Thumbs Up: Drives like a car, hauls like a truck.
Thumbs Down: Not for the serious off-road stuff.
Buy This Car If: You want a midsize pickup but need a four door sedan.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll come clean up front: I like the Honda Ridgeline so much I nearly bought one back in 2008. In the end, I opted for a vehicle with better off-road chops, only because I live in hurricane country. In a worst case scenario, I want the ability to evacuate or return regardless of how bad the roads are; besides, I don’t see myself living in Florida forever, and a good four wheel drive truck is mandatory if you move to the mountains.
Had true off-road capability not been high on my list, I would have bought the Ridgeline. Sure the styling is a bit on the funky side, but how can you not love a vehicle with the comfort and amenities of a sedan, combined with the towing and hauling capabilities of a mid-size pickup? In that regard, the Honda Ridgeline is the automotive equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife: no matter what you need it to do (within reason), the Ridgeline can probably accommodate you.
Some shoppers can’t get past the Ridgeline’s appearance, which is best described as “unconventional”. The front starts out with lines that define the Ridgeline as a truck. The sloping bed still says truck, but with an element of style, almost like a Chevy Avalanche in 3/4 scale. It’s really the passenger compartment that makes the truck controversial; viewed from the side, it’s almost as if someone enlarged a four door VW Golf, then grafted it to a pickup truck. The channels bisecting the doors only contribute to the Ridgeline’s odd styling, and in my experience consumers either love the way the truck looks or hate it.
If the styling causes you to look elsewhere, you’d be missing out on a supremely functional vehicle. The bed, for example, is made from a composite that doesn’t dent or rust. Underneath the bed is a lockable trunk. complete with a drain plug for easy cleaning. Yes, it’s a short bed, measuring only five feet in length. If that’s not big enough, a bed extender cage will add another 19 inches, which is long enough to carry a dirt bike or two in the bed. Need more capacity? The Ridgeline comes complete with an integrated class III hitch, and is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds.
It’s clear that a lot of thought went into the interior design of the Ridgeline. Storage abounds, and the truck has more pockets and shelves than any other vehicle I can think of. Seats are superb, whether you opt for the cloth seats of the base models or the leather seats of the higher trim versions. My RTL-trim tester even came with adjustable lumbar support for the driver and heated front seats, something you don’t always find in non-luxury vehicles.
The rear bench seat is reasonably comfortable, although a few passengers wished the seat bottom extended just a bit further. Leg and head room for rear seat passengers is generous, making even longer trips relatively comfortable for both front and rear seat passengers. Rear seat passengers even get their own HVAC vent, allowing them to direct the air where they want it, and the center rear window opens for added ventilation. If you need to haul cargo out of the elements, the rear seat folds up and out of the way, giving you a surprising amount of space and a relatively flat cargo floor.
Getting behind the wheel requires you to step up and into the truck, thanks to the Ridgeline’s ample ground clearance. Controls, even the steering wheel mounted controls, seem just a bit oversized; this is deliberate on Honda’s part, as they wanted to design an interior that worked even with gloves on. Higher trim models come with separate HVAC controls for driver and passenger, and Honda maintains a unique display for the stereo instead of incorporating it into the nav system. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I find a separate audio display and controls to be a big plus; if I want to change radio stations, I don’t want to scroll through 3 menus to do this.
Honda’s nav system is intuitive and comes with a large display mounted atop the dash center stack. The nav system responds to voice commands, helpful when trying to input a new address in traffic. The nav screen also doubles as a back up camera display, which makes backing up or parallel parking much simpler.
Honda’s instrument cluster gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t. A large center pod contains the speedometer (which also includes a km/h scale), the gear indicator and the driver information display. The left pod holds the tachometer, and the right pod holds the fuel and temp gauges. Honda’s driver information display features a bright LCD screen that shows a wide variety of information at a glance. Why other automakers haven’t shamelessly stolen this design is beyond me, because it’s among the best in the industry.
The Ridgeline uses Honda’s 3.5 liter V6 motor, good for some 250 horsepower and 247 ft lb of torque. The motor is mated to a five speed automatic transmission, and a manual transmission option isn’t offered. The motor isn’t particularly powerful, but it is exceptionally smooth and well suited to the Ridgeline’s mission of suburban hauling. Zero to sixty takes around nine seconds, which isn’t going to win you any drag races, even against other mid-size pickup trucks. The EPA rates the Ridgeline at 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, and I saw an actual 18.1 mpg in an equal mix of city and highway driving.
On the road, the Ridgeline feels more like a really big sedan than a mid size pickup. I’m not sold on the Ridgeline’s column mounted shifter, which makes choosing your own gear difficult, and I wish the steering wheel were adjustable for reach as well as tilt. Both of these are minor complaints, and neither would stop me from throwing money down on a Ridgeline. It’s relatively enjoyable to drive, and the high seating position gives you a good view of the road in front of you. Outward visibility is excellent, and I didn’t notice any major blind spots during my time behind the wheel.
I didn’t have a chance to take the Ridgeline off road, but most buyers won’t be doing this either. As long as your off-roading consists of fire roads, easy trails and the occasional trip to the beach, the Ridgeline will do just fine. If you live in the snow belt, I’d think a Ridgeline with four dedicated snow tires would get you through the worst of winters in relative comfort and safety, but if your requirements include hard core back country adventure, the Ridgeline just isn’t your truck.
My 2011 Ridgeline RTL Nav had a base price of $37,610 including destination charge, and was as optioned out as you can possibly buy a Honda Ridgeline. The base model Ridgeline RT starts at $28,900 and the mid-grade RTS (which includes alloy wheels and dual zone climate control, as well as a host of other amenities) starts at $31,605. By way of comparison, a comparably equipped Dodge Dakota Laramie Crew Cab would sticker for $35,380 and a comparably equipped Toyota Tacoma would cost you $32,930. Neither is really a fair comparison, as both are more hardcore truck and the Toyota doesn’t even include the option of a nav system.
In the end, it’s hard to pigeonhole the Honda Ridgeline into a single category. It’s kind of a truck, but it’s also sort of a big sedan. It’ll haul stuff, it’ll haul people and it will do so on road or off (as long as your expectations are realistic). Considering that most 4wd truck buyers rarely take their vehicles off-road, the Ridgeline may be the perfect alternative between the lifted, go anywhere 4wd pickup you want and the family sedan you really need. Whether you like the styling or hate it, ignore the Ridgeline and you’re missing out on a truly unique ride.