The 2006 Honda Ridgeline

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The Backstory:
Driving the all-new Honda Ridgeline around Detroit, Michigan was an interesting experience. The Ridgeline got more dirty looks than a Hummer at a Greenpeace convention. It's no surprise that the union boys hate this truck; the area is the home of the Ford F-150. It's not an easy thing, being a full-size truck with a Japanese badge on the tailgate. Even established compact truck builders like Toyota and Nissan are seen as interlopers who can't possibly understand the needs of a full-size truck buyer. And Honda? Purveyor of the frugal Civic and Insight? Forget about it.

With that in mind, we hazed our Ridgeline hard. You know how it is. The full-size truck market is tough turf, and any newcomers gotta be jumped in. Even though the Ridgeline is technically a mid-sized pickup like the Dodge Dakota, it's messin' around in Ford F-150, Dodge Ram and Chevy Silverado territory, and it's gotta prove itself. So...does this "new kind of pickup" have the steel to stand up to the local big boys, or will it get beaten down like the rest of the pretenders?

The Vehicle: There's no doubt that the Ridgeline looks the part of a tough truck. With its tall, beveled-square nose and upright stance borrowed from the Pilot, it resembles nothing so much as a rhinoceros with wheels. Careful side sculpting gives bulk to the flanks. The Ridgeline is a pickup with an integrated bed, so there's no clear break between the four-door cab and the cargo box. Flying buttresses blur the transition further, and give the Ridgeline an armored look. Even as a pickup, this is clearly a Honda--the floating two-bar grille and angled headlamps make this clear.

This truck shares some basic similarities with the Pilot SUV, but the difference that matters most is under the skin. The Ridgeline has a carlike unibody construction that's been mounted on top of a ladder frame for additional structural rigidity. Backing that up is a smooth suspension with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear. It's sturdy enough for over 1500 pounds of cargo. Anti-lock brakes and stability control are standard on all Ridgelines, so it's sure-footed on wet pavement or dry. Heavy loads don't affect its braking ability, either. We took the Ridgeline into the dirt, far from its intended suburban stomping grounds, and while its Variable Torque Management all-wheel drive is better suited to dealing with snowy pavement than rocks and ruts, it didn't get stuck. The Ridgeline also didn't get bent, which is more than can be said for some of the trucks that we've tested thus.

We hauled boxes, rubbish and even a moped in the Ridgeline's five-foot bed, too, and can report that it's got the cargo ability. In addition to the usual pickup truck tie-downs, the Ridgeline's bed has an SMC surface that resists dents. The tailgate swings both ways--it can fold flat, like a standard pickup's tailgate, or swing out and to the side. General Motors and Ford sold station wagons that could perform this trick all through the 1970s, and it's a handy innovation for a pickup truck. With the tailgate swung out barn-door style, it's easier to take advantage of the Ridgelines's other out-of-the-box innovation; an 8.5 cubic foot waterproof trunk mounted under the bed floor. The trunk is big enough for a full load of groceries (or a 72-quart cooler, or three golf bags), and the spare tire is located in this recess as well. Worried about having the spare tire trapped in the trunk when you're carrying a heavy load? Honda offers an accessory mounting point inside the bed. The interior is oversized--this is a mid-size pickup truck with a full-size interior. The Ridgeline's cabin is large and comfortable, with a big center console between the front seats and spill-proof plastic cubbies on the floor. The rear seats fold up and out of the way, so large items can be carried inside the cab as well. Family safety is enhanced with side-curtain airbags and a tire pressure monitor. The Ridgeline is one of the safest pickups out there, in fact, according to NHTSA. Trucks are expected to bring the luxury these days, too, and the Ridgeline offers a leather interior, pounding sound system, satellite radio and a power moonroof to this end.

The heart of the Ridgeline is Honda's 3.5 liter V6. What? No V8? Nope. This pickup makes do with only six cylinders. Honda's VTEC variable valve timing and a drive-by-wire throttle makes the best use of its 247 horsepower, though. It makes its power relatively high on the rev scale, and traditional pickup buyers will have to get used to turning 4000 rpm or more, especially when towing. Around town, it's fine; on the freeway, we only wished for more power when we were using the Ridgeline to tow another pickup truck. The Ridgeline will tow up to 5000 pounds. All Ridgelines are pre-wired for trailer towing, and feature transmission coolers and heavy-duty brakes toward that end as well. There's only one transmission choice, a five-speed automatic. Honda's Variable Torque Management four-wheel drive system is a single-range system that splits power to slipping wheels when necessary.

The Verdict: The hazing process for a new pickup is not a pretty thing to behold. We tried to make it cry "uncle," but the Ridgeline stuck in there. Sorry, UAW guys, but we didn't break it. Is it going to challenge Ford and Chevrolet for work-truck dominance? It's doubtful. It's a capable mid-sizer, but the Ridgeline is aiming for "town-truck" owners who use their vehicles to carry people more frequently than they do cargo. Occasional rough stuff is fine; if you're looking for something to take you to a jobsite or a remote cabin every week, Dodge's Dakota might be a better choice. Around town, however, the Ridgeline just may have staked itself a nice piece of turf in this tough market. Ridgeline pricing starts at $27,770 for the base RT model. Our RTL test truck represented the top of the line, and the XM satellite radio, dual-zone climate control and leather interior with heated seats were standard equipment. The Ridgeline RTL stickers for $34,640 out the door.

Base price: $34,640
Price as tested: $35,155
Engine: 3.5 liter SOHC 24-valve V6
Drivetrain: five-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Horsepower: 247 @ 5750
Torque: 245 @ 4500
Est. mileage: 16/21

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