2017 Honda Ridgeline first drive: Finally a real truck?

2017 Honda Ridgeline Photo 1

New pickup sticks with the unibody, adds capability

Finally, the second-generation Ridgeline is here, and this time Honda really wants you and all your 2500HD-driving pals to know: “Hey! This is a Real Truck, OK?”

The first Ridgeline built from 2006-’14 was an awkward thing, looking like a scaled-up Subaru Brat, or a ruggedized El Camino with extra doors. It was a unibody SUV with a pickup bed and, despite being a weird mashup of automotive genres, it generated a real fan base. So did the Pontiac Aztek, of course, but that’s neither here nor there.

For the new 2017 Ridgeline, Honda wanted to keep the things buyers liked — unibody ride and handling, cabin space — and fix the things that put people off: mostly styling. Customers wanted their Ridgelines to be “easily recognized as a truck.” Did they get teased in parking lots or something?

Truck buyers tend to be a dogmatic bunch. A Real Truck, they say, has a body bolted down onto a frame, just like yer’ granddaddy’s truck and his granddaddy’s before him.

2017 Honda Ridgeline i1

To fix this not-a-truck perception, the stylists gave the Ridgeline and tail-up, nose-down stance and put a large panel gap between the cab and pickup bed. The result is a vehicle that looks much more like its direct competition — namely, traditional midsize body-on-frame trucks like the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier and the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon twins. But it also means the new Ridgeline looks a little bland. The front end doesn’t have the macho aggression of its rivals, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The only engine available on the Ridgeline is an upgraded version of the old 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection, cylinder deactivation and variable-valve timing, which boosts peak power up 30 hp to 280 and torque up 15 lb-ft to 262. A six-speed automatic replaces the old five-speed unit, and buyers can now select either front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive configurations.

Crediting the new powertrain combined with a 73-pound overall weight reduction, Honda quotes slightly improved EPA fuel economy, even for the AWD model, which now returns 18 mpg city, 25 highway and a combined 21 mpg.

2017 Honda Ridgeline i2

What’s it like to drive?

True to its unibody underpinnings, the Ridgeline rides and handles better than the Tacoma or Colorado. New for 2017 are Amplitude Reactive Dampers as seen on the Honda Pilot, with which the Ridgeline shares a basic platform. Driven back to back, the body-on-frame trucks seem to create bumps on roads where none existed in the Ridgeline. They’re harsher and noisier in the cabin, too.

Honda quickened the steering ratio, and it inspires confidence even in novice pickup drivers simply because it feels less vague than rivals. In fact, the whole driving experience will feel extremely familiar if you’re coming from a modern crossover. The Ridgeline may look more like a truck now, but it doesn’t drive like one.

The pickup bed is 4 inches longer than before, while overall length is up 3 inches. Convenience and utility features are everywhere, from the tailgate that can swing to the side and fold down, to the lockable in-bed trunk that’s positively cavernous. Honda says it can hold a few golf bags or an 82-quart cooler. There are also eight cleats that can tie down a couple of motorcycles. Last but certainly not least is the optional in-bed audio system that uses speakers mounted behind the bed lining to create the ultimate tailgate setup.

2017 Honda Ridgeline i3

This wouldn’t be a truck review without mention of towing and hauling capacity, so here goes. The truck bed is rated at 1,584 pounds. The FWD Ridgeline has a towing capacity of up to 3,500 pounds, while every AWD model can tow 5,000 pounds.

The base Tacoma is rated at just 3,500 pounds, but with the optional tow package, that rises to as much as 6,800 pounds. The Canyon/Colorado can tow up to 7,600 pounds with the optional diesel engine. Here at least, the body-on-frame trucks still triumph.

2017 Honda Ridgeline i4

Do I want it?

If you can get over the existential is-it or is-it-not a truck question, yes, you’ll probably want it. How often are you really going to use the extra towing capacity of a — sorry, Honda — real truck? The in-bed trunk, solid infotainment system and excellent ride and handling are Ridgeline advantages you’ll appreciate all the time.

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