For many years, the truck world would look down on the Honda Ridgeline. “It’s not a real truck,” some said. “Where’s the frame?” spouted others. “Why is it based on a minivan?” we’d hear.
Yes, the Ridgeline is an oddball in the midsize truck segment. While all its competitors make do with body-on-frame configurations and longitudinal engine layouts, Honda’s rig shares a unibody platform with a Honda Pilot SUV. It borrows its transverse drivetrain from an Odyssey minivan and it boasts the lowest towing rating in the segment at 5,000 pounds.
However, the 2022 model year brought not one, but two new unibody trucks: the Ford Maverick and the Hyundai Santa Cruz. Fine, they don’t exactly fit in the same segment as the Ridgeline since they’re a full size smaller, but their arrival may allow Honda’s truck to finally become a bully of its own. Because compared to those two, the Ridgeline is a beast.
For the “Smarter” Type of Truck Buyer
I have a confession to make. I’ve always adored the Ridgeline for what it is. Sure, it’s 2,000 pounds behind a Ford Ranger in the towing wars and its car-based architecture restricts it to a four-door cab configuration with a 5.3-foot bed.
But the Ridgeline answers a question a truck buyer often don’t take the time to ask: what if I don’t need to tow 10,000 pounds?
Because for many people (including myself), a 5,000-pound tow rating is more than enough. It also walks all over the puny Maverick’s 4,000-pound claims. You see, Honda originally built the Ridgeline to complement its recreational division, for people who buy Honda dirt bikes, ATVs, and side by sides. In that respect, it’s perfect.
What the Ridgeline lacks in brute force, it makes up for by being immensely versatile. Lift the rear seat upwards like you would in a Honda Fit, and a flat floor leaves room for a dog, a plant, or a small tree.
Looking for more storage without having to use the bed? There’s a secret compartment under the floor to toss your gear. Not only can it engulf up to 200 litres of cargo - or about half the size of a Honda Civic’s trunk - it’s fitted with drain plugs, so it can also act as a cooler. How about spicing things up with some in-bed audio? The Ridgeline has that covered as well.
Storage solutions and class-leading ergonomics are the Ridgeline’s tour de force. Its cabin is enormous – about the size of a Honda Passport’s without the trunk – and the massive centre console yields yet another deep cavity to throw more gear. The seat comfort is impeccable and special mention goes to the well-integrated floating armrests. You sit upright in a Ridgeline, giving you a commanding view of the road.
We also appreciate the level of equipment the vehicle offers. It’s arguably the most sophisticated of midsize trucks, with everything from heated and cooling front seats, to wireless phone charging and independent rear climate controls. Fit and finish, as well as material quality is also significantly better than anything else in this class.
The Integra of Trucks
Honda may be attempting to revive its mojo with the return of the Acura Integra, but the Ridgeline is arguably the vehicle that best defines the brand’s spirit. Under the hood lies one of the best engines ever designed by the big H; a tried and proven naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 fitted with VTEC valve timing technology. It’s good for 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque and mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Honda’s iVTM-4 all-wheel drive system also comes standard.
Sure, it’s a little down on twist next to Hyundai’s turbocharged four-cylinder unit (311 lb-ft), but the Ridgeline’s power delivery activates in a much more meaningful manner. Stomp the throttle at any gear, and this Honda instantly gulps down air as it energetically starts gaining revs. Get past the 4,800-r.p.m. mark, and it really starts to bark as the higher cam profiles kick in for better breathing. In other words, VTEC just kicked in YO! And it’s highly addictive.
The Ridgeline is quick by any measure, with instant throttle response and a fast-responding kick downs from the automatic transmission. Such mechanical brilliance is complemented by a chassis so well sorted out, that we’d swear we were driving a big Honda Accord. The Ridgeline quickly makes you forget it’s a truck. It takes on a corner like a large SUV. It’s agile and actually fun to drive.
The Geek Grew a Pair
Yes, the Honda Ridgeline is still very much a geek, but a significant midcycle update in 2021 helped it shed off its nerdish Pilot-with-a-bed appearance. The entire front fascia is now more rugged, with a prominent grille, hood, bumper, and headlights. Everything from the A pillar forward is new. There are new wheels, and the rear section was slightly massaged as well.
Honda made some minor tweaks inside too, adding a volume knob for the infotainment system. It helps, but that system remains an utter disaster due to its dated graphics, slow reaction times and downright confusing controls. What’s more, there’s still no genuine off-road package like what the competition sells. We’d like to see Honda explore the Ridgeline’s go-anywhere potential.
With a $47,520 starting price that can easily reach the $60,000 mark for a fully loaded Black Edition, the Ridgeline’s ask is big pill to swallow. Even if it’s loaded with creature comforts you’d typically find in an Acura, the sad reality is that Ford will sell you a decently equipped F-150 for similar money.
If you can afford it and absolutely need a Honda engine in your pickup truck, the Ridgeline surely won’t disappoint. It’s much stronger than the compact trucks from Ford and Hyundai, and significantly more civilized than the body-on-frame midsize competition. With such a high price tag, the Ridgeline is a tough buy, but it’s also a great truck. Once you sample one, you’ll be hooked. I know I am.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.