Pickup trucks. Boat haulin,’ dirt-towin’ workhorses that if commercials are to be believed, also get pianos, rocks, steel I-beams, and competing trucks dropped into their beds from time to time. But is every pickup truck destined to live a hard-knock life from the get-go? Ford’s F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in the United States. It sold 780,354 F-Series trucks in the U.S. in 2015, or over 2,100 of them a day. Will they all be on job sites, or towing horse trailers, or blasting across picturesque mesas on some kind of rugged, manly adventure narrated by Dennis Leary or Sam Elliott?
The fact of the matter is that pickup trucks are like a pair of blue jeans now; they’ve graduated from a spartan workhorse to a comfortable middle-class family vehicle. And while there are still plenty of people out there who rely on their trucks for work, the fact of the matter is that most Americans just don’t need as much truck as they’re buying.
This was the underlying argument when Honda introduced its Ridgeline pickup for 2006, and unfortunately, it didn’t work. Things were different then; the midsize truck market was on the outs, and a unibody truck based on the family-friendly Pilot SUV with a four-wheel drive system that sent its power to the front wheels (under most conditions) wasn’t poaching many buyers from Ford dealerships. And unlike pickups from Nissan and Toyota, it didn’t kowtow to American-friendly styling. It looked like a Honda, and the majority of truck owners don’t drive Hondas.
The first-generation Ridgeline disappeared after 2014, just as things began to change. That year GM reintroduced the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon, two midsize trucks that have gone on to win the last two Motor Trend Truck of the Year awards. Toyota has also just released an all-new midsize Tacoma, and Nissan is hoping its new Titan XD will split the difference between medium-and heavy-duty trucks. So with cracks beginning to form in the Big Three’s grip on the truck market, Honda is giving the Ridgeline another shot. It may not be as much truck as an F-150, but that’s what Honda is counting on.
The Ridgeline is back for 2017, and it looks like Honda may have learned just enough from its first go at the truck market to make the truck a contender. There is a lot of carryover – the Ridgeline is still a unibody, still based on the Pilot, still has its signature “In-Bed Trunk,” and won’t be mistaken for anything other than a Honda. But it now has a more cleaner, rugged, truck-like look than it did before; think less Japanese spaceship and more Chevy Colorado fighter. Honda says the new truck “delivers superior driving dynamics in combination with the largest interior space and most versatile bed in a midsize 4-door pickup.”
American Honda’s vice president John Mendel is confident in the new truck. “We think we’ve got a better idea, a truck that uses its unibody construction and Honda packaging magic to deliver more of the things that many of today’s truck customers want and need with none of the things they don’t.” What Honda thinks customers need is a (relatively) compact truck with an available updated i-VTM4 four-wheel drive system seen on the last Ridgeline, a 3.5 liter i-VTEC V6 mated to a six-speed auto, and a class-leading four-foot wide flat bed that can handle up to 1,600 pounds. And for those buyers who don’t need four-wheel drive, or even rear-wheel drive, Honda is offering a front-wheel version of the truck, which is likely to appeal to buyers who want a light truck but want crossover-like handling.
Speaking of crossovers, the Ridgeline’s interior wouldn’t look out of place in any of the company’s people movers. From Honda:
“Inside, the Ridgeline boasts the largest, most versatile and sophisticated cabin in a midsize 4-door pickup, featuring high-grade materials and finishes, available leather trim and all the latest technologies that Honda has to offer, including tri-zone climate control, push button start, a full-color TFT center meter and available 8-inch Display Audio touchscreen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility.”
Out back, the Ridgeline picks up the “Party Mode” mantle abandoned by the Toyota 4Runner by having six exciters (small motors that rotate to transform surfaces into speakers) mounted under the truck’s bed-liner. With the Ridgeline’s standard 540 watt sound system and available 400 watt power inverter, Honda is hoping to make the Ridgeline the “ultimate tailgating vehicle.”
For buyers looking for a heavy-duty work truck, the Ridgeline probably isn’t it. But for weekend warriors, suburbanites, urbanites, soft-roaders, tailgaters, or people that can’t fit a Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, or Dodge Ram into their driveway, Honda may have built the hauler for you.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.