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Honda Ridgeline: The carlike pickup

You’ll never catch Tim Allen grunting appreciatively over the mid-size Honda Ridgeline, because it isn’t exactly a macho truck. But it combines Honda’s best attributes — dependability, refinement, and fit-and-finish, with some handy, innovative features.

Compared head-to-head with conventional pickups — Ford F-150, Nissan Titan et. al., the Ridgeline will rank dead last. However, for someone who doesn’t need the ruggedness of a heavy-duty, body-on-frame pickup, but does need to haul light duty cargo, the Ridgeline, with its 1550-pound payload and 5000-pound towing capacity, could be just the ticket.

For starters, the Ridgeline boasts a fully independent rear suspension that delivers car-like ride quality. And while conventional pickups are built in separate nose, cab, and cargo bed sections bolted to a separate ladder frame, the Ridgeline rides on both a steel ladder frame and one-piece unibody section welded together. The cab and bed are one piece, with separate subframes for the engine, front and rear suspensions.

The Ridgeline boasts four trim levels, with more standard equipment added to each, but no exterior badging to identify them.

The Ridgeline RT is the base model, and comes standard with black door handles; steel wheels; manually adjusted front seats, air conditioning; power windows and locks; cruise control; and a 100-watt, six-speaker, XM-ready stereo with CD.

The RTX adds gray-finish alloy wheels, body-color door handles, a unique Sport grille, and a towing package for about $500 more.

The RTS includes power front seats with manual lumbar support; 160-watt, seven-speaker stereo with six-CD changer and steering-wheel mounted controls; dual-zone automatic climate control; outside temperature indicator; security system; and machine-finish alloy wheels, but doesn’t come with the tow package.

The RTL, our test vehicle, adds even more standard features, including leather upholstery, heated front seats, power lumbar support for the driver, power moonroof, compass and HomeLink remote integrated into the rear-view mirror, heated side mirrors, and all the hardware for XM. It can also be equipped with a DVD-based navigation system with voice recognition and a backup camera. A dealer-installed DVD entertainment system is also offered, as are numerous other dealer-installed accessories.

Walkaround: The Honda Ridgeline doesn’t look quite like any other pickup. To be polite, styling is unique. The Ridgeline’s profile utilizes lots of metal conventional pickups with separate beds don’t. But there are some cool, useful features missing from conventional pickups as well.

The cargo bed is steel-reinforced SMC plastic, not steel with a sprayed-on or slipped-in liner. With the tailgate up it’s five feet long, six and a half with it down, and a tubular aluminum bed extender is available. There’s a big retaining chock in each corner of the bed for securing large loads.

The two-way tailgate is cool, and drops down as usual, but also opens like a door, from right to left.

The best feature in my view is the 8.5 cubic foot, built-in storage trunk. It’s a covered, sealed and lockable compartment located beneath the bed. According to Honda it holds a 72-quart cooler or three sets of golf clubs. It even has a drain plug for when ice melts, or it needs to be hosed out. The compact spare tire mounts forward of the storage trunk a sliding, locking tray.

Interior: Inside, the Honda Ridgeline is all about comfort, space and convenience. The standard bucket seats are roomy, comfortable and supportive, with plenty of adjustments. The Ridgeline’s interior is similar to the Pilot and Element SUVs — including such things as large, easily readable instrumentation, logical control and switch placement, a convenient center console, and good quality materials. Honda’s optional DVD-based navigation system features an eight-inch screen.

The 60/40-split rear seat is nearly as roomy as those in front, and actually comfortable for adults. The 24-degree backrest angle feels more like a front seat, and there’s ample legroom and knee room for six-footers. The under-seat storage space will easily accommodate backpacks or briefcases.

Safety equipment includes multi-stage front airbags and side-impact airbags for front passengers, front and rear side curtain airbags for head protection and LATCH child-seat anchors for the rear seats. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, vehicle stability assist and a tire-pressure monitoring system are also standard.

Under The Hood: All Ridgelines are powered by a 3.5-liter V6, putting 247 horses to the highway, with a five-speed automatic transmission and Honda’s VTM-4 all-wheel-drive system. It normally proportions 60 percent of the power to the front wheels, but can automatically send as much as 70 percent of the torque to the rear wheels under certain conditions. The Ridgeline also boasts a limited-slip differential with lock feature.

Behind The Wheel: The Honda Ridgeline drives more like a car than a truck. The stiffness of its unibody-on-ladder-frame construction, and subframes cradling the engine and suspension, isolate the cab from harsh road conditions, and contribute to crisp, sure handling over winding two-lane roads. The combination of all-wheel-drive and vehicle stability electronics allow spirited driving over a variety of terrain with little worry.

The steering is surprisingly heavy, but more responsive than most other trucks. The ABS brakes are strong and certain.

Whines: The Ridgeline’s buttresses of the cargo box reduce outward visibility, creating an over-the-shoulder blind spot. The Navigation screens’ off center placement makes it difficult for the driver to read in certain light.

Bottom Line: The Honda Ridgeline can’t do the work of a full-size pickup, but overall, when measured by comfort, ease of use, smoothness, and quiet, it’s pretty impressive. It’s more maneuverable and enjoyable to drive than most other full-size pickups, and makes for pleasant, comfortable daily transportation. It’s as much of a pickup as many folks will ever need.

Lary Coppola's picture
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