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Smaller Honda Ridgeline stays true to its school

Hardcore truck fans may look down their noses at it, but for those who want a medium-duty machine, it definitely deserves a second look.

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When Honda?s Ridgeline debuted as a 2006 model, many truck fans didn?t know what to make of it. It wasn?t pretty; the company described it as only having ?medium-duty? off-road capability; and then there was its driveline configuration. Unlike other trucks, the Ridgeline runs primarily in front-wheel-drive.

And you know what? Despite all that, it worked, and it still does. It?s not the truck for pulling apartment buildings off their foundations, the way many full-size models are portrayed in ads. But since most consumer trucks spend much of their lives ?hauling air? in their empty beds, that?s not really an issue for many buyers.

It used to be more comparable with full-size trucks, but they?ve all bulked up, while the Ridgeline hasn?t changed substantially since its introduction. It?s now pretty much parked between full-size models and the few compact/mid-size trucks still on the market. And with the Ford Explorer Sport Trac gone, and the Chevrolet Avalanche soon to follow, the Honda also remains the last SUV-style pickup on the market. (The company notes that it?s not simply a ?Honda Pilot with a bed,? but is instead based on a global light truck platform, with a fully-boxed ladder frame integrated into its unibody construction.)

It comes in four trim lines, including the new-for-2012 Sport, with unique wheels, grille and black-trimmed lights as my tester was outfitted, running from $34,990 for the base DX, to $42,090 for the top-line Touring trim. All models use a 3.5 L V6 with five-speed automatic transmission, and all come with a four-wheel-drive system that runs primarily in front-wheel on dry roads, and can transfer torque to the rear wheels if it detects slippage. It can also be locked into four-wheel at speeds under 30 km/h, meant primarily for traction in deep snow or on mud. Exceed that speed threshold, and the lock disengages.

Towing capacity is 2,268 kg, which is more than some of its V6-powered competitors, such as the Ram 1500 or Chevrolet Silverado. It?s pricier than the base versions of most other trucks, but it contains a number of features that can make it an ideal vehicle for families and everyday commuters.

The interior looks dated, but it?s stuffed with storage. There are huge door pockets, an open bin above the glovebox, and a rubber-matted spot on the floor between the front seats to drop a purse or pack. The massive, multi-level centre console slides forward if you need to put even more stuff inside it. The rear seats are on legs, so you can stash cargo under them, or fold them up for more floor space.

The truck box is made of non-rusting reinforced composite and has a capacity of 500 kg, along with six cargo hooks, and three indentations under the rear window to accommodate motorbike tires. Under the box is a lockable trunk, which Honda says can hold three golf bags, with the spare tire tucked above on a pullout tray. There?s a drain plug in the trunk, too, so you can fill it with ice and turn it into a big cooler for that trip to the cottage. There are also dividers, available as accessories at the dealer, if you prefer smaller-item organization.

The dual-hinged tailgate is similar to those on older station wagons: it drops down conventionally, or opens sideways like a door. Don?t underestimate the convenience of that, until you?re pulling a load out of the box without having to lean across the lowered gate.

Its 250-horsepower V6 is about mid-range with its six-cylinder competitors: less than the 302 horses made by the Ford F-150?s base 3.7 L six, or the Nissan Frontier?s 261-horsepower 4.0 L, but healthier than Ram at 215 hp, or the Chevy Silverado?s 195-hp 4.3 L V6. The Ridgeline?s acceleration isn?t spectacular, but it?s smooth, and the engine is quiet once it gets up to its cruising speed. The ride is also big-car comfy, and the seats are supportive, making it a good choice for longer trips.

Given that the Ridgeline hadn?t been updated even as the competition morphed into newer versions, there were rumours that Honda was planning on retiring it. Not so, the company says, and if it sticks by that, it?ll be keeping a decent machine on the market. Hardcore truck fans may look down their noses at it, but for those who want a medium-duty machine with all the trimmings, it definitely deserves a second look.

2012 Honda Ridgeline

PRICE: $34,990 ? $42,090, as-tested $37,790

ENGINE: 3.5 L V6

POWER/TORQUE: 250/247

FUEL: City 13.6, hwy. 9.6, as-tested 11.6

COMPETITORS: Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra, Ford F-150, Nissan Frontier/Titan, Ram 1500, Toyota Tacoma/Tundra

WHAT?S BEST: Tons of storage, intelligently sized, nice ride

WHAT?S WORST: Tepid acceleration, dated dash

WHAT?S INTERESTING: Originally made in Ontario, now in Alabama

  • Smaller Honda Ridgeline stays true to its school
  • Smaller Honda Ridgeline stays true to its school
  • Smaller Honda Ridgeline stays true to its school

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