The Honda Ridgeline has earned our 10 Best award for mid-size pickup trucks two years running (unlike our approach to 10Best Cars honors, we categorize 10Best Trucks and SUVs by segment), beating out the likes of General Motors’ Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, as well as the popular Toyota Tacoma. So, naturally, we’ve been itching to put this excellent and widely versatile truck to a variety of good uses over a 40,000-mile long-term test. Towing, camping, tailgating, hauling, commuting, and road-tripping are all on the agenda.
As Much Truck as You Can Handle
Note that all of those activities are typical use cases for most pickup owners. But the Ridgeline isn’t exactly the typical pickup. For one, it has a unibody structure. The Honda’s lack of a beefy frame or traditional four-wheel-drive equipment (an on-demand all-wheel-drive system, as fitted to our test vehicle, is optional) helps enable superior efficiency and refinement for the class. Through the Ridgeline’s first 3644 miles in our hands, it has averaged 21 mpg, matching its EPA combined estimate. The EPA pegs the V-6, four-wheel-drive Colorado at 19 mpg combined and the V-6 Tacoma at 20.
The Ridgeline’s carlike construction invites haters’ favorite arguments against it: relatively low towing capacities. It’s as if somehow because a few mid-size pickups (particularly the GM rigs) rival full-size trucks’ trailering capabilities, so, too, must every mid-size truck. We believe the Ridgeline’s 5000-pound towing limit is class appropriate; the Honda’s 1447-to-1580-pound payload capacity (depending on trim) is class competitive. Should you need any more—say, the Colorado’s 7700-pound maximum towing capacity—a full-size pickup may suit you better, ease of parking or maneuverability notwithstanding.
The upshot of the Honda’s capability levels is that it drives leagues better than any other pickup truck. Planning to buy a truck because you occasionally make a Home Depot run? Choosing this Honda means you won’t have to suffer through the jarring, bouncy ride delivered by the stiff springs and live rear axles of competitors, just to have sky-high payload and towing capacities that you won’t use the other 350 days of the year.
Honda maximizes the packaging efficiency of the Ridgeline’s unibody construction with numerous clever hauling solutions you simply won’t find on other mid-size trucks. Without a full-length, separate frame running from nose to tail, the Honda has a bed that sits atop nothing apart from the compact, independent rear suspension. That leaves room for a lockable, waterproof, seven-cubic-foot rectangular trunk tucked beneath the cargo floor. It is accessible via a hinged lid that rises up like a nicely damped liftgate. A small, screwed-in plug in the trunk floor allows for the draining of liquid through the bottom of the vehicle, handy should you use the compartment as a giant (albeit uninsulated) cooler at a tailgate party, as we have. Or—again, as we already have—drop your wet sports gear in there after a day on the lake or a particularly sweaty hockey game.
The tailgate is hinged both at the bottom and on the driver’s side (vertically), meaning it can either swing down like a normal pickup’s tailgate or swing open, away from the curb. The latter configuration eases access to the bed, as you needn’t lean over the possibly dirty tailgate to reach things back there or in the trunk. Inside the cab, the rear seat bottoms fold up—a common feature among pickups in general—leaving a wide cargo platform should you need even more luggage space that’s protected from the elements.
Nearly One-Stop Shop
Every Ridgeline comes as a four-door crew cab, uses a 280-hp 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, and rides on an independent suspension. Front-wheel drive is the only choice on the base RT trim, while the Sport, RTL, and RTL-T offer all-wheel drive for an additional $1900. The range-topping RTL-E and Black Edition come with all-wheel drive standard.
For our long-term test, we ordered a midrange RTL AWD ($37,765) with the $500 heated steering wheel, a $325 reconfigurable bed extender, $169 all-weather floor mats, $60 cargo dividers for the trunk, and a $45 cargo tray for underneath the rear seats, bringing our total to $38,864. That price is right in the thick of the mid-size segment, while the Honda’s fit and finish crushes that of every competitor.
Our long-term example lacks a touchscreen, though, a fairly common modern amenity, particularly for a vehicle this size at this price point. Honda is currently in the midst of adding volume and tuning knobs back into its vehicles with touchscreens, but the Ridgeline’s only touchscreen is an older unit that lacks knobs of any kind. We’ve raged at its inconsistent responses and poor menu layouts in other Ridgelines; thankfully it’s offered only in the three top trim levels, and we avoided it by choosing the RTL. That said, even though it’s simpler to use, our truck’s head unit looks and feels dated.
While we brace for the inevitable logbook complaints about the missing touchscreen or navigation system, we’re gearing up to subject the Ridgeline to our full 40,000-mile gantlet. Stay tuned to see how well this uncommon take on the pickup handles common pickup tasks.