Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Honda Ridgeline

Honda Ridgeline Black a nifty small pickup truck

By Jim Bray
June 8, 2023

Honda's Ridgeline is a very interesting pickup truck; it's really a mid-sized, two row SUV whose rear cargo area has been replaced by a pickup truck bed/trunk combo that Honda undoubtedly believes makes it the best of both SUV and small truck worlds. 

You could call it a crossover, if that term hadn't already been stolen to describe what are basically SUV's that don't go off road. And since its original launch more than a decade ago, it pretty much had this "near truck" market to itself.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

That's until Hyundai and Ford threw down their corporate gauntlets in slow response to the existence of the Ridgeline with, respectively, the Santa Cruz and the Maverick, both of which are also unibody trucks rather than the body on frame types you find with nearly every other pickup truck you can buy.  

It's a pretty neat vehicle, too, if you don't need a "real" truck, and Honda has also stuffed it with handy features such as a lockable trunk that's built into that bed, so you can store stuff you don't want stolen from the bed while you're in the mall. Assuming that stuff fits into the trunk, of course.

You can also fill the trunk with ice and beer, or whatever, for tailgating or picnicking or just travels on the road. It's very cool.

There's also a "dual action" tailgate, reminiscent of the tailgates on those huge domestic station wagons of the 1960's era: you can lower it as if it were a regular tailgate, but it can also be swung sideways in a nice bit of flexibility that I found makes it easier to load stuff into the bed without having to reach across the tailgate – perfect for the paunchy.

In all, it's a well-thought out and comfortable package with a smooth ride and lots of places inside the cabin to store stuff. The rear seats can fold upward and out of the way, too, opening up a positively cavernous rear floor area you could use for storing bicycles, larger boxes, etc. I don't think it'll hold an adult coffin, but I daresay the bed will if you want to use it for such a thing.

Honda's sample 2023 Ridgeline wore the Black trim level, which is the top of the line. Ironically, Honda's sample Black was also painted white, which seemed a tad odd. Or maybe it's racist!

All Ridgelines are powered by Honda's excellent 3.5-litre V6 engine, instead of the "becoming more ubiquitous" turbo four and it's paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission rather than a "becoming more ubiquitous" CVT. The nine-speed would be a tad more interesting if it eschewed a couple of gears and didn't try to upshift to the top so quickly – undoubtedly a gas saving strategy that I could do without – but on the whole it performs very well. 

Honda says the engine cranks out 280 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 262 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm. Obviously, this isn't going to be your choice if you want to drag a fifth wheel behind you, but it should be fine for most lighter duty uses, which is in fact what the Ridgeline is designed for in the first place.

Still, Honda claims you can tow up to 2,267 kg (5,000 lbs) with the Ridgeline, though I didn't tow anything with it.

Honda gets that V6 power to the pavement thanks to its Intelligent Variable Torque Management (iVTM-4) all-wheel drive system.

The suspension is more car/SUV-like than "truck like", and that's one of the reasons I like the Ridgeline: it doesn't drive like a truck. Featuring a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link independent rear, it offers good road feel and a much more pleasant driving experience – in my never humble opinion – than "real" trucks which tend to bounce a lot and chitter sideways over frost heaves, etc.

I also liked how the power-assisted rack and pinion steering feels, and the four-wheel disc brakes (with the usual aids) also work well and help to impart that "non-truck" driving feel.

Inside the Black's comfortable cabin are powered driver's seats and seat/mirror memory. The seats are heated front and rear (except for the central rear position), the steering wheel also offers heat (which is a fantastic feature in these chillier climes), and even the front passenger seat is adjusted via powered controls.  

Even though this is a newer generation of the Ridgeline, it still suffers from some Hondaism I could do without, such as the silly shifter system on the centre console. It gets rid of the stick protruding from the console in favour of a flat system of buttons and thingies that don't save space, are weird to operate, and don't let you rest your hand or wrist on the shifter when you're stopped at a traffic light (or wherever).

Honda seems to have learned its lesson, because this system appears to be disappearing from newer models such as the new Accord (watch this space for an upcoming review of this terrific new generation).

I've complained for several years about Honda's interfaces when it comes to operating the technology (radio, HVAC, etc.) and though they're getting a lot better this trend is only partially used on the Ridgeline. Maybe the 2024 will be dragged into the 2020's, but this one still doesn't have a tuning knob and the LCD interface is quite slow and frustrating. I've seen much worse, though, and while I don't like the current setup, I no longer think it would be a deal breaker for me.

No, I'm not getting soft, but there are carmakers who seem to be trying to make their products the most annoying on the market to use (are you reading this, Subaru?), so Honda at least isn't at the bottom of the usability heap – and isn't that high praise? And of course this opinion applies only to vehicles I've actually driven, so there may be worse out there.

Honda's safety equipment includes things such as a collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, hill start assist and a tire pressure monitoring system. Then there are the "safety nannies."

Honda's nannies can be really annoying, even to flashing "BRAKE!!!" on the instrument panel if the vehicle thinks you're about to slam into something ahead of you – even if you aren't. This continues the automotive industry's trend of seemingly assuming that its customers are idiots. Now, having noted that overall driving skills seem to be plummeting off a cliff the past couple of years (not that they were great anyway), I wonder if this is because the vehicle is taking care of you and lulling you into a false sense of security – "hey, the car'll tell me what I need to do, so why pay attention?"

Fortunately, you can shut most of this stuff off and it will stay off.

Why can't carmakers offer a "nanny package" for those who want to be led around by their genitals, and those who actually try to hone their skills can save a few bucks by not having to put up with this annoying stuff.
Then again, if they didn't make it standard, I'm willing to bet Big Government would be more than happy to mandate it.

Ridgelines start at about $49,561.25 for the base Sport trim level, freight, PDI and other kilos of flesh included. The top line Black Edition starts at $49,561.25.

I've said before and will repeat here that, as someone who is quite vocal about his distaste for driving pickup trucks, if I had to look for a pickup truck the Ridgeline would be at the top of my list. A caveat is that I haven't driven the Santa Cruz, so can't comment on Hyundai's variation on the theme.

I'm now seeing quite a few Santa Cruzes and Mavericks on the road, so it seems people are interested in these "little trucks than could". It'll be interesting to see how Honda responds to the new competition.

I have a feeling they'll be just fine.

Copyright 2023 Jim Bray

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