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Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 Honda Ridgeline


The 2014 Honda Ridgeline is a vehicle that many buyers don't know exists: a pickup truck, made by Honda. It's been around for nine years now, but it occupies a strange netherworld in the rigidly segmented world of pickups. Its size puts its somewhere between mid-size and full-size traditional U.S. and Japanese models, but the Ridgeline is available only in one fixed configuration, a four-door short-bed format. And while full-size pickups from the U.S. makers offer both more towing capability and greater cargo volume, Honda's truck is more expensive than the base models of any Chevy, Ford, or Ram pickup.

It's also showing its age on the road. When it was launched as a 2006 model, the Ridgeline was clearly more rewarding to drive than any other pickup. Now others have come much closer, perhaps even besting it on refinement--and certainly on featuers, where it now lags. Overall, the Ridgeline is caught between the mid-size pickups (Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma) and the low end of the volume leading full-size models like the Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150, and Ram 1500.

So while the Ridgeline is capable of tackling some near-full-size-truck tasks, its shortcomings stand out in the very practical pickup market. It's outfitted only with a five-foot bed and a flip-out extender. The standard 4x8 sheet of plywood won't fit. The Ridgeline also lacks the flexible cargo area that was found on the larger Chevrolet Avalanche before it was discontinued last year. The Ridgeline's cleverest feature--a sealed cargo bin under the bed floor--makes sense only when the truck bed is empty.

The Ridgeline's awkward looks don't help make its case as a truck either. It's obviously an SUV under the skin, cut down to pickup duty. The angles of its rear pillars, their thickness and the tall rear fenders around the truck bed don't telegraph the same subconscious messages that a Ram 1500 does. It looks smaller, and that usually doesn't sell, in trucks.

Honda's done a much better job crafting a cabin with a more conventional look. The dash layout stacks gauges and controls in rectangular binnacles, and puts big knobs for the climate and audio controls in obvious locations, for easy use with a gloved hand. Inside, the Ridgeline feels more like the Honda of old than some of the Hondas of the new, when it comes to the quality of materials and how they're fitted.

The Honda truck's handling remains a strong suit, with great ride quality and good steering feel, even with standard all-wheel drive. It's more direct and controlled than the clunky sheetmetal implies. But while we enjoy driving the Ridgeline more than any other pickup, its distinguishing features when it was launched for 2006--a sweet-running and refined 3.5-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission--are now matched by more traditional full-size pickups.

The top contenders from Chevy/GMC, Ford, and Ram all offer V-6 engines with either six- or eight-speed automatics, and some of those do better on fuel economy than the Honda despite their larger size and greater abilities. The best full-size models now hit 20 mpg combined even with all-wheel drive, whereas the Ridgeline is stuck at 17 mpg combined (15 mpg city, 21 mpg highway).

Since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revamped how it grades crash-test safety, the Ridgeline has yet to be re-rated for crash safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it a Top Safety Pick award. A rearview camera is now standard on the Ridgeline. It's a good thing, since because the rear fenders block out a lot of the rearward view.




The Ridgeline doesn't come in a single model priced below $30,000, including destination--a big hurdle when inexpensive Ram, F-150 and Silverado/Sierra full-sizers can be found for much less. All Ridgelines have standard air conditioning; power locks/windows/mirrors; cruise control; a power-sliding rear window; and a 100-watt six-speaker CD sound system. Among the options, Honda offers a voice-recognition navigation system with on-the-go Zagat restaurant information, and satellite radio.

Honda says it's committed to the Ridgeline, which suggests a new one is in the works to replace the eight-year-old vehicle. To get more truck buyers to notice, it might have to get more conventional--but as the latest Toyota Tundra has proven, even big-truck street cred doesn't guarantee any more sales. Not when the Ram, F-150 and the Silverado and Sierra are at the top of their game.

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