2017 Honda Ridgeline: Second Time Is a Charm

The only controversial thing about the second-generation Honda Ridgeline is how it has midsize-truck capabilities in a package that is as well executed as an Accord sedan.

“Like its predecessor, the 2017 Ridgeline defies conventional wisdom with its unibody construction and all the benefits that brings in terms of ride, handling, packaging, safety and bed utility—as well as breakthrough features like the Truck Bed Audio system. The Ridgeline is the kind of product people expect of Honda—something challenging and innovative in how it seeks to create new value for the customer.

“It’s to the credit of our North American R&D and manufacturing teams that this new Ridgeline is coming out of the blocks with such positive momentum.” So states Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager, Honda Division, American Honda Motor Co., Inc., of the second-generation of the pickup truck that follows in the tire treads of the first-gen vehicle that, when it rolled out of the Honda plant in Alliston, Ontario, Canada, was unlike what people then—and presumably now—considered to be pickup-truck-like in appearance.

And it all came down to one simple thing.

When you think of what a “pickup truck” looks like, regardless of manufacturer, you undoubtedly picture (1) a cab of varying size and configuration and (2) a rectangular box behind the cab. The two come together such that there is a 90-degree angle formed by the visual intersection of the back of the cab and the top of the box.

But back in 2005, when the Ridgeline was launched as a model year 2006 vehicle, the cab and the box came together not with an “L” shape, but as though a right triangle was inserted between the two. For many people this design not only seemed unusual—the whole notion of a unibody truck was futuristic onto itself, when “real” trucks had a good solid set of frame rails below, and here was something that seemed visually aerodynamic, and when you had things like the Dodge Ram 1500 with an upright, in-your-face grille that seemed to scoff at aero, that body side appearance wasn’t an advantage for the Ridgeline—but it didn’t seem like a “real” truck.

So the designers and engineers for the 2017 Ridgeline—designers in Torrance, California; engineers in Raymond, Ohio—went to work at that intersection, eliminating the “buttress-style” body structure in the forward portion of the bed, replacing it with a truss-style inner construction. Not only is there the visual benefit of appearing more truck-like, but there are actually benefits of the new approach: the torsional rigidity of the new model is 28 percent greater than that of the previous model. (There are also a couple of other advantages: (1) the side panel on the truck bed of the new model is easier to stamp than in the previous; (2) as there is now a more-conventional rear fender that is bolted in place, in case of collision, it can be more readily removed and replaced.)

But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Honda is about Accords and Civics, right? Well, while there are those, Honda actually has trucks in the forms of things like the CR-V and the Pilot, or over on the Acura side of the house, the RDX and the MDX. In fact, Honda has actually developed a Global Light Truck platform, which serves as the basis for the Ridgeline.

And they went at building a truck—it is being manufactured at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln—with serious structure for serious mid-size truck capability. Consider, for example, the fact that there are 1300-MPa ultra-high-strength steel door reinforcement beams and 1500-MPa hot-stamped and laser-welded front door outer stiffener rings. Ultra-high-strength steel accounts for 19.3 percent of the body. An additional 35.7 percent of the body structure is made with high-strength steel. (For those who now associate aluminum with pickups, know that the Ridgeline hood and front bumper reinforcement beam are made with the nonferrous material. The steering hanger beam is cast magnesium. 

The bed is a glass-fiber reinforced SMC composite.) This results in a vehicle that is as much as 73 pounds lighter than its predecessor (the curb weight of the 2017 Ridgeline ranges from a base model with 2WD at 4,242 pounds to the top-of-the-line 4WD model at 4,515 pounds) even though it is dimensionally bigger (length: 210 inches vs. 206.9 inches; height: 70.8 inches vs. 70.3 inches; width: 78.6 inches vs. 77.8 inches; bed length: 64 inches vs. 60 inches).

From the point of view of midsize truck capability, it offers a maximum payload capacity of up to 1,584 pounds and towing up to 5,000 pounds.

The overall execution of the vehicle was done such that it not only met the attributes of competitors like the Chevrolet Colorado and the Toyota Tacoma, but bested them. For example, the Ridgeline offers 109-ft3 of passenger space compared with the Colorado’s 107-ft3 and the Tacoma’s 100-ft3. It offers a width of 50 inches between the wheelhouses in the bed, compared with 44 inches for the Colorado and 42.5 inches for the Tacoma. With the tailgate up, the bed length is 63.3 inches compared with 61.3 inches for the Colorado and 59.9 inches for the Tacoma. (And like its predecessor, it still offers the “trunk” in the bed, this time a storage space that can swallow an 82-quart cooler.) (Speaking of the bed: way back in the opening paragraph Jeff Conrad mentions “Truck Bed Audio.”

This system, thought to be the first in a production vehicle, uses six weatherproof (i.e., they’re inside the sheet metal) transducers, two each in the bed side walls and the bed rear wall, that transmit vibrations into those walls, turning them into resonant speakers. This is something that is truly engineered for purposes of tailgating, as it doesn’t work at speeds of 10 mph or more. And while speaking of audio—this bed-as-speaker system is part of a 540-watt audio setup—know that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available for the Ridgeline.)

The 2017 Ridgeline is powered by a 3.5-liter, direct injection V6 engine that provides 280 hp @ 6,000 rpm and 262 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. In an AWD vehicle, the estimated EPA fuel economy is 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined; it is 19/26/22 mpg for the 2WD version.

It is worth noting that another change between the last generation and the new one is that before all Ridgelines were 4WD. The all-wheel-drive system used for the Ridgeline, an electro-hydraulic system, provides torque vectoring: it automatically distributes torque between the front and rear axles as well as between the left and right rear wheels, depending on conditions. There is an “Intelligent Traction Management” system that provides pushbutton selection of Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand for the AWD models (Normal and Snow for 2WD) that adjusts the drive-by-wire map, the transmission shift map, vehicle stability control and the torque distribution based on the surface conditions.

While things like the torsional rigidity and the size of the box and the ability to deal with snow, mud and rocks are all things that various truck manufacturers can throw numbers at one another regarding, there is something at which the fundamental unibody construction of the Ridgeline makes it absolutely remarkable: the ride and handling.

The Ridgeline features fully independent front and rear suspension systems (MacPherson struts in the front; multilink in the back). It also has amplitude reactive dampers that are based on two separate damping pistons, with one piston reacting in response to the small inputs characteristic of normal driving conditions and the other to provide the additional damping required when on rough surfaces or during aggressive driving.

Not only is the interior of the Ridgeline car-like in its execution and refinement, but the vehicle is engineered so that whether or not there is a load in the bed, the suspension provides sedan-like driving characteristics.

In other words, with the capabilities of the bed, the NVH of the overall vehicle and the amenities on the inside, the Honda Ridgeline is, again, an outlier, but this time it is for all the right things.