Truck pretender, or contender?
Honda Ridgeline won’t appeal to hard-core pickup enthusiasts, but it does light-truck duty well enough to have sold thousands over its 16, and counting, years in existence
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Take even a cursory glance at online pickup truck forums and a fairly constant theme will emerge about the 2022 Honda Ridgeline and all its ancestors.
They’re not real trucks.
True. But who cares?
Those who don’t like the Ridge will fill their pockets with Coloradoes and Silveradoes and F-150s and Rangers. Fine. We didn’t ask you.
See, the Ridgeline is basically a Honda Pilot with a truck bed. It doesn’t have a body-on-frame design. There’s no way to install a fifth-wheel towing hitch. You can’t haul an ATV in the bed (an ATV would fit with the gate down, but the weight on its rear axle would exceed the capacity of the tailgate. However, with an available 2,267 kg of towing capacity, you can haul a trailer with an ATV and more). It has all-wheel drive, but not four-wheel drive.
Even so, the model has persisted since 2006, so there’s clearly a market for it. In 2021, Honda sold 3,491 Ridgelines in Canada.
Who can the Ridgeline appeal to? Drivers with light truck needs — which could, honestly, include many F-150 and Silverado owners — as well as drivers who have items they’d rather carry outside than in (smelly hockey bags, perhaps?) or with cargo needs a Pilot can’t accommodate. Will it appeal to those who carry only their ego? Not likely.
The bed, for reference, is 1,625 millimetres by 1,270 mm (64 in. by 50 in.). It is rated for 694 kg payload.
The bed is accessed by a door that opens either as a standard truck tailgate or as a swing door with the hinge on the driver’s side.
One benefit to it having a unitized body rather than being body on frame is the ability to have a handy, lockable, in-bed trunk with 207 litres of capacity. It goes where the frame rails of standard pickup trucks run. It even has a drain plug, so if you want to load it up with bevvies and ice, you can.
Inside, the Ridgeline is as comfortable to sit in, and as comfortable to drive, as a Pilot. That unitized body and four-wheel independent suspension make for a smooth ride, something a real pickup can’t provide.
There is, at least in the Black Edition I drove, tech galore. A large display screen sits above the heating and ventilation controls. Most audio functions, and all navigation functions, happen on that touchscreen. The exception is the volume control, which is handy, but tuning and channel selection happens in the screen, which is too bad. A simple tuning knob would be appreciated.
Ridgeline is powered by a 3.5-litre V-6, which feeds power to the wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive system. That system is controlled by a button to the rear of the transmission selector and allows the driver to switch between several modes: normal, snow, sand and mud.
All-wheel drive differs from four-wheel drive in that the former is always on and always varying torque front and rear depending on conditions. Four-wheel drive is a part-time system engaged by the driver when needed. It typically includes a low range as well as the ability to lock the front and rear axles together to drive in unison over extreme terrain.
Despite all the technology within drivers’ reach, there’s a pretty significant anachronism visible in the driver’s footwell. Let’s just say 1999 called, it wants its parking-brake pedal back.
So the Ridgeline isn’t a real truck, at least in the sense that you don’t need a running board to get in or a ladder to reach the truck bed. What it is, however, is a truck pretender that’s really a contender for those with light-duty hauling and towing needs.
That it’s more fuel efficient than ‘real’ trucks, and drives as nicely as an SUV, should give pause to anyone thinking about springboarding over the Ridgeline and into a full-size.
Perhaps as further proof of concept, in the sense that imitation is the best form of flattery, the Ridgeline — alone in its segment for 16 years — now has two competitors in the near-truck category: Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.