Honda Ridgeline may be a niche pickup truck but it's still a nifty vehicle
By Jim Bray
The Honda Ridgeline is an interesting beast, a mid-sized SUV crossed with a pickup truck's DNA to offer what Honda thinks is the best of both worlds – the utility of a truck with the comfort and capabilities of a two row SUV.
In short, a true crossover, if you permit me the use of that term for what isn't really an SUV. And as such, it has occupied a unique niche in the vehicular market since it was introduced back around 2006. It must be working, because Hyundai and Ford are throwing their corporate hats into the niche with their upcoming Santa Cruz and Maverick which, like the Ridgeline, are unibody trucks rather than full body on frame ones as you'll find with pretty well all of the competition.
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It's a pretty neat vehicle, too, if you don't need the robustness and capacity of a "real" truck. And it also offers some nifty features you can't find on other trucks regardless of their size, configuration, and capabilities.
For example, the Ridgeline comes not only with a bed for carrying your truck-like needs, it also has a trunk built into that bed, a trunk that locks and therefore lets you 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.
That trunk can also be filled with ice and beer for those times you're tailgating or picnicking. It's pretty cool.
You also get a "dual action" tailgate, which means you can lower it as if it were a conventional truck tailgate, but you can also swing it sideways, in a manner reminiscent of the old 1960's domestic station wagons with their "magic" tailgates. It's a nice bit of flexibility that makes it easier to load stuff directly into the bed without having to slide it across the tailgate.
Honda's sample 2021 Ridgeline wore the Touring trim level, which is second from the top (a Black Edition tops the trim levels, while the base unit wears the Sport label (there's also an EX-L version in the mix). Regardless of which one you may choose, it'll be powered by Honda's excellent 3.5-litre V6 engine, which is paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission that could benefit from a couple of fewer gears (which might cost you some gas mileage but will make the vehicle perform in a sprightlier manner.
The engine is rated by Honda at 280 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 262 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4700 rpm. This isn't what you'll need if you want to drag a fifth wheel behind it, but it should be plenty for most light er duty use, which is what the Ridgeline is designed for. That said, Honda says you can tow up to 2,267 kg (5,000 lbs) with the Ridgeline.
Power gets to the road via Honda's Intelligent Variable Torque Management (iVTM-4) all-wheel drive system, which like most such systems defaults to front drive but will send torque where it's needed when it's needed.
Suspension is car/SUV-like, featuring a MacPherson strut front suspension and a multi-link independent rear, and it offers good feel – much more SUV/car-like than most "real" trucks whose rear ends tend to chitter sideways over frost heaves, etc., making them far less "driveable" than the Honda.
The power-assisted rack and pinion steering offers decent feel as well, and the four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated up front and solid in the rear) do their job well.
There are also a number of thoughtful features available, including stuff like dual exhaust with chrome finishers, front and rear splash guards, front wipers de-icer, eight heavy duty tie downs cleats, integrated bed lights with an auto off timer, LED fog and taillights, memory-linked side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down, projector-beam LED low beam headlights and reflector beam halogen headlights, a one-touch power moonroof with tilt, power folding mirrors, a powered sliding rear cabin window, variable intermittent rain-sensing wipers and a rear window defroster.
Yeah, pretty much what you can expect from a SUV or car in this size and market range. So that's good. And these features are mostly available across the trim levels.
Inside the comfortable cabin, depending on trim level, are powered driver's seats with 10-way adjustment and seat/mirror memory. The front seats are heated front and rear (except for the central rear position), the steering wheel offers heat (a wonderful feature in Canada), and even the passenger seat offers power adjustment. Higher trim levels also offer ventilation for the front seats.
Lower trim level Ridgelines get a 225-watt AM/FM audio system with MP3/Windows Media audio playback capability and seven speakers including a subwoofer. The Touring and Black editions get a better one: a 540-watt AM/FM premium audio system with MP3/Windows Media audio playback capability and eight speakers including a subwoofer. Alas, I found the upmarket audio system only adequate, and there's no disc player (which are getting scarcer than hen's teeth to find in any vehicle these days).
You still have to suffer with Honda's bizarrely difficult interface for the centre stack's LCD screen. There's a volume knob for the audio system but to tune radio stations you have to focus on the screen and use its touch capabilities (which in Honda's sample Ridgeline were terrible – I nearly had to slam it with a ball peen hammer if I touched the top right corner of the screen to activate something, for example) to scroll up and down through channels – something you won't want to do when the vehicle is moving.
The interface is also very slow. It's interminable when you fire up the vehicle, taking its sweet time to activate (and it warns you about your driving responsibilities while you wait). But it works eventually.
What didn't work worth a damn was the voice recognition. I've spent decades in broadcasting and so my diction shouldn't be an issue when it comes to the vehicle understanding what I say. Yet I repeatedly got "pardon?" comments from the voice, which claimed repeatedly that it couldn't hear what I was saying. And if I'd order it to change satellite radio stations, it would take the numbers I spoke and use them as the basis for making a phone call, telling me to keep adding numbers so it could dial.
I'd tell it to cancel, but it didn't understand that, either. It was very frustrating.
This may be changed very soon, because right now I'm driving (well, not this exact second!) the 2022 Civic and its voice recognition has worked flawlessly. Hopefully, next year's Ridgeline (and the rest of the Honda line, where necessary) will offer voice recognition that actually recognizes voices
Safety equipment includes a collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, hill start assist and a tire pressure monitoring system with tire fill assist (which I assume – probably wrongly – means you can just tell the Ridgeline to fill its own tires up).
Honda's nannies can be really annoying, sometimes flashing "BRAKE!!!" on the instrument panel if it thinks you're about to slam into something ahead of you – even if you aren't (it seems to assume the driver is an idiot – which may be very true but who died and made the car boss?). Fortunately, you can shut most of this stuff off and it will stay off.
Which begs the question of why you can't just order a "nanny package" if you want one and save a few bucks if you don't.
Still, a couple of years ago I was ready to write off Honda as a compelling vehicle choice because of the obtrusive and annoying nannies and interfaces. Now, they've improved things to the point that I no longer cannot recommend Honda to friends, though some of this stuff would still be deal breakers for me, personally.
Fortunately, my experience so far with the 2022 Civic is such that I think Honda is well on its way and I look forward to this trend continuing. I still miss Honda's "We make it simple" mien from years ago, but at least they're not as ridiculously complicated as they have been.
Ridgelines start at about $45,535 for the base Sport trim level. The sample Touring model's MSRP is $51,555 and the top line Black Edition sells for about $54,535.
Honda angst aside, if I were looking for a pickup truck – and my lifestyle is such that I can't and won't justify a "real" truck's robustness – the Ridgeline would be at the top of my list. It'll be interesting to see how the newer kids on the block stack up to a vehicle that's had more than a decade, and two generations, head start.
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray