Honda Ridgeline fills small pickup void
By ANDY MIKONIS For Sun-Times Media June 21, 2012 3:05PM
2012 HONDA RIDGELINE SPORT
ENGINE: 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6
TRANSMISSION: five-speed automatic
DRIVETRAIN: four-wheel drive
FUEL ECONOMY: 15 city/21 highway
BASE PRICE: $30,095 plus $830 destination
AS TESTED: not available
The formula for the right small pickup truck has proven elusive to most automakers. A need exists, but striking the right balance of capability and economy is the issue. Current offerings are few, especially considering the recent demise of the Ford Ranger and Dodge Dakota.
One idea is to bridge the gap between the mini- and full-size pickup with a vehicle of unitized construction and an open cargo area. Of course, the traditional pickup truck with a separate body and frame will not go away for true work uses, but can the casual user benefit from SUV refinement and still have a useful pickup bed? The Honda Ridgeline is one attempt to answer that question.
As a traditional truck guy — I’ve owned at least four full-size pickups — I was curious to drive a Ridgeline. The tester was a 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport. Like all Ridgelines, it is a four-door vehicle with an open bed, four-wheel drive and a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. Honda offers trim levels from the Spartan to the well-appointed. The Ridgeline Sport is one notch above the base level and distinguishes itself from its brethren primarily by a unique mesh grille, 18-inch alloy wheels, and head and taillight bezels all in black. Body color choices are limited to black, white or the tester’s silver. I thought this treatment complemented the Ridgeline’s distinctive styling, which included other niceties such as privacy glass, fog lights, some seriously heavy-duty floor mats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
Inside, I found the Ridgeline roomier than I expected, especially in the back. The exception was, like most transverse-engine front-wheel-drive-based vehicles, the mechanicals cut into foot-well area, limiting room for the front occupants’ outside feet. The rear seat bottoms flip up for a generous amount of cargo room should you need to haul something out of the weather.
The styling and design of the interior is appropriately trucklike, with big knobs you can operate while wearing welding gloves and large easy-to-read gauges. The radio has one odd central knob, but the rest of the layout is straightforward. It has lots of storage cubbies and large door pockets. The console has open bins as well as a closed portion. An auxiliary input jack for your music device is also included with the Sport. Another notable feature was the curiously protruding door pulls/grab bars.
The bed had a spray-on bed liner and some tie down rings to aid utility. The floor height is rather high for loading, and the way the bed sides rise up toward the cab, retrieving items from the front of the bed can be a stretch. It’s not that big by practical pickup truck standards, but a nifty two-way tailgate can be either dropped flat for longer items or opened sideways for easier loading. The hardware looks hearty and operates well.
Its most excellent feature is a lockable “trunk” in the floor of the bed. It has 8.5 cubic feet of storage and also contains the space-saver spare tire. A carefully engineered channel and rubber seal should keep contents dry, and there are drain plugs in the bottom just in case.
While all Ridgelines are equipped with a class III hitch receiver and are prewired for a trailer light harness, you’ll need the Honda accessory towing kit and a hitch ball to tow. Honda states a 5,000-pound towing capacity. Interestingly, though the Ridgeline runs on regular grade gasoline, Honda recommends premium when towing.
You can’t beat a Honda engine, and this 3.5 V-6 did not disappoint. It’s smooth and quiet with good passing power, at least when not loaded down. It takes bumps well, driving less like a truck than a unibody SUV, which it essentially is. It’s based on architecture similar to the Honda Pilot.
I don’t see Ridgeline as a true small truck replacement. First of all, at 206.9 inches long, it’s not that small. Nor is it much more efficient with fuel economy ratings of 15 mpg city and 21 highway. In my opinion, if you are going to push its payload and towing limits, you might be better off with a truck.
In some municipalities Ridgeline will be saddled with the same additional fees and restrictions as a truck anyway. However, the Ridgeline is a nice alternative to an SUV for someone whose hobbies include large and/or dirty objects that may not be appropriate for an enclosed vehicle. Think dirt bike or serious gardening supplies. Its build quality and mechanics are excellent, and it would serve such uses well.
You Might Like
- Beetle Convertible debuts with sportier style
- Lexus ES350 maintains luxury feel
- Jeep Wrangler Sport a dual-purpose SUV
- Click & Clack: How to replace a car’s interior
- Chrysler Group makes substantial investment in Ohio machining plant
- Chevrolet Equinox a distinctive and comfortable crossover
- New Ford Explorer Sport a high-performance SUV