Midsize 2017 Honda Ridgeline: It Stands Corrected

Midsize 2017 Honda Ridgeline: It Stands Corrected

Midsize Honda Ridgeline: It Stands Corrected

You can’t say Honda isn’t listening to its customers. More like stalking them, cornering them like animals in brightly lighted classrooms in the back of dealerships, battering them with clipboards, begging them for feedback. “Dear God, please, just tell us what you want and we’ll build it.”

When it came to redesigning the Ridgeline midsize pickup, the message came through loud and clear: “We hate the styling.” Specifically, the previous truck’s distinctive buttress between cab and truck bed. Rather than meeting at 90 degrees, squared off like Ford and the Lord Jesus intended, the rear window and bedside joined at 135 degrees, a phrase in sheet-metal like modern architecture, or the composite stock of a Heckler & Koch rifle.

Honda’s new Ridgeline has been re-designed but will it finally resonate with consumers? WSJ’s Dan Neil joins Tanya Rivero with his review.

The buttress emphasized a story Honda wanted to tell: Ridgeline was a unibody design, like a car, as compared with body-on-frame construction. Unlike traditional pickups, where cab and bed meet at the right angles of their function, the first Ridgeline had no cutline behind the rear doors.

The structure was tight as Tupperware, easy to drive and easy to love, with ingenious packaging and a host of firsts and bests: the weatherproof and lockable trunk concealed under the cargo bed; the magically disappearing rear seats; the cargo gate that swings both ways, if you don’t mind my saying. Happily, the best of Ridgeline’s innovations have been carried forward with interest.

The Ridgeline pickup is available with the full brace of Honda’s driver-assist technologies, including Blind Spot Information warning, seen here; adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist. HONDA

On a practical side, the previous Ridgeline design required a large single body panel from the A pillar to the tailgate. This panel had formability issues, including a high scrap rate. Also, the design didn’t allow for rear fenders to be bolt-on replacements, as is often desirable with pickups. The new design to a more formal and traditional cab-bed silhouette. HONDA

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The first-generation Ridgeline design emphasized a tough, tactical look, blocky and utilitarian. The new styling swings in the other direction, with softer, more flowing contours, very much the Accord of pickups. The Ridgeline, built in Lincoln, Ala., on the same platform as the Pilot crossover, shares the Pilot’s general facial structure (the headlamp array, the chromed wing); but the Ridgeline—designed for light towing/hauling—requires more cooling, and so its lower grille is wide and air-hungry. HONDA

The Ridgeline’s truck bed is one of the most researched and refined parts of the car. Among its features are the unique swing-or-fold tailgate; the lockable, in-bed storage large enough to hold a 82-quart cooler; and the optional in-bed audio and AC outlets (standard on RTL-E and Black edition), for big-screen tailgating. Vitally, the new Ridgeline’s inside cargo bed dimension is now in excess of 50 inches, allowing 4X8 stock to be laid flat. HONDA

The Ridgeline’s renegotiated styling centered around this area, the vehicle backlight, the point at which the passenger cab meets the open bed. Honda’s research showed that many truck buyers wanted a shape that looked more like a truck—which is to say, risking paraphrase, that they wanted a shape that said truck at a glance. This was the cultural motive behind the redesign. The Ridgeline’s rear window, with optional power-sliding glass in some editions, is actually hooded with an aerodynamic spoiler. HONDA

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The Ridgeline’s interior is the most persuasively car-like among midsize trucks, with appointments, displays, materials, switchgear and front-bucket layout drawn from the Honda sedan mindset. For example: Unlike other midtruck products that use oversized knobs or controls for the convenience of glove-wearers, the Ridgeline’s has the usual Honda switches (small). It uses a center console shifter and roll-top center compartments, neither of which are well-suited to working trucks. HONDA

This is Honda’s Unified Audio Interface with an 8-inch capacitive touchscreen running Android-based OS and using Garmin’s navigation module. The top-shelf audio option is an eight-speaker array inside, the integrated truck-bed audio and 540 watts of amplification. HONDA

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The Ridgeline’s rear seat and cabin do two things well. First, the rear seat height is elevated several inches over that of the front seat. This provides rear-seat passengers with commanding outward views, which is important if your passengers tend toward motion sickness. Also, the Ridgeline’s rear seat-back rake is generous. The seat padding is somewhat thin. HONDA

Like its distant kin the Honda Fit, the Ridgeline’s rear 60/40-split seat does something delightful. With the pull of a lever the seats fold tight against the rear bulkhead, opening up a mostly vertical space about 50 cubic feet, enough to fit in a standard mountain bike, locked and out of the weather. For reference, the Chevy Colorado has a rear cargo volume of 44.6 cubic feet, according to Honda’s tape measure. HONDA

The Ridgeline’s molded urethane door trim in contrasting colors is standard procedure for Honda cars. HONDA

Only one engine and one transmission are available: Honda’s superb 3.5-liter direct-injection V6 (280 hp/262 lb-ft.) paired with a six-speed transmission. All-wheel drive models combine longitudinal and lateral torque vectoring. HONDA

The Ridgeline pickup is available with the full brace of Honda’s driver-assist technologies, including Blind Spot Information warning, seen here; adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist. HONDA

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline represents the second generation of Honda’s midsize, unibody-built truck with two- or all-wheel drive, and respectable towing/hauling. The first Ridgeline, introduced in 2006, featured a daring flying buttress detail that was, for partisans at least, the model’s signature. The redesign dispenses with the buttress, for reasons both practical and cultural. HONDA

But the Ridgeline never got the love it deserved (250,000 sold in 10 years). Here, buried in the auto maker’s data I have found the reason: the buttress. It’s remarkable to think a machine as painstakingly design-engineered could be dismissed on such a basis. That this one angle should be a nonnegotiable feature of morphology? What a strange streak of fundamentalism.

In any event, the designers have conceded the point. The 2017 Ridgeline’s silhouette features the requisite perpendicularity (95 degrees) at the backlight. In the words of my countrymen, that there’s a truck.

And so dear readers, without delay, the boilerplate: the 2017 Honda Ridgeline, built in Lincoln, Ala., on the same architecture as the Honda Pilot, is a small/midsize pickup in the competitive set with Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, and a couple of outliers. The segment totals about 350,000 units a year in the U.S., so it’s a proper pie for Honda to want a piece of.

Under the notably less chiseled hood there is a single engine option, and it’s a star: a direct-injected 3.5-liter SOHC V6 with Honda’s valve and variable-displacement headgear. Among the nominals is a rated 280 hp, up 30 hp from previous V-6. Fuel economy is up nearly 5 mpg to 21 mpg city/highway combined. Those are giant steps.

 

Unladen, the Ridgeline accelerates eagerly (under 7 seconds to 60 mph, sayeth the lads at Car and Driver) and cruises serenely. Very like a car, m’lord. The V-6 must be pulling its guts out, but these excitations barely register past all the new sound damping, including an overhaul of the Ridgeline’s glazing, with thicker windows all around. The cabin disposition is even more hilariously Accord-like. This truck’s mantra is, “Thrummmmm.”

 

The fellers at Honda say you can carry two occupants and 110 pounds of cargo while trailering 5,000 pounds. Yeah. I say if you are towing/hauling anything like these loads regularly, don’t get a midsize pickup, regardless of who makes it.

But if not, man, this truck is hard to beat. The why’s start with the dual action gate (fold-down or swing). Right there is the Ridgeline’s under-floor storage bin, big enough to hold an 82-quart Coleman cooler. Or you can dispense with the cooler and fill directly with ice and beer. There’s a drain hole.

The cargo bed is quite the party zone. In addition to the keg cooler, our Black edition tester included AC outlets built into the bedside—for big screens, vaporizers, and so forth—and powerful speakers behind the composite bed walls. The truck-bed audio shuts off when the vehicle exceeds 10 mph.

Next—and this is critical for the DIY market—the inside cargo bed dimension is 5 inches wider, now 50 inches, which means you can lay 4X8 stock flat on the floor. I am embarrassed to admit the buttresses I admired were crippling functionality. I love going to Lowe’s.

The ergonomics of the rear cabin: a total win. The rear 60/40 bench seat has a generous recline angle, and the seat height is raised enough to see the road. This is a huge deal if passengers tend toward motion sickness. When not needed the seat bench folds flat against the rear bulkhead, like a boss, opening up 50 cubic feet of tall cargo space, into which one can cram a full-size mountain bike, houseplants and other things that should not be folded.

No if, ands or buttresses.

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