Is the Honda Ridgeline a Real Truck?

To develop the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck, Honda did things in reverse. Carmakers have typically turned their pickups into SUVs, like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition.

But Honda took its popular Pilot SUV and transformed it into a full size pick up.

The question of whether the Ridgeline is a real truck is somewhat rhetorical – yes, it has a 63″ bed, can tow 5,000 pounds and carry a bed payload of 1,584 pounds. But it’s based on the Pilot’s unibody chassis rather than a ladder frame like most full-size trucks worthy of the name.

The Ridgeline’s bed is 5′ 3″ long when the tailgate is closed and a full 7′ when the tailgate is down, allowing you to carry 4×8 sheets of plywood or whatever conveniently.

The “Is it a real truck?” questions began with the first generation Ridgeline and its decidedly unique bodywork. Because of the unibody construction, the cab side panels flowed into the bed panels as a single metal panel stamping. In typical trucks, the cab and bed are two separate sections.

While subtlely attractive from a design standpoint, the curved panels made the Ridgeline stand out, and in not a good way, kind of like the nice kid at school with the bad bowl cut.

That sinuous curve at the bed also meant that many truck accessories – toppers, equipment racks, bed covers and such – wouldn’t fit the Ridgeline. That flaw knocked it out of contention as a work or ranch truck.

Honda pulled the Ridgeline from the market in 2014 dues to slow sales. It was totally redesigned and relaunched for 2017, shedding most of the styling cues that called its truck-ness into question in the first place.

The second generation Ridgeline has a seam between the bed and cab and more typical truck-like bed walls. Unlike most of its truck competition, there’s only one configuration option: a four-door crew and 63″ bed. Other than trim options, one of the main choices is the two-wheel or all-wheel drive.

The Ridgeline’s powertrain is derived from the Honda product line. The 3.5-liter V6 engine, which produces 280 hp and 262-lb. ft. of torque, is the same one in the Honda Pilot and sister company Acura’s MDX.

The Ridgeline can compete with other mid-sized competitors such as the Chevy Colorado, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma. But it’s outclassed by the top-selling full-sized option such as the Ford F-150, which has been the country’s most popular truck for 40 years. The F-150 is rated to carry twice the bed capacity of the Ridgeline and tow up to three times as much weight.

However, there’s plenty of upside to being an SUV-based truck. The tightly sealed unitized body shields occupants from noise, vibration, and harshness. It boasts an independent multi-link rear suspension instead of a solid rear axle for a smoother ride and better handling and traction versus a traditional truck design. There’s also more ground clearance because there’s no differential mounted between the rear wheels.

The optional AWD system is not a conventional 4WD system – there’s no low-range available. Instead, it uses a torque-vectoring design that’s normally in front-wheel drive mode with a driveshaft connection to a rear differential, using electronic clutches to power both or one rear wheel when needed. When the system monitors wheel slip, it sends up to 70% of the torque to the rear, choosing the wheel (or wheels) with the best grip. Drivers can select from Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand modes in the AWD models and Normal and Snow for 2WD vehicles.

The unibody construction and the fully independent front and rear suspension systems – including Amplitude Reactive Dampers – mean the Ridgeline’s ride comfort and handling precision are better than its traditional pickup rivals.

The truck bed is a marvel of engineering. The tailgate operates in two directions – it drops like a standard tailgate, but it can also swing out like a car door. The tailgate opens to reveal a lockable trunk with 7.9 cu. ft. of storage space and a 115-volt AC power outlet.

The bed floor and walls are constructed with an advanced polymer that looks like a spray-in bed liner but is reinforced with steel supports. This polymer material is tough. To test its durability, Honda took a scoop loader and dumped a yard of 10-lb. river rocks from about 5-feet into the bed. The bed had only a few surface scratches.

Inside, the 2019 Ridgeline’s cabin features a range of standard and available technologies and luxury accessories, including an 8″ touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, three-zone automatic climate control, and eight-way power driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support.

For those who put a truck to work every day, the Ridgeline is probably not the best option. It’s geared toward folks who want a comfortable ride and need some utility as well. It can haul enough for home projects and tow good-sized toys like boats and campers.

The Ridgeline isn’t chasing Ford or Chevy truck sales numbers. It’s out there for people who need just enough truck in their lives to get the job done but want to ride in comfort.


Photo credit for all: Photos courtesy of Honda


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