Ten years ago Honda introduced the Ridgeline pickup truck. Last month, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the company unveiled its first ground-up redesign in a decade. Although long overdue, the 2017 Ridgeline confirms Honda's slow but steady commitment to building a light truck that refuses to conform to the established norm.
Not the truck you want, but the one you need
Chevrolet, GMC, Ford, Ram and more recently Nissan build trucks that feed the very essence of the American truck image. Dripping with chrome, powered by big engines and aggressively styled, these trucks are at the very heart of everything that is American pickup truck culture.
From the beginning, however, Honda has danced to a different beat with the Ridgeline. In its second-generation the Honda truck focuses on fuel economy, cabin comfort, cabin space, smart technology and driving manners.
In typical Honda fashion, the 2017 Ridgeline is a showcase of how a pickup truck can be a no-compromise everyday driver. It was upon this premise that Honda developed its first Ridgeline, and it’s that same unapologetic sentiment that governs the truck today.
A truck only by name
I could drop terms like unibody construction, independent suspension, driver assist technologies and active safety systems, but what you really need to know about the 2017 Ridgeline is simple. This is a truck only by name. Unlike every other truck on the market, this one ts actually based on an SUV; a new and really well engineered one at that.
Last year Honda birthed an all-new remake of its large SUV, the Pilot, with a host of segment leading features. Development of such a new vehicle is never cheap, which is why it comes as no surprise that the 2017 Ridgeline is built on that very platform.
I’ve driven the new Pilot, it’s a fantastic SUV that has won a slew of awards and accolades from fellow members of the media. With a platform this good, it makes perfect sense that Honda would opt to use it to underpin the not-so-well-selling Ridgeline (compare 114,970 new Pilots with 15,192 Ridgelines sold in 2014 across the US and Canada).
In the stables of a high volume OEM like Honda, the likes of the niche Ridgeline is hard to justify on a balance sheet. By borrowing so much from the Pilot, Honda engineers have been able to create a completely new truck without the big spend that would typically come with it.
By leveraging the considerable investments Honda has made to develop the new Pilot, the Ridgeline has a shot at a renewed existence while shoring up the company’s light truck lineup with yet another highly competitive offering.
It’s a hard sell on the surface
Being the radically unique vehicle it is, the Ridgeline polarizes. At face value, the general public often dismiss it as a lack of obvious traditional truck-like traits make it far from desirable to most.
As fans of the Ridgeline and Honda themselves would often point out, this isn’t the truck you buy for show, it’s the truck you buy because it’s the one that delivers.
Here’s the problem, for nearly a century, auto manufacturers have been selling consumers on vehicle design ideology and how your ride of choice is an extension of your personality. Trucks, are the ultimate expression of North American machismo; the bigger, the louder, the dirtier, the better.
The same reason celebrity culture is so pervasive is the same reason people love trucks. As a society obsessed with the surface beauty of nearly everything, being noticed for anything else becomes challenging at the very least.
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline, although entirely new, still looks safe, plain even. So, despite the many spectacular engineering achievements, most people never get past their first impressions to actually admire what’s under the skin.
What lies beneath
Going into a new generation, the Ridgeline isn’t content on impressions. Honda says the 3.5-litre V-6 equipped truck will have segment leading acceleration and fuel economy ratings. Buyers can opt for two- or all-wheel drive along with an intelligent terrain management system designed for off-road and adverse weather conditions.
Unlike its body-on-frame competitors, the unibody construction of the 2017 Ridgeline combined with Honda’s advanced ACE body architecture means on-road mannerisms closer to that of a car rather than a traditional truck.
The company takes advantage of the Ridgeline’s design to create one of its most identifiable features: an in-bed trunk.
Completely waterproof and lockable, the in-bed trunk doesn’t impact the truck bed’s utility and is large enough for an adult human being; this is where I tell you that we’re not responsible for how you decide to use that information.
Another Ridgeline feature is its dual action tailgate that is hinged both at the bottom and along its left side. Being able to open a tailgate down is standard, but having it also swing across without giving up on its ability to carry hundreds of pounds when loading or hauling heavy loads requires some proper engineering foresight.
During its unveil in Detroit, Honda showed off the Ridgeline’s other party trick: an in-bed audio system. The 2017 Ridgeline has the industry's first OEM audio system fitted inside the bed of a truck. Completely hidden, the 540-watt system promises big sound for tailgate partying without compromising the rugged utility expected of a truck.
Building on the Pilot’s already impressive infotainment offering housed in an 8-inch capacitive touch screen display, the new Ridgeline adds Android Auto and Apple Car Play smartphone connectivity to the mix.
What’s next for the ultimate anti-truck, truck?
Chock full of smart, unique features and promising a driving experience better than the rest, the 2017 Ridgeline is exactly what most pickup truck buyers need. By addressing the towing, power and off-road capability concerns of the last generation Ridgeline, Honda has created the truck that flips the bird to all other trucks.
Unfortunately, it’s also the reason few people will really want it. Truth is, unless it’s for work, few buy pickup trucks for practicality; North Americans buy light trucks in the millions because they are perceived as cool. The Ridgeline didn’t sell well the last time around because it wasn’t, and it probably won’t this time either for the same reason.
But hey, times have changed. Maybe I’m wrong. I sure hope so, because the 2017 Honda Ridgeline is one very promising and radically different new addition to our vast landscape of pickup trucks that are all the same.