by: Aman Sundher
The Sport Utility Truck is the original Crossover, a blend of a truck and a sport utility vehicle. This new generation of the Honda Ridgeline has really taken the SUT market and run with it. I like to imagine that when Honda was having a meeting back in 2005 about whether to build a new truck or a new SUV, someone said “well why not both?”. Chevrolet did it with the Avalanche so why couldn’t Honda? The first generation of the Ridgeline was very successful and went on to sell for 10 years. This year Honda has redesigned completely redesigned it with a whole new look and updated interior.
My biggest gripe with the first-generation Honda Ridgeline has always been the looks. I thought someone just took a Chevy Avalanche and just Hondarized it 5 years after it was released. Clearly Honda won that popularity contest because the new generation of Ridgeline is quite literally in a class of its own ever since the Avalanche was discontinued in 2013. Granted the ¼ ton truck market will always appeal to the truck purists but with Honda’s new looks I wouldn’t bet on that for much longer. The biggest exterior change is the separation of the bed from the rest of the body. Now the Ridgeline actually looks like a truck, not an Element that didn’t quite clear the garage door. Even though the bed length hasn’t changed, putting in that body line gives the appearance of a much longer truck. Honda has gone with their now nearly standard LED running lights and headlights and unsurprisingly they are absolutely fantastic. The watertight, lockable and drainable storage box in the cab is very large and very handy. The way the Ridgeline turns its box into an epic sound system is every tailgaters and “sports enthusiasts” dream. If you’ve done any amount of camping or tailgating, you know the struggles of a small Bluetooth radio that is barely louder than the sound of your own voice.
With the Ridgeline’s new truck bed audio system, 6 small exciters vibrate against the metal in the trucks box and quite literally turn it into a massive speaker. The dual opening tailgate I’m not so sure about. It’s not very often that I would ever need to swing a tailgate open to the side, and there isn’t nearly enough room to do that in a parking lot. Lowering the tailgate the old-fashioned way is now much harder because the door is substantially heavier to accommodate the dual hinges and locks. If it aint broke, don’t fix it.
The Ridgeline I tested this week was the Black Edition, which had one of the best interiors I’ve seen in any Honda product to date. Heated and air conditioned black leather seats with red stitching are standard up front as well as heated seats in the rear. The red continues with LED interior lighting and ambiance. Visibility is excellent thanks to a massive front windshield and small A pillar windows cut down on blind spots. The premium sound system sounds great and the display screen clear and easy to navigate. Unlike other small trucks the rear seats fold up and away to reveal a completely flat floor, but a little more leg room would be nice. As good as the interior is I can’t help but think Honda tried a little too hard to make the Ridgeline as SUV like as possible. I kept thinking I was sitting in the new MDX until I look out the back window and saw the bed out the rear window. For example, the Ridgeline is equipped with Active Noise Cancellation which pumps sound out of the speakers to cancel out any road, engine and exterior noise. It works so well that I’ve found myself struggling to stay awake on long drives and in traffic. It can also make for some really, very awkward silences when travelling with friends. The way the hood slopes away make it a little hard to judge distances when in tight spaces but the parking sensors and back up camera helps make up for it. If you are looking at a new Ridgeline, I recommend sitting in the Black edition first. I know it’s a little more money but you get literally every interior option and it looks fantastic.
Honda powered the Ridgeline with their “Earth Dreams” 3.5L V6 that has Intelligent Vtec and a SOHC. Translation: it’s designed for fuel efficiency and emissions regulations. Don’t get me wrong there’s still 280hp and 262lb/ft. of torque on tap under the right pedal. But that isn’t actually that much when you consider the truck weighs nearly 4600lbs. In typical Honda fashion, most of the power is only available higher in the RPM range, so driving around town you find yourself needing to stand on the pedal, more often than not, to pass or merge onto the highway. Honda says that the new Ridgeline has a 1500lb payload capacity and can tow 5000lbs, which is quite the feat with an all-wheel drive drivetrain and very comfortable independent suspension. Speaking of the suspension, the Ridgeline does actually handle very well. The suspension eats up bumps while still cornering well and the steering is quite responsive for an electric system. I didn’t get the chance to take the SUT off road but the lack of ground clearance was a big worry for me. Nevertheless, the Ridgeline did everything I asked of it and did it fairly well.
I’ve owned 5 full size pickup trucks, a Suburban and a Landcruiser in my last 10 years of driving. Every single one was a great truck, but not the kind of vehicle I’d like to commute if I worked in any major urban areas. In that sense, I think Honda has hit the nail on the head with the new Ridgeline. It’s a great compromise for the average person that wants the capability of a truck but doesn’t want the size or the stiff suspension. It’s more for the weekend warriors that commute to work every day and haul the kids around to school and back, then build decks and go camping on the weekends. It’s not for everyone but that’s the beauty of it. As I said before, the Ridgeline does everything well. It’s not the best 4×4, the best commuter or the best toy hauler. But it does do a good job of doing a little of everything.
by: Aman Sundher