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Review of the 2017 Honda Ridgeline: The best yet?

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On: Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 7:27AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Review of the 2017 Honda Ridgeline:  The best yet?

It may be too long ago for half of the people who are considered ‘legal adults’ at this point to remember, but there once was a time when if you wanted a pickup truck, you had one choice per company. Chevy had the Silverado, Ford had the F-Series, and Dodge had the Ram. And that was it.  Oh, you wanted a smaller truck?  Buy a Ranchero or a station wagon.  But, enough people clamored for a smaller truck and, suddenly, they were everywhere. Chevy created the S10 line, Ford had the Ranger, Dodge had the Dakota. Even Toyota jumped into the mix in the 1990s with the Tacoma, and then moved up to create the full-sized Tundra. Then, carmakers started realizing that people enjoyed the interior volume of four-door pickups with the versatility of having a bed, just in case they had to hit up Home Depot on the weekends with the kids in the car. Suddenly, there was a new kind of pickup truck. A pickup truck that wasn’t quite a full pickup truck. Technically, a mid-sized sport utility truck. These were trucks like the Chevy Avalanche, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Lincoln Blackwood, and the Cadillac Escalade EXT. Seeing all the success companies were having creating trucks, especially companies like Japanese rival Toyota, the folks at Honda decided in the mid-2000s to step into the mix. Enter the Honda Ridgeline. 

The first Ridgeline appeared in 2005 and was received with mixed reactions. Its funky design and unibody construction drew some people in that may have been intimidated by bigger, more testosterone-driven machinery, while repelling those hardcore purists that wanted a big tough truck. The Ridgeline was built alongside its sibling, the Honda Pilot; again, while some people reveled in its soft, quiet ride, others barked that it didn’t have enough towing capacity to haul their team of Clydesdales cross-county. So for a decade or so, the Ridgeline has stayed true to its original design and, thus, has stayed in the mid to low end of the sales marketshare.

For 2017, however, the Ridgeline will debut its official second generation, and it looks like it could be a winner. The first, and biggest, change is the obviously aesthetic makeover. Gone is the quirky slanted bedside pillars that made the bed appear tiny by comparison to most other run-of-the-mill pickups. In its place is a bed that looks like a real pickup bed. The front end has undergone substantial remodeling too, chopping off all of the blocky, angular choppiness of the first-gen; in its place is a very smooth, curvaceous and sleek-looking front end that gives the new RL a softer initial impression that hardens up once the entire truck comes into view.

What you may not notice coming into view is a bed that is four inches longer than the first-gen, and includes a lot of fun, hidden goodies. There is a lockable underbed storage to keep your valuables safe, a tailgate that can open the traditional way by folding down, or can swing open if need be. Not impressed yet? How about a 400-watt power inverter in the bed? Or the fact that you can select the option on the build sheet to make your truck bed into one huge speaker. That’s right. It’s not the clearest sound in the world, but it sure it cool. And feel free to get up and dance around in the bed all night with your new friends and not worry about scratching up your bed because Honda has created that bed with dent and scratch-resistant composite plastic.

From the second you climb inside, it becomes clear that this isn’t your father’s F-250. The refined cockpit feels almost like it could that of a full-sized sedan rather than a pickup truck. There is plenty of room for four, even five if necessary, as well as all of the basic infotainment system management we have come to expect in modern cars. The RL’s touchscreen is a bit more tricky to navigate than say, an Audi A4's, but, hopefully, Honda will work the bugs out sooner than later. Fire up the direct-injected all-aluminum 3.5-liter SOHC V6 and you probably won’t be blown away. In fact, you might be surprised at just how quiet it actually is. Making 30 more horsepower and 15 more pound-feet than the first-gen, the 2017 version makes a decent 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The may not sound like a lot of power for a 4,250–4,500 pound truck, but it seems to be enough to get the job done. Backing that engine is a very efficient six-speed automatic. This is a 30% reduction in gears from that of the Pilot. It seems that the RL does less with more, and, unlike its sister truck, never gets caught out of gear.

The RL has a payload capacity of 1,584 pounds, which ranks in the top tier of its competition, while its 5,000-pound towing max is at the bottom of that same scale. Honda counters that towing capacity is a true weakness, because according to their market research, fewer than 6% of mid-sized truck buyers ever require more than 5,000 pounds of capacity. Well played, Honda, but it does still suck for bragging rights. What the RL can boast about is its acceleration, which Honda says will be the best in its class. Depending on whether you choose your RL in all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive (yes, the RL comes standard as a front-driver—yet another oddity), the acceleration times will fluctuate slightly. 0–60 mph will be 6.5–6.7 seconds, while 0–100 will take any from 16.6–17.4 seconds, and the quarter mile will lurch by in 15.0–15.3 seconds, on its way to a top speed of only 110 mph. But then, how many owners are really racing their Honda Ridgelines? 0–60 is by far the most important time of the bunch, and, in that, the RL fares very well. The RL also shines when it comes to fuel economy. Sure, it's a big truck, and is no light-weight by any stretch, but the front-drive RL still manages to clock a very respectable 19/26/22 city/highway/combined MPG, with the AWD version trailing in each category by exactly one mpg.

The new Ridgeline is also available with Honda’s lineup of safety tech treats (or tricks, depending on how you view them). Things like lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise-control, automatic emergency braking all will help the RL become the only truck in its class to be ranked as an IIHS Top Safety Pick. No small feat for a pickup truck. These attributes also help the new RL make its mark as a very viable, well-rounded option in a world full of rough and tumble tough guys. There are five trims to choose from, starting from the base and moving up into the more luxurious: RT, RTS, Sport, RTL, and RTL-T. With a base price of only $29,475 for a base front-drive model RT, the Ridgeline comes across even more as a good option for the family that needs a truck, without all the truckiness. Of course, you can easily spend another ten grand on options (like the very useful $1,800 AWD), but even at forty grand, the new Ridgeline has reestablished itself as a truck with a softer, more user-friendly side that many people may come to know and love, especially if they come from a time when they had only three choices of truck, bigger truck, or massive truck. The Ridgeline may just end up being, the damn-near-perfect truck.

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OL365 | 11:27AM (Thu, Jul 21, 2016)

I have to question opinion articles written by somebody who has obviously done very little research on what they are writing about. No small truck choices before S-10 and Ranger? What about the Chevy Luv? The Ford Courier? Toyota was making small trucks WAY before the introduction of the Tacoma in the 1990's. Even in your focus on the Ridgeline you left off the top two trim levels, mentioning that you "can easily spend another 10 grand on options" (Not true with Honda. You have to pick the trim level that has the features you want. A point that many potential Honda buyers are upset about). You compare the 6 speed transmission with the 9 speed transmission in the Pilot. Only the top two trims of the Pilot come with a 9 speed transmission. The majority of Pilots sold come with the same 6 speed transmission sold in the Ridgeline.

Seriously! Research the product you are writing about before spitting off a lot of incorrect facts and misinformation.

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