2006 Honda Ridgeline pickup

For many diehard truckers, putting Honda and pickup truck in the same sentence is tantamount to heresy. Indeed, had the Ridgeline been a light-duty, part-time priss of a thing the initial reaction might have proven to be true. As it turns out Honda’s Ridgeline is a credible truck that’s more than capable of trucking with its immediate competition.

The heart and strength of the Ridgeline its platform – a design that strays away from the traditional body-on-frame preferred by almost all truck manufacturers. While this age-old design has some advantages (it allows most of the underbody mechanicals to be tucked up out of the way), it is not the best when it comes to torsional rigidity. This is why almost all trucks separate the cab and box – when the platform is torqued you can see the box move in one direction and the cab in the other. On the flip side, a unibody-based platform has always been considered too light for truck use.

Honda’s solution is clever – combine a true unibody with a fully boxed frame and weld the two together. The upshot is a chassis that is incredibly stiff, boasting a bending rigidity that’s 2.5 times stiffer than the best body-on-frame compact truck and a torsional rigidity through the box section that’s 20-times better. Here the Chevy Avalanche-like sail panels and some extra bracing in the back wall of the cab provide the strength. The result is a body that does not turn pretzel-like when it’s torqued to the max – even with the left rear wheel about a foot off the ground and the right front wheel carrying most of the truck’s mass the doors open and close normally.

On-road, this stiffness brings a very likable trait – a solidity usually reserved for anything other than a truck. It also gives the front struts and multi-link rear suspension a solid base. Indeed, the combination is firm enough to deal with the payloads demanded of a truck (a 705 kilogram maximum), yet it’s compliant enough to take the sting out of a rough road.

It also means decent handling. True, it does not rank up there with a sports car, but for a workhorse it handles twisty tarmac in a remarkably stable and predictable fashion. Even the steering has a positive connected feel, which is a notable departure from the truck norm.
As for the powertrain, the Ridgeline uses a wide-ratio five-speed automatic and a 3.5L V6 that pushes 255 horsepower and a very welcome 252 lb-ft of torque. This combination delivers strong performance – a run to 100 kilometres an hour in 7.5 seconds and an 80-to120-km/h time of 6 seconds, both of which are good for a truck. On the flip side, it delivers the key attribute demanded of a medium-duty truck – a 2,273-kilogram towing capacity.
Another key attribute the Ridgeline boasts is an all-wheel drive system that’s vastly superior to the part-time systems offered by the competition. The bonus is that it divvies up the power on a proactive basis – switching from a front driver to all-wheel drive as the conditions demand. For example, under hard acceleration it drives all four wheels to reduce the risk of wheel spin and torque steer. It also uses the vehicle stability assist (VSA) to shuttle the power left to right and features a lock button. The latter holds the system in its 44 mode until speeds surpass 30 km/h. From an operational standpoint, it is both smooth and unobtrusive.

When it comes to accommodating passengers and cargo the Ridgeline does not disappoint. Up front, the full-zoot tester featured two-tone leather seating, a navigation system, decent audio package and all the power options demanded of a luxury vehicle including a power rear vent window in the back glass. It also earns front and side seat-mounted air bags as well as drop-down side air curtains that provide rollover protection.

If there is a gripe, it is that some of the stylistic touches are a little over the top – the grab handles on the doors would be out of place in a Hummer never mind the Ridgeline.

The back seat is also above average, as there’s plenty of comfort for a pair of adults and a ton of versatility. You can store stuff under the seat, or fold it up out of the way to maximize capacity.

However, the ultimate in clever thinking is found in the truck’s box – there is an under floor trunk that holds 8.5 cubic feet of stuff as well as the spare tire. This simple addition does a couple of good things – there’s no need for one of those unsightly cargo-bed lock boxes that consume precious space and the spare tire is always readily accessible and never seized in place (a real problem with most trucks). And while the bed length is limited (5-feet), the tailgate has enough strength when dropped it will support the back end of an ATV (up to 136 kg).

That Honda decided to get into the truck business should come as no surprise – all those Honda motorcycle/ATV dealers much have cringed every time a customer loaded their latest acquisition into the back of a Toyota, Nissan, Chevy, Dodge or Ford. However, what does surprise is how well the Ridgeline is conceived and packaged – it sets a raft of new standards for the compact truck class.

Specs:
Engine: 3.5L, SOHC VTEC, V6
Power: 255 hp @ 5,750 rpm, 252 lb-ft of torque @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Base price/as tested: $34,800/$43,900
Destination charge: $1,425
Fuel economy, L/100 km: 14.4 city, 10.1 hwy.