When John Mendel introduced the new 2017 Honda Ridgeline earlier this year in Detroit, at the North American International Auto Show, the executive vice president for American Honda Motor Co. promised “the highest fuel economy in the midsize truck segment.”
Well, the official fuel economy ratings for the Ridgeline are now available, and while Mendel was right, it was a surprisingly close call: The Ridgeline offers a single engine and transmission combo: a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 and a six-speed automatic transmission. It doesn’t best the fuel economy ratings of the diesel-powered Chevrolet Colorado, but the Ridgeline achieves EPA ratings of 19/26 mpg city/highway, leading its closest gas-powered competitors with a V6 by 1 mpg in both city and highway driving. With all-wheel drive, the Ridgeline is certified at 18/25 mpg city/highway, for a similarly sized advantage when all four wheels are being powered.
The similarities between the Ridgeline and its rivals don’t go much further than that, however. Beneath its admittedly traditional, trucklike shape, this new Honda actually has a number of surprises for owners.
Building on the Success of Honda Cars
The key difference between the 2017 Honda Ridgeline and the rest of today’s pickups is how they’re built. The Ridgeline is the only one to rely on the same sort of unibody construction that’s used in modern-day cars and crossovers. In this process, the vehicle’s body and frame are built together as one unit, creating a stiff yet lightweight structure that improves safety, driving dynamics and fuel economy. Other pickups, and some bigger SUVs, still use body-on-frame construction, in which you start with an underlying frame and add on the body and other hardware to that. That does allow body-on-frame vehicles to tow more weight, but with corresponding sacrifices in comfort.
A quick way to tell them apart by looking at them is to notice that vertical line between the cab and the bed in a given truck. In a body-on-frame pickup, that’s a physical separation between the two pieces. With the Ridgeline, it’s rubberized molding for style purposes.
That said, the concept behind the new Ridgeline was to deliver on the best of both worlds, so owners could enjoy both enough pulling power for typical weekend adventures and the smooth driving experience of a Honda sedan. And that includes a standard front-wheel-drive powertrain that’s a major departure from the Ridgeline’s rear-wheel-drive competition.
A Family-Friendly Pickup Truck
The carlike ownership experience also extends to the cabin, where the Honda Ridgeline’s standard crew-cab configuration, with four full doors, offers noticeably more space for rear-seat passengers than rival midsize pickups. For example, the Ridgeline supplies 36.7 inches of legroom for the back row, while the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier supply maximums of 32.6 and 33.6 inches, respectively. Even looking at the General Motors entries—the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon – shows the Honda with almost an inch more back-seat legroom.
Those inches may not seem like a lot for shoppers, but they’ll definitely be appreciated by occupants. The same goes for the Honda’s small advantages in front-seat headroom against those trucks.
Then there’s the way Honda takes care of Ridgeline occupants in terms of safety.
Some competing midsize pickups supply driver-assistance measures such as blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert (Toyota Tacoma), or forward collision alert with lane-departure warning (Chevrolet Colorado). But what’s available for that first truck isn’t available for the second, and vice versa. The Ridgeline goes all-in with a full array of Honda Sensing technologies, which include a collision mitigation braking system.
Honda also expects the Ridgeline to become the first midsize pickup to earn a Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and a top five-star overall score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Picking Up the Pace for Truck Innovation
To attract truck customers, the Ridgeline showcases a fresh approach to the segment’s cargo-carrying capabilities, too. That means performance-enhancing exclusives such as a dual-action tailgate. It drops down like a traditional tailgate and can act as a load-bearing extension of the cargo bed. It can also be swung open sideways, like a door.
If you’re more interested in a different kind of tailgating, you’ll be happy to know the Ridgeline’s rear gate also has molded-in seating, so it can be flipped down for tailgate parties. Which brings us to one of the Honda’s wilder new features, its available in-bed audio system. An industry first, this setup puts weatherproof speakers in the walls of the Ridgeline’s cargo bed, where the space acts as a resonance chamber for an open-air soundtrack that’s backed by up to 400 watts of audio power.
But the Ridgeline is hardly all play and no work. Owners will benefit from the same standard V6 towing capacity, of 3,500 pounds, as with the new Chevy truck, plus the Honda has a class-leading payload mark of 1,584 pounds. True, the Colorado can be ordered with a special trailering package that allows for a 7,000-pound tow rating, and it tops out with a payload mark of 1,580 pounds, but the Ridgeline is likely more than enough truck for most owners. All-wheel drive models can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
In a statement, Honda says, “Typical trailers/boats that are within the Ridgeline’s 5,000-pound towing limit include a 16- to 18-foot box trailer, a 22- to 26-foot boat, and a 22- to 24-foot camping trailer.”
The cargo bed itself requires no additional liner, either, although it does offer additional storage space by providing an in-floor trunk with a removable plug for drainage. That way, it can be hosed out or used to carry wet gear or iced beverages.