Pickup trucks made for the urban dweller is a segment that is so hot right now. Ford has its hands full with a mountain of orders for its newly minted Maverick, a truck that splices the DNA of the F150 and Escape models and offers the option for a hybrid powertrain. Hyundai, dipping a tentative toe into the pickup space, pulled the wraps off of their brand-new Santa Cruz which is a trucklet we drove several weeks ago and came away suitably impressed by the effort from a company with zero experience in this niche of the market. These small trucks are the answer to the question of “Why buy more truck than you need?” Sure, a Chevy Silverado will not complain about being used to ferry the kids to school or tasked with carrying a holiday haul from the local Costco, but it is a bit much for that kind of duty. The huge payload and towing capabilities are completely wasted, and you are left with a vehicle that is unwieldy driving and parking within the city limits and the dismal fuel economy that goes along with that.
With the idea of needing a pickup but scaling down its dimensions and capacities beginning to gain traction once more, Honda must feel a little frustrated. When these mini trucks were nothing but a barroom napkin sketch, the Ridgeline had already been plying the roads and home improvement store parking lots for years. In fact, the second generation of the current Ridgeline you see here has been around for four years, giving buyers a much more appropriate pickup option than traditional trucks if your daily routine doesn’t require towing a huge boat or moving a bed full of crushed rock from place to place. Honda saw the light before any of the other brands and yet the Ridgeline has not enjoyed the kind of success that it might have if people had caught onto the virtues it has espoused since it’s debut back in 2006.
Honda has long been known as a company for shrewd innovations throughout its history. Trick stuff like VTEC, Super Handling All-Wheel Drive and the sorta creepy ASIMO android robot are but a few of the cool technologies they have introduced over the years. Back in the early Oughts the company took notice of the huge sales numbers pickups generate here in North America and thought that there must be a better way to allow customers to enjoy many of the facets of truck ownership without the penalty in fuel economy and drivability. With their fresh approach to design and engineering, the Ridgeline was born.
The basic premise of the Ridgeline is to think of it as we did when we first evaluated the current generation back in 2017: take a Honda Pilot, graft a pickup bed onto its second row of seats and add a healthy amount of towing and payload capacity (for a Japanese version of the El Camino, if you prefer.) It isn’t just the styling that is handed down from the Pilot. The Ridgeline gets the same comfortable interior with all the trimmings and niceties from that model as well as the running gear and suspension. That means a 3.5 litre V6 sending power through a 9-speed transmission and then onto the tarmac through Honda’s iVTM-4 all-wheel drive system. Even the fully independent suspension carries over. You end up with a truck whose driving experience is closer to a car than a truck. It matters not if the bed is full of stuff or if you are towing, the ride is smooth, controlled and does not get upset by midcorner bumps. There is a good deal more precision to the way the Ridgeline drives compared to its full-sized counterparts, and fuel economy is much better to say the least. Basically, the Ridgeline’s raison d’etre is to unburden its driver of all the compromises associated with a much larger truck. It works, folks.
So why does the Ridgeline not enjoy the same success as so-called ‘real’ trucks? Anyone who knows this segment will tell you that truck buyers are a fiercely loyal bunch and tend to stick with their brand resolutely. They tend to look down their noses at vehicles that try and pass themselves off as heavy duty and rugged, as misguided as that may be. Yet those two factors don’t work in the Ridgeline’s favor and most write it off as wimpy when in fact the Honda has more than enough grunt to get the vast majority of stuff done they will ask of it.
Our theory is a simple one- the Ridgeline simply does not look tough enough when you line it up next to those it is trying to compete with. Yes, we are aware of the shallowness of that statement, but when we asked some truck owners what they thought of the Ridgeline most replied that the ‘minivan with a tailgate’ didn’t project the truculence they crave. They might be onto something there, and the answer is fairly simple- make the Ridgeline look more like a truck. Kia recently released their new minivan and it’s styled to look like an SUV, and largely succeeds. That should be enough to make buyers take notice and perhaps that strategy pays off in terms of sales. Honda must follow a similar gameplan with the Ridgeline. Sure, a rear-biased all-wheel drive system wouldn’t hurt, and maybe a little extra ground clearance would help it earn some much-needed street cred. While they’re at it, bin the old, slow infotainment system in favor of the system found in the new ’22 Civic and get some brighter HID headlights for better visibility at night and most of the reservations people have should soften.
For those of you who like to throw epic tailgate parties, the Ridgeline has you covered. Not only is there a unique cooler built into the floor for all your chilled beverage needs- complete with drain plugs so you can get rid of the water from all that melted ice- the entire bed itself acts like a speaker so you can blast your favourite tunes while you tuck into a hot dog or two. So what if the styling won’t endear you to those with their lifted pickups with stickers that have Calvin urinating on a rival brand’s logo- the Ridgeline is an excellent alternative to the usual pickup choices, and it deserves to be taken seriously.
2021 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition - Specifications
- Price as tested: $54,535
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger pickup truck
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.5-litre V6, SOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 280 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 262 @ 4,700 rpm
- Transmission: 9-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,047 kg (4,512 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 12.8/100km (18 mpg)