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2017 Honda Ridgeline First Drive

The return of the misunderstood By ,

In order to be considered a major player in the auto industry, companies need to have a vehicle in every segment or at the very least most of them. Imagine Toyota without a compact SUV or Ford without a midsize sedan… 

Honda has never been quite there. This Japanese automaker has the expertise and the technology to dominate certain segments, but it’s not big enough to offer something for each and every one. 

It’s not for lack of trying, though, and the return of the Ridgeline serves as evidence. While the first-generation model enjoyed some success, it was arguably too unorthodox, especially from a design standpoint, to attract a large number of pickup buyers. For 2017, the all-new Honda Ridgeline manages to stay distinctive while adopting more conventional lines.

A more generic Ridgeline

The original truck may not have been very handsome, but it sure stood out from the crowd. Beyond styling, the 2006-2014 Ridgeline also defied pickup conventions by employing a unibody construction ― a bold move that could easily have failed. Sales faded toward the end, so Honda had to go back to the drawing board.

As expected, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline sports a more generic silhouette. Nothing too fancy, just a pickup that looks like a pickup. The unibody structure remains along with the model’s functionality and unique personality. 

A true utility vehicle

Honda wants people to see the Ridgeline as an alternative to the Toyota Tacoma and others, but while it does most of the tasks a midsize pickup should, it doesn’t necessarily target the same customers. 

Truth be told, the Honda Ridgeline is more of an SUV with a cargo bed, offering the comfort of a sedan and the versatility of a true utility vehicle, with some great pickup features as a bonus. Objectively speaking, this product is an interesting tour de force. 

“Versatility” perfectly describes what the 2017 Ridgeline is. Behind the roomy cabin, which can accommodate either five passengers total or a mountain bike with the rear seats flipped up, you’ll find a slightly longer cargo bed with the same innovative solutions that made the first Ridgeline famous. 

There’s a spacious, lockable trunk under the floor that can double as a cooler during your camping trips (it’s even drainable). A new, class-exclusive in-bed audio system allows you to listen to your favourite tunes while loading or unloading stuff, with the side panels acting as speakers. One of them incorporates a 115V power outlet; just plug in a TV for a cool outdoor movie experience. 

What’s more, the Ridgeline’s dual-action tailgate can still be opened vertically or laterally, and the new ultra-high-strength steel-reinforced SMC composite bed offers exceptional dent and scratch resistance. It does not require a bed liner like conventional steel beds. 

Just how capable is it?

It would be kind of foolish to compare this truck’s capacities with other products in the segment. Remember, we’re talking about different types of buyers. Even Honda admits that most of them don’t look for extreme performance and capabilities.

With a 5,000lb towing capacity and 1,650lb payload, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline will meet the needs of a vast majority. These numbers can be credited to the automaker’s hard-working 3.5L V6, which now produces 280 horsepower (+30) and 262 lb-ft of torque (+15). Fortunately, the engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission and not the awful 9-speed unit. The former was recently updated to improve fuel economy, by the way. 

Let’s not forget the new Intelligent Variable Torque Management (iVTM-4) all-wheel drive system, which progressively distributes optimum torque between the front and rear axles, as well as between the left and right rear wheels, to maximize traction. In corners, especially slippery ones, this system proves quite effective. 

More good stuff…

What else can we say about the 2017 Honda Ridgeline? Well, it benefits from a fully independent suspension delivering a smooth ride, and Intelligent Traction Management combines with various drive modes to help you tackle any terrain you may encounter with more confidence.

It’s worth noting that the new Ridgeline shares its underpinnings with the Pilot. The suspension components are largely more robust, of course, in order to satisfy pickup owners. Overall, a more extensive use of high-strength steel has made the chassis 28% stiffer than the previous generation. Firestone even developed a tire specifically for this Ridgeline. 

So, yeah, Honda went to great lengths to improve its truck.

Life inside the new Ridgeline

In typical Honda fashion, the cabin oozes quality. During their presentation, the company reps stressed how much work went into noise insulation. Closing the doors reveals a quiet environment indeed, although we still noticed some wind noise beyond 80 km/h. But hey, nobody’s perfect.

There are five trim levels to choose from including LX, Sport, EX-L, Touring, and Black Edition. Each of them is adequately equipped. Pricing varies from $36,590-$48,590. In Canada, all models come standard with all-wheel drive.

Final word

Considering that approximately 350,000 midsize pickups wound up in U.S. driveways last year, and that sales in this segment are projected to keep growing in the years to come, it only makes sense for Honda to want to have a competent and attractive Ridgeline to compete with more established rivals. 

Time will tell how consumers respond to the new Honda Ridgeline. In such a competitive market, this SUV-like pickup might be seen as a compromise by some, but it actually offers the best of both worlds and has the potential to win over many people. 

Our gut feeling is that the redesigned, second-generation Ridgeline will enjoy greater success than the first.

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2017 Honda Ridgeline