Did you know the tachometer on Singer Porsches goes to 11? It’s true. The coolest modified 911s on the planet have a Spinal Tap reference, right there in the center of the dashboard. For years, Christopher Guest’s iconic “these go to 11” line has been used to describe virtually anything that’s been cranked up to go faster, louder, or bigger than before. With the 2017 Ridgeline, Honda is going full Tap, too, but it’s being a little more subtle about it.
At the top of the Ridgeline range sits the Black Edition, which the automaker says is “a whole new way to Ridgeline.” Everything is black: the paint, windows, wheels, and seats. If you’re wondering how much more black it could be, the answer is none. None more black.
After disappearing for two model years, the Ridgeline is in the midst of an impressive comeback. Since its debut last year as a 2017 model, it’s already moved nearly 24,000 units — its strongest sales year since 2008 — and has earned the prestigious North American Truck of the Year award, soundly beating the Ford F-Series 364 points to 193, as voted by a panel of 60 independent automotive journalists. The award might seem like a minor victory when compared to the Ford’s 820,000 units sold last year, but Honda is offering something entirely different from the Blue Oval. And it’s beginning to make an impression.
When the first-generation Ridgeline appeared in 2006, the truck market was in a state of flux. The compact pickup segment was in its death throes, and Detroit still was experimenting with similar SUV/truck hybrids, such as the Chevy Avalanche and Ford Explorer Sport Trac. The Ridgeline still stood out in its otherness — and not always in a good way. Despite offering some of the best handling and fuel economy in its class, its design was polarizing to truck die-hards. Its car-like interior, relatively compact size, and integrated bed seemed to suggest it was anything but a workhorse. In a segment where authenticity is valued over almost everything else, the first Ridgeline just didn’t have the “it” factor.
But the world has changed a lot in 12 years, especially the truck market. The midsize segment is roaring back, thanks to the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, redesigned Toyota Tacoma, and upcoming Ford Ranger. And full-size pickups are getting cushier and more like cars than ever before. In the latter half of the 2010s, the pickup is evolving. Yes, it’s still the breadwinner for thousands of business owners, contractors, and farmers — and for the Big Three’s bottom line. But it also has evolved to become the comfortable, tech-laden, sometimes luxurious family car, too. So the pickup is again in a state of flux, and the Ridgeline balances these new roles better than virtually anything else out there.
Let’s get this out of the way first: The Ridgeline finally looks like a truck, an honest-to-goodness truck. This time around, the four-door Ridgeline blends right in with the sea of crew cabs out there. Although it still utilizes unibody construction, a lot of potential buyers will likely be reassured by its separate bed.
Up front, it doesn’t look all that different from the family-friendly Pilot SUV. Out back, however, the Ridgeline’s bed is 63.3 inches long and 50 inches wide, making it significantly larger than both the Colorado, Canyon, and Tacoma. With the tailgate down, it’s the only midsize pickup that can haul 4-by-8-foot objects (think sheets of plywood or drywall) perfectly flat. Plus, the weatherproof under-bed storage locker makes a return, giving you both a decently sized trunk and a generous bed with a 1,584-pound payload. It also can tow up to 5,000 pounds. For 2017, the Ridgeline is all the truck most people need, and it finally looks the part.
Exterior pros and cons
+ The all-new design truly makes the Ridgeline “Honda’s truck,” not Honda’s “truck.”
+ The impressively sized bed and weatherproof, watertight trunk offer the best of both worlds. We dig the combination drop-down/swing-out tailgate, too.
+ Black Edition wheels, paint, and tinted windows play up the Ridgeline’s newfound macho look.
– It looks a little too much like the Pilot up front.
– We like the in-bed lights, but we wonder how those vulnerable-looking lenses hold up after a few months of serious hauling.
Unlike most of the competition, the only engine available is Honda’s durable 3.5-liter Earth Dreams V6. In the Ridgeline, it makes a respectable 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Weighing in at about 4,400 pounds, the truck can do the zero to 60 sprint in less than 7 seconds, making merging a breeze. Numbers like that put it right in the ballpark with the Tacoma’s 278 horse/265 pound-feet and the V6 Colorado/Canyon twins’ 308 horse/275 pound-feet.
Although the base Ridgeline is available as front-wheel drive only, our range-topper came equipped with Honda’s torque vectoring all-wheel drive system, which sends power to all four wheels depending on driving conditions. Paired with Honda’s “Intelligent Traction Management System,” with separate sand, snow, mud, and normal driving modes, the Ridgeline can handle just about anything. An 18 MPG city and 25 MPG highway rating from the EPA is plenty impressive, too.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ The Earth Dreams V6 proves to be a nice fit for the Ridgeline.
+ Performance numbers put it right in the thick of the midsize-pickup segment.
+ Torque vectoring all-wheel drive and drive modes should convince buyers that the Ridgeline is plenty tough.
– As good as the Earth Dreams is, another engine option wouldn’t hurt.
– The Ridgeline fits in with the pack performance-wise, but it doesn’t really stand out.
Ever go through a goth phase in high school? If you did, you’ll love the Ridgeline Black Edition’s interior. Front and rear thrones are covered in soft black leather, with cool red accent stitching and perforated black and red seat inserts, giving it a look that’s equal parts sporty and inviting. The color scheme carries over onto the retractable center console lid, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and infotainment screen graphics. The red accents and wide sunroof do wonders in breaking up all that darkness, making the cabin feel like an inviting place to be.
If you’ve spent time in a Honda Pilot, you’ll be instantly familiar with the layout and feel, albeit there’s a more straightforward gear shifter here. In back, there are acres of room — so much so that there’s room for three adults and a golf bag under the seats. With the bench folded up, you can fit a bike with the front wheel attached. If we didn’t know any better, we’d think Honda was trying to put aftermarket bed-cap manufacturers out of business.
Interior pros and cons
+ Unibody construction makes the Ridgeline a joy to drive on the highways, and it keeps the cabin quiet and rattle-free.
+ Class-leading interior space means plenty of room for five adults, and the in-cabin storage is seriously impressive.
+ Embroidered Black Edition seats are both cool and comfortable.
– Thin seat-mounted armrests weren’t comfortable on long road trips.
– It’s so smooth, we sometimes forgot we were driving a pickup. Some buyers might find this appealing; others might not.
Tech and safety
For buyers looking for lots of gadgets or a work truck that doubles as a safe family car, the Ridgeline’s Pilot-Odyssey roots might be its greatest asset. The truck earned a Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and an overall five-star safety rating from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. To put people’s minds further at ease, Honda has developed a reinforced barrier to shield rear seat occupants from up to 1,500 pounds worth of cargo in crashes of 30 miles per hour or less.
We’ve always loved Honda’s relatively option-free lineup, and in the Black Edition, you get just about everything the Ridgeline has to offer for a flat price. In addition to the big sunroof and leather-laden interior (with heated/cooled, 10-way power seats), you also get a heated steering wheel, an eight-speaker stereo (with two speakers mounted under the bed for tailgating parties), and an 8-inch touchscreen with the HondaLink infotainment system. Along with the stellar Honda Sensing safety suite, the top-dog Ridgeline is seriously impressive. Our truck wasn’t cheap at $43,770, but it also had no add-ons. You could easily option any of the competition into this price range, so the Ridgeline’s sticker price is attractive in its simplicity. What you see is what you get.
The first thing you realize when you climb behind the wheel of the Ridgeline is it feels like a truck. It’s tall, you look over an expanse of hood, and you’re acutely aware of that bed out back. That’s a good thing. But that truck feeling goes away once you pull out into traffic, the four-wheel independent suspension eats up any road imperfections, and the aerodynamic front nose keeps wind noise to a minimum. Other than its dimensions, it stops feeling like a truck in traffic. That’s also a good thing.
On the highway, there’s plenty of power. Even if you’re driving with an empty bed or in inclement weather, the Ridgeline feels planted and responsive. It feels like driving an Odyssey or a Pilot, and honestly, if that makes it less of a legitimate truck then so be it. City or country, rain or shine, the Ridgeline exceeded our expectations in terms of livability, driving experience, comfort, and convenience.
If you’re the type of purist who feels trucks started to lose their edge when radios and automatic transmissions were introduced, you probably won’t like the Ridgeline. If you’re looking for a torquey diesel for off-roading adventures, then by all means, visit your local Chevy, GMC, or Toyota dealership. But if you fall into the vast majority of pickup buyers in 2017, the Ridgeline offers everything you’d ever need in a truck.
Outside, the Black Edition makes the Ridgeline look suitably butch. From some angles we like it even better than the competition. Inside, it’s equally tough and luxurious, and it feels legitimately upscale thanks to its materials and Honda’s fit-and-finish.
A good modern truck should be tough and ready for anything. It should be versatile and economical, have room for the family, be safe, and be comfortable on long drives. The Ridgeline does all this effortlessly, and the Black Edition makes it look cool while doing it. If you’re ready to buck the status quo, be a maverick, and be that rugged individual all the truck makers say you are, check out a Ridgeline. We’d be shocked if you weren’t impressed.