so on.

A Cowboy Cadillac in every sense except the need for a ladder to get in the thing.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The old Ridgeline did well in spite of its flaws. This one ought to do very well — because it has very few flaws.

Just don’t forget what it is — and what it’s not built to do.

Comments?

www.ericpetersautos.com

*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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