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Why the Honda Ridgeline Lost to the Chevy Colorado

This year we’ve seen the rise of the lifestyle truck. An increasing number of buyers want a pickup as a daily driver or a family vehicle that also can do occasional hauling and towing jobs. While they appreciate a pickup truck’s utility, it may not be the main reason they want one.

What if a pickup truck could function as a work truck while comfortably holding its own on the highway? Motor Trend tested four popular midsize trucks to find out if drivers could have the best of both worlds. MT tested the 2019 Chevrolet Colorado V6 Z71, the 2019 Ford Ranger Lariat 4X4 EcoBoost, 2019 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition, and 2018 Toyota Tacoma V6 TRD Off Road for regular city driving and for hauling and towing work at a rural farm animal sanctuary.

Each truck brought its own strengths and weaknesses to Motor Trend’s tests. But when the dust settled, the Chevy Colorado edged out the Honda Ridgeline. Both were strong contenders, but the Colorado revealed a powerful balance between city and country. Read on to find out what made the Chevy truck stand out.

Navigating the urban landscape

For a few days, testers subjected the trucks to Los Angeles freeway and street driving. All trucks were configured with four doors, five-foot beds, and four-wheel drive.

The only exception was the all-wheel-drive Honda Ridgeline whose unibody construction set it apart from its body-on-frame competitors. A big plus for this truck was its smooth, carlike handling, which made city driving more comfortable. A 280 hp 3.5-liter V6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission powered this truck.

By comparison, the Toyota Tacoma lacked the ease of the Ridgeline. While the truck rated generally high for its looks, the cabin came up short on headroom. The power from its 278-hp 3.5-liter V6 with six-speed automatic seemed non-existent in the middle gears. The Tacoma was designed for offroading, but that still seemed like a poor excuse for its touchy brakes and stiff ride. 

Competing with the Tacoma for a poor ride was the Ford Ranger with the FX4 off-road package. It was exchanged for the pricier Lariat trim when it was discovered that it had no tow hitch. But the Lariat’s ride was only slightly less bouncy. Testers did like the Ranger’s responsive 2.3-liter inline-four turbocharged engine that produced 270 hp. But the Ranger, like the Tacoma, lost points due to inadequate head and shoulder room.

Testers praised the Colorado’s refined ride, robust powertrain, and responsive transmission. This pickup was MT’s Truck of the Year in 2015 and 2016. While its interior design lacks sophistication with its oversized buttons and knobs, its cabin was spacious. For testing, Chevy sent the truck with an optional 3.6-liter V6 that delivered 308 hp and an eight-speed transmission.

Working down on the farm

The testers put the trucks to work clearing tree stumps and brush at the animal sanctuary. The Ford Ranger’s engine served it well in this assignment, and the Chevy Colorado proved to be more than up to the task. The Ridgeline faltered a little, perhaps because it couldn’t gain enough traction with its AWD. The Tacoma performed only somewhat better than the Ridgeline in this work.

The next task was hauling hay bales. All of the pickups had the same bed length, except for Tacoma whose narrower bed put it at a slight disadvantage. When it was time to unload, two trucks outshone the other. The Ridgeline’s ingenious dual tailgate system swung down or out, with the latter making it a snap to unload. And the Colorado’s bumper-mounted step made for easy access.

Towing a trailer full of hay and feed was the trucks’ final job. The testers had to move a total of 2600 pounds of hay and 400 pounds worth of feed bags. When hitched to a trailer loaded with hay bales that weighed 1,400 pounds, the Colorado excelled. The Ridgeline hauled 500 pounds, while the Tacoma and the Ranger hauled slightly lighter loads.

The Ridgeline strained under its load, and its struggle was made worse because it had no tow-haul mode. Even though the tester put the Honda truck into low gear, the transmission still was forced into premature upshifts. Its ride also deteriorated under the weight, which could be blamed mostly on its unibody construction. Comparatively, the Ranger’s and the Tacoma’s rides fared better since body-on-frame construction trucks ride more smoothly with some ballast in the bed.

The trucks’ final standings

Not surprisingly, the testers ranked the Toyota Tacoma in last place. Its tight cabin, narrow bed, and overly responsive brakes were liabilities. An engine and transmission that didn’t mesh properly was another problem that worked against it.

In third place, the Ford Ranger’s excellent powertrain, muscular platform, and extra-wide bed were all pluses. However, the Ranger fell behind in highway testing. Its suspension was rocky and its cabin was small and outdated because Ford has made few changes to the Ranger since its introduction in 2012.

The second-place Honda Ridgeline stands out as a lifestyle truck and just happens to be capable enough to do some work, too. For a truck its size, the Ridgeline offers ample bed space. Testers said its dual-use tailgate is superior to the fancier multiposition tailgates found on full-size trucks.

But the Ridgeline lost major points due to having no tow-haul mode. Its ride quality while hauling could be improved. These failings seem to relate more to the truck’s lack of 4WD and body-on-frame construction than with how good a truck the Ridgeline actually is.

The Colorado easily won first place in Motor Trend’s testing. We suspect that the testers may have been slightly biased coming into the comparison since they knew and liked the Colorado when it twice won the Truck of the Year award. Despite this, the Colorado’s advantages over the Ridgeline are hard to deny.

The Chevy truck has plenty of power to tow and haul. Testers were pleased with how useful its bed was. Its sufficiently comfortable ride convinced testers that it could function as a daily driver with no trouble. Ultimately, as MT’s Christian Seabaugh wrote, the Colorado “drives like a compact but hauls like a heavy-duty.” If drivers want the best of a lifestyle truck and a work truck in the mid-size segment, the Chevrolet Colorado definitely fits those requirements.