2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E – Refined and Capable Hauler for Families

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If minivans are the quintessential mom-mobile, what’s the paternal equivalent? Depending on where you grew up, it’s arguably a pickup. Not because every dad needs a truck for point A to point B work, but trucks are butch and they come in really handy when it’s time to grab half a dozen two-by-fours for doing dad stuff. Unfortunately, pickups historically come with limited refinement. Enter the Honda Ridgeline.

In 2006 Honda sought to shake things up when they released their take on a family oriented four door pickup. What buyers got was a Swiss Army knife of a car with all sorts of amenities including a fabled secret compartment. It also came with some unique body work that let onlookers know at a glance there was something special going on. For 2017, Honda released the second generation of this unique truck, this time with a little more traditional body work.

Aesthetically, it’s standout in the current trend of design that follows the mantra blocky is better. While manufacturers across the board are bloating up their trucks, Ridgeline remains a good do-all size that still manages to fit in your garage. This second generation marks a departure from the first iteration’s radical body style. It’s less blocky and looks more like the Honda Pilot SUV. While its features seem soft relative to the domestic truck market, objectively it’s a good looking truck.

This pickup is essentially a different vehicle from other trucks on the road today. First, and most notably, this truck is a unibody design.  That’s shorthand for a frame that’s integrated into the body work. So, like nearly all cars on the road today, the body and frame are one unit. A traditional truck employs a body-on-frame design in which the drivetrain and suspension attach to the frame and the body bolts to that. Great, so what does that mean? In short, it’s lighter weight, the loads are spread over a greater area and there’s fewer chance for squeaks and rattles.

The main competitors for this truck are likely to be the Chevy Colorado and the venerable Toyota Tacoma. The Chevy and the Tacoma have a towing capacity of 3,500 lbs. If you go for the diesel version of the Chevy it’s bumped to 7,000. The Ridgeling can boast a 5,000 pound towing capacity. As far as payload is concerned these trucks are almost too close to call, the Tacoma does have an edge though.

Where the Ridgeline shines is in its refinement and ingenuity. The tailgate opens like a traditional gate, but it also swings out like a barn door. There’s a water tight trunk space under the bed floor with a drain in the bottom in case you want to use it as a cooler.  There are even speakers in the bed so tunes can be piped in from the stereo during a tailgating session. There’s ample light at night provided by the cargo lamps.

The Ridgeline is smooth and quiet while under way. The power from the 3.5 V6 is good. While driving around the truck uses front wheel drive, which makes for a sedan-like feel. It’s only when those front tires begin to slip that the all-wheel-drive system is engaged. The seats are excellent and the interior space is cavernous. The rear seats fold up to make space for cargo. The rear window is a power-sliding unit. Typical cargo in daddy-wagons are kids and their stuff, this truck does that brilliantly. There’s a wide angle “conversation mirror” built into the sunglasses holder so drivers can see everyone in the car at a glance. The center console is logically sorted and there’s a huge storage compartment with charging outlets

Honda’s current infotainment center is not as user friendly as others on the market.  There is no volume knob, it’s just touch screen. This comes in handy when owners are cleaning it, but operating it is another story. The screen for the stereo leans back at an angle which is perfect for catching glare almost as if they did all the testing in doors out of the sun. It’s OK though, there’s rumor that Honda got an ear full and they’re bringing the knob back.  This pickup features driving aids like lane departure and collision mitigation systems. On the highway this thing shines. There’s plenty of room inside for long trips and the radar cruise makes for a comfortable effortless ride.

Honda could improve the efficiency on this truck to offer even more appeal. While driving this truck it never achieved the EPA estimate of 25 mpg. I think some further innovation under the hood could make this truck’s efficiency a bragging point. The price point is another issue. A buyer could doll up a Tacoma to match the Ridgeline’s price point, but it’s really at the upper end of the market.

The Ridgeline is what most of us need from a truck most of the time. There’s a romantic notion of what a truck should be, and it’s perpetuated by advertisers and by yokels who drive ¾ ton trucks that never do any work a midsized pickup couldn’t do. The same notion that trucks are for dumping a ton of rocks from heavy equipment into, or busting through giant mud puddles at ludicrous speed. Yes, there is a population of folks whose work does resemble the truck commercials, but most people just won’t ever need that. Why not drive something comfortable, capable and clever.

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