The all-new 2006 Honda Ridgeline doesn't look or act like any other pickup truck we've ever driven. It has a family storage solution in its bed that no other pickup truck can match. And it won't cost an arm and a leg to buy or to operate. Honda says the main competition for the Ridgeline comes from Dodge Dakota, Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Explorer Sport Trac and Toyota Tacoma on size and function.
Pickup trucks have traditionally been built with a separate nose section, cab section, and cargo bed, bolted to a separate ladder frame, but this first Honda pickup uses both a welded unibody construction and a steel ladder frame, welded together, with the cab and cargo bed made as one piece, with separate subframes for the engine, front suspension and rear suspension. Honda says it is 20 times more resistant to twisting than any other pickup truck, and 3.5 times more resistant to bending. Honda says the Ridgeline can carry 1550 pounds of cargo or tow up to 5000 pounds.
The Ridgeline is one of the nicest midsize trucks we've driven in terms of comfort and ease of use, though some of the others in this class have a bit more dash and flash inside. At the high end, Ridgeline will be offered with a DVD satellite navigation system, displayed on an eight-inch-wide screen, plus XM Satellite Radio, leather seating surfaces and a moonroof.
Honda Ridgeline RT ($27,700); RTS ($30,075); RTL ($31,490)
The standard grille looks busy, but an optional grille is available through the Honda accessory program, one of about 50 items already developed for dealer installation. The profile view features a lot of metal sculpturing from end to end that normal pickup trucks with separate beds don't have.
Ridgeline's bed is made of steel-reinforced SMC plastic, not steel with a sprayed-on or slipped-in liner. The cargo bed is five feet long with the tailgate up, and six and a half feet long with the tailgate down, enabling it to carry two dirt bikes or a large ATV. A tubular aluminum cargo bed extender is available for longer loads. There are four large retaining chocks for cargoes, one in each corner of the bed.
The cargo bed features a tailgate that opens normally but also opens like a door, with a hidden latch on the lower right side and hinges on the left, so users don't have to lean across the tailgate to store or retrieve items in the bed or in the storage trunk. The tailgate is retained by a conventional cable on the left and a patented, hidden retainer on the right.
At the rear of the bed is the single feature that separates the Ridgeline from all the rest, a covered, sealed and lockable 8.5 cubic-foot storage compartment that will hold a 72-quart cooler, several sets of golf clubs, or what-have-you, with the compact spare tire mounted forward of that on a sliding, locking tray. The trunk is fitted with a drain plug for those times when ice turns to water, or when accumulated crud needs to be hosed out.
We found the driver and front passenger seats to be roomy, comfortable and supportive, with plenty of adjustment range for rake and travel. Although the rear doors are shorter than the fronts, standard practice in this segment, there's no problem getting in or out, and the rear seat is nearly as roomy and versatile as the front, with a split/fold feature for large covered cargoes and under-seat storage like an airliner for even more family stuff.
The instruments and controls follow the Odyssey, Pilot, and Element trucks in style and layout, with large, easily readable graphics throughout. The 8-inch screen navigation system, optional on our RTL test model, is a paradigm for size, brightness, contrast and overall ease of use.
The incredibly high stiffness and strength of this body and chassis combination and the isolation of the drivetrain and suspension from the cab make the Ridgeline a joy to drive. It is quieter and more refined than all of the major competition, all of which we drove on the same day over the same course, without a lot of jarring inputs reaching the driver's seat or fingertips. Independent suspension front and rear is an industry first in this segment, and the ride over choppy surfaces or off-road is excellent.
The stiffness of the body and chassis contributed to crisp, sure handling over twisty two-lane roads in San Diego County. The combination of all-wheel-drive and the industry's only vehicle stability system on a midsize truck lets the driver fly around corners with abandon. It felt lighter on its feet than the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Toyota Tundra TRD, and Chevy Colorado.
The new Honda Ridgeline borders on the revolutionary, from its dramatic new look to its tailgate and storage innovations to its combination of body-on-frame isolation and unibody stiffness, all at very reasonable prices. We'd like to have more power, but we found little here not to like, bizarre front-end styling aside. Honda says it will have 50,000 of these to sell over the next 12 months, and we say you'd better hurry. For those contemplating a family recreation or commuting pickup truck for the first time, this one goes to the top of the shopping list.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from San Diego.