When the Ridgeline debuted back in 2006 I predicted it would be a game changer, that it would shake up and redefine the truck market, much like Honda‘s CB750 four-cylinder motorcycle redefined the big bike market back in 1969.
Boy was I wrong.
Or perhaps more accurately stated – hang on, because I still think it could happen with this new model. Maybe not to the same degree of the CB750, but I definitely think this gen-two model has the right stuff to make truck buyers give it a second look this time around. Also, the truck market has changed over the last decade. People have had a chance to see the Ridgeline in action, and many have come to the conclusion that, used as intended, it’s really not so bad. …And then look what’s happened to the commercial van market: Euro-style vans – which are dramatically different from Detroit-style vans – have virtually taken over that market segment. Typically conservative truck buyers have shown that they are willing to accept new thinking – if they prove to be better mousetraps.
In the last 10 years, Honda – and specifically Honda marketing – has learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t work with the gen-one model. Yeah, it barely sold, but those who bought the truck absolutely loved it. So Honda was indeed on to something. The problem was not enough people knew about it. I blame Honda corporate and their marketing department squarely for that. After the initial customer reluctance, Honda gave up on it. There was virtually no money spent on advertising this truck. It literally died on the vine because it wasn’t watered.
Also, there were a number of factors going on here not specifically related to the Ridgeline. Honda, the corporation, was in a severe crisis. Sales were sliding, many of its products disappointed, and the styling of many of its vehicles was polarizing. Also, the Acura division was in a free-fall. In short, Honda had lost its mojo; and as such, money and efforts were re-diverted to righting the ship, and marginal models (Ridgeline) were abandoned in terms of promotion; or just abandoned, period.
So here we are now in 2016. Honda has been in the process of exorcizing all the evil from it’s products, and is again showing signs of life. They have a slew of new vehicles that look good and are getting good if not excellent reviews, and a new Ridgeline is soon to hit showrooms. The Honda mojo is back.
This time around there is no attempt to hide its parentage. It’s clearly based off the new Pilot (and next Odyssey) platform. Many parts are shared. This is a good thing, as it keeps development and production costs down. GM had long been doing this with its pickups and the SUVs; same with what Ford and Dodge were doing for years.
One area that is very different from the gen-one model is that the pickup bed is now separate from the cab. It’s been speculated that sometime in the future a long-bed regular-cab model, aimed at the commercial trade, may be offered. Having a separate bed and cab makes this much easier to do.
So what does this all mean?
Well for one thing, Honda is not abandoning its core Ridgeline customers. Everything those gen-one buyers loved are still there. What they’ve done is kept what was working and fixed (mostly) what needed fixing. First and foremost of what needed fixing was the styling. The gen-one model’s looks were so off-putting to truckers, it never allowed those customers to see the Ridgeline’s inner beauty. They just couldn’t and wouldn’t accept a truck that looked so weird. That’s no longer the case. The new Ridgeline looks pretty mainstream now. Capability has been marginally improved. The bed is a bit larger. The bed trunk is better shaped, and therefore more useful. It has an all-new and much improved AWD system (note that “RealTime 4WD” badging has been replaced by “AWD” badging). The five-speed automatic has been replaced with a six-speed; and a 10-speed automatic is reportedly in the works down the road. It’s got more power and should get better gas mileage; and there’s now a FWD model offered to specifically address that issue. AWD models still don’t have a two-speed transfer case. So it’s not a rock crawler, but it was never intended to be one. In fact you won’t see any huge “4×4” badges on it. Yes, there is a small AWD badge on the tailgate, but that’s it.
Also interesting is the intended customer. Honda has stated it is going after the 40- and 50-somethings (Harry Homeowners) with this truck. They’re the ones who would appreciate the somewhat unconventional engineering (IRS, carlike ride, etc.) – but more importantly, they’re the ones with the money who can afford it. They fully expect 20- and 30-somethings to look elsewhere, and they’re comfortable with that.
So this truck will nibble at the feet of the Ford F-150 XLT crew cab and other similar trucks; but who also wants a smaller and cheaper vehicle. It can, however, carry 4×8 panels flat on the bed between the wheelhouses; something no other mid-size truck can claim. The interior appears to be pretty roomy. The payload is reasonable, that being just under 1,600 pounds. It can tow 5,000 pounds, which is enough capability for many buyers. So, all in all, it’s a pretty sensible choice for someone with a family and a hefty mortgage.