Honda’s decision to resurrect its multipurpose pickup after a three-year hiatus may be one of the smartest things it’s done lately — outside of finally giving American buyers the incredible Civic Type R. Light duty truck shoppers owe it to themselves to go out and drive one, because while it doesn’t have immense amount of towing capacity or the off-road breeding of a mountain goat, it packs just enough of both to get most weekend jobs done in a jiffy.
Pulled from the same pack as the redesigned Pilot, the Ridgeline offers a refreshing approach to resourcefulness and ruggedness. No hardcore testosterone-fest here, but a multi-tool approach to truck design that makes the RTL-E version look and perform like the love child of mom’s minivan and dad’s work truck. Honda’s unconventional new truck continues to impress critics and buyers alike, as it blurs the lines between SUV, pickup, and sedan better than anything else on the market.
It may not be able to dethrone the F-150 or snatch sales from the Silverado due to being in a different weight class, but the Ridgeline does have the Tacoma, Colorado, Frontier, and Canyon square in its H-shaped sights. Sales report comparisons from Bloomberg show that Honda has been able to hit some serious volume in just three months on the market, predicting that sales will only grow stronger in forthcoming months. While many millennials are buying their first home and realize a pickup would be useful, others have grown tired of the SUV game and want to trade up for something different. Regardless of their reasons, one thing is for certain: Buyers will love the Ridgeline for its tailgating and camping capabilities, as well as its pleasant on-road mannerisms.
Being from the same Lincoln, Alabama factory as the off-road ready Pilot, there’s a whole lot about the Ridgeline that looks akin to the family favorite. It’s front fascia carries the same sharp looks, LED lighting, and polished accents, all of which were our favorite aesthetic attribute of the seven/eight-seat SUV. But instead of carrying the lines all they way to a hatch, we have instead a short bed box that has an integrated trunk beneath it, stealth audio speakers, a dual-action tailgate, and a different rear fascia. As useful as these features are, it’s the last of these that got our attention; this is the kind of blocky styling from the old Pilot that we miss, and appearance-wise it helps make this pickup look the part.
Exterior pros and cons
+ The cargo bed storage’s drain plug turns it into a cooler, there’s ample LED lighting, tailgate opens vertically and horizontally, waterproof speakers, and a 400-watt AC inverter that can power a 55-inch flat screen on game day.
+ Sharp styling on all sides, with LED running lights, blocky tails, and a front fascia that is streamlined and sensor-equipped.
+ Practical touches include keyless entry, walk away auto lock, heated power mirrors, automatic high-beams, and an integrated Class III trailer hitch with a complete harness.
– The ride height, tires, and skid plates are not conducive to challenging off-road adventures, like what we’ve seen on certain models offered by the competition.
– Aesthetically, some people may dislike the non-blocky nose, as well as the fact that the rear doors do not open very wide.
Although it’s nice that even lower trim models come with the Earth Dreams V6 instead of an inline-four, the Ridgeline’s iVTEC engine generates 280 horsepower, and asks for 21 mile per gallon sacrifices at the pump in return. Though it’s smooth and strong, it’s not necessarily industry-leading — it landed an EPA economy rating of 4/10. Further, the fact that the fuel-sipping Duramax diesel Chevy Colorado is on the market illustrates that there are other options.
That said, the Ridgeline has a class-leading payload capacity of 1,584 pounds, and has the ability to tow up to 5,000 pounds thanks to a heavy duty transmission cooler. Also, by opting for an all-wheel drive model, buyers can easily toggle through sand, snow, mud, and normal modes with the press of a button, which all eclipses our minor complaints with the V6.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ Traction settings for almost any kind of terrain, a torque vectoring rear end, and an Eco button for highway driving.
+ 5,000 pounds maximum towing capacity, class-leading payload capacity of 1,584 pounds, and 280 horsepower for top-end pull.
+ Smooth and quiet when compared to the competition, the 3.5-liter Earth Dreams V6 accelerates nicely, and has already proven its worth as the reliable engine found within the Honda Pilot.
– Towing capacity, torque, and fuel efficiency ratings don’t hold water against the more competitive and arguably pickup-suited turbo-diesel engine in the Chevy/GMC twins.
– No locking differentials, and even with variable cylinder management, it only returns a 21 mile per gallon average.
The Ridgeline gets right back to winning points with an outstanding interior. All of the plug-filled, transforming center storage space from the Pilot can be found here, chaperoned on all sides by a heated steering wheel, tri-zone climate control, toasty seats that give drivers 10-way flexibility, and a power rear sliding window. Leather trimmed, two-toned, and splashed in piano black, the cab is quite voluminous, as passengers in the rear row receive a sizable 5.3 inches of extra shoulder room and almost an inch of extra legroom over the GMC Canyon.
+ Deep, customizable center cargo hold, cubbies and pockets galore, and an easily folding rear bench for additional storage.
+ Comfort touches include a heated steering wheel and front seats, power sliding rear window, 10-way adjustable driver’s chair and four-way passenger, leather and piano black trimmings, mood lighting, and a nicely sized sunroof.
+ Cabin space is considerably superior when compared to the competition, with the rear bench sporting some sizable gains.
– No nifty button setup for gear selections like in the new Pilot, nor the sharp styling cues that make your average upper-level Mazda SUV so outstanding.
Tech and safety
The RTL-E has an eight-inch electrostatic touchscreen that features Honda’s latest round of infotainment tech, and is a colorful, extremely responsive unit that supports pinch-to-zoom, swiping, and typing like no other unit in this price tier. While maps may not show detailed 3D models of buildings like the Colorado, it looks and performs like a higher grade piece of tech, especially when using things like Honda’s multi-view rear camera. The 4.2-inch driver display is a nice touch that’s also carried over from the Pilot, and thanks to its simple layout, is easy to read and navigate. But the real winners here are the additions of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, the latest generation of HondaLink smartphone apps, and a bed filled with waterproof speakers for game day.
Tech pros and cons
+ The RTL-E package comes with Honda Sensing suite, covers collision mitigation, adaptive cruise, lane keep assist, accident avoidance, lane departure alarms, and road departure assistance.
+ The eight-inch electrostatic touchscreen looks sleek and offers pinch-to-zoom features and fluid vehicle tracking and sharp graphics.
+ Multi-view camera offers super sharp images, and things like Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a clever entry system, and a 4.2-inch driver display make life easier and more fun.
– No Honda LaneWatch camera or forward facing lenses for tracking wheel angles, overhead views, or undercarriage descents.
– The center stack touchscreen is 100% touch based with no knobs or buttons, forcing you to rely on steering wheel controls for a less sensitive approach instead.
– Navigating menus can be tedious at times, and we dislike that you can’t enter a new address while the vehicle is moving, even while Honda allows drivers to be distracted by other forms of infotainment.
Driver engagement in an RTL-E Ridgeline can be best summed up as multi-sided. It sits low enough to easily accommodate kids and the elderly, but it still retains enough ground clearance to clear rutted roads on the way to the campground, and due to its smaller proportions, tackles urban parking without issue.
With a comfortable, car-like ride that benefits from four-wheel independent suspension and a torque vectoring rear end, connectivity to the road only seemed limited by the slightly spacey electric steering rack. The Ridgeline feels part car, part SUV, and part pickup, resulting in commendably quiet on-road V6 mannerisms and respectable off-road moxie.
But perhaps one of the best things about this pickup is the feeling you get from the cabin. With its sizable sunroof, wide windows, power retracting rear port hole, and superb forward facing visibility, the already spacious interior feels larger than life.
Wrap up and review
Everyone seems to be ranking the Ridgeline as the top dog in the scrap yard these days, and the all-wheel drive RTL-E version lives up to the hype. This truly is the Swiss Army Truck of tomorrow, and Honda’s done a fantastic job appealing to a plethora of drivers, while still staying focused on core values like quality, safety, practicality, and driveability.
But that’s not to say the Ridgeline doesn’t have room for improvement, especially in the performance department. With buyer interest focusing on trail-oriented models like never before, we hope that Honda has its sights set on a more hardcore version in a few years.
Sure, the current model has sensational traction settings and aches for off-road adventure, but trail play is limited by an absence of all-terrain tires and a lifted, sport-tuned suspension, as well as basic drivetrain bolt-ons. But not everyone wants or needs a Tacoma TRD Pro or the Z71 Colorado, or the option of different cab configurations, wheelbases, or bed lengths. The majority of non traditional truck buyers will likely find the $42,000 RTL-E to be more than capable enough for daily use, and that’s why we think it will be such a vital tool for Honda going forward.