To develop an opinion on a vehicle, it helps to have a point of comparison. This is tricky in the case of the 2018 Honda Ridgeline. Should I consider it to be a kind of mutant El Camino for the modern era? Uh, no, mainly because the El Camino (or the Ranchero if you like) didn’t allow for intensive use of its cargo bed, plus it had room for only two or three occupants, not a small family. So, where do I go if I want to stack this Ridgeline up against something? Full-size pickups? No way - I’d never hear the end of it from fans of big Ford, GM and RAM trucks! How about mid-size pickups, then? Maybe, but their comfort levels and workplace capabilities are in a whole other category.
OK, so here’s what I’ll do: create a new category. Let’s call it the family pickup. Several years ago, when my wife and I bought our current home, I considered buying a small truck as a second vehicle. I figured if I ever had to transport a big object, it would save me having to borrow the neighbour’s pickup or trailer. I never followed through on the plan, but the point is that the 2018 Honda Ridgeline is perhaps the type of vehicle that would appeal to those who have only one vehicle in their driveway, but want a cargo bed just in case…
In its Touring iteration – the one I tested – the Ridgeline is highly comfortable, every bit the equal in that regard of the Pilot, which it is in fact closely derived from. Access to the front seats is easy enough, although you have to lift your leg a little higher than usual to get in. Comfort of the seats is fine, just don’t expect miracles from the lateral support they provide. Climbing into the back is a little trickier, the doors to access it being quite a bit smaller. Once inside, though, my kids were happy enough with the comfort level. Legroom is not an issue, and you can also lift up the bench to fit larger objects.
The dashboard is imposing, its design acceptable without being remarkable. The instrument cluster includes two half-dials for the speedometer and to indicate the fuel level and the temperature of the engine coolant. All information relevant to the engine’s functioning can be easily displayed without needing to change the page on the data screen. Also easily viewed is the speed, displayed in digital form above the dashboard computer.
At the very top of the central console sits the infotainment screen. Once derided, with reason, for its no-fun-at-all-to-use screens, Honda has made good strides to improve its interface. The one thing that still irritates is the touchscreen command for the volume level; it’s a little surprising the Ridgeline still has this, as other new Hondas have reinstated an actual knob. Here’s hoping they bring it back for every vehicle in their lineup.
Otherwise, the audio interface is straightforward to use, and the mediocre navigation system of the previous generation has given way to a Garmin module that can be easily used either manually or via voice commands. Surprisingly, and this is no fault of Honda’s, the GPS data on it is out of date. A roundabout near my house, built four years ago, doesn’t appear on the map (my smartphone’s Garmin GPS does show it. Weird…). In any case, you can always plug in your smartphone using the USB output to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and your preferred GPS. Oh, and the music? Sound quality is excellent, and you can even play music on the exterior speakers installed in the vehicle.
Lower down, you find the climate control buttons. The Touring version features a tri-zone system, by the way; this allows driver, front passenger and rear passengers to choose their own desired setting. How well does that work, you might reasonably ask. I don’t want to pronounce myself on that definitively, but it does certainly make people feel in control. Everyone, with the exception of the person in the middle seat of the back row, gets heated seats. Front seats are also ventilated. The driver, meanwhile, gets a heated steering wheel.
Beneath the A/C commands, I noticed a piece of equipment that is fast becoming an endangered species: a CD player! Below that, a USB and 12V outputs, unfortunately not tucked into a closed compartment. You’ll find the same two outputs in the storage box between the two front seats, though there the USB port can only be used to charge devices; it does not give access to the infotainment system.
Over to the left of the steering wheel, there are a number of switches for activating or deactivating collision warning systems, for instance the anti-skid system, forward collision warning and lane keep assist. About this last module: it works extremely well and allows you to take your hands off the wheel for a few seconds, at least until the system orders you to put them back. It’s impressive, albeit a bit disconcerting at first, to see the steering wheel move by itself to keep the Ridgeline on the straight and narrow between the yellow lines.
On to the ‘pickup’ part of the equation. One length only is offered for the cargo bed: 6 feet, 4 inches. For an ordinary city-dweller, that should be sufficient, but an entrepreneur might find it difficult to fit in their 4x8 panels. That said, the 2018 Ridgeline, like its predecessor, does propose some unique solutions, most notably that hatch door that can open to the left or downward. I had my doubts as to the water tightness of the door, but was reassured in that regard after speaking with an owner of the older-generation Ridgeline. Also, if you feel like piling a bunch of ice in there for your next tailgate party, there’s a stopper on the floor of the bed for draining away water. Several LED lights turn on when you open the hatch; these can also be turned on manually via one of those switches next to the steering wheel. Another switch activates the 150W/400W outlet in the bed.
Honda has also thought to include hooks so you can tie down any cargo you’ve loaded. Since the new Ridgeline is ostensibly a family-friendly pickup, I would have liked to see Honda equip it with a cover (or at least provide a canvas) for the cargo bed as standard equipment (or at least for the Touring version, which carries a big-enough price tag of $50,000 to warrant that). That said, no other competitor offers that, so…
Under the hood of the Ridgeline sits a new Earth Dreams series engine with direct injection. This 3.5L V6 generates 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, plenty enough for the jobs the Ridgeline should typically be called on to do. With the proper equipment, you can pull up to 5,000 lbs (2,268 kg); payload capacity is close to 1,500 lbs (674 kg). All Ridgelines sold in Canada come with all-wheel drive, while south of the border consumers do have a choice of front-wheel drive on some models.
Unlike the Pilot, the Ridgeline gets a 6-speed automatic transmission with Grade Logic Control for added power and durability; drive ratio, in case you’re interested, is 4.25. The rear suspension is of a multi-link independent variety, which helps explain the really impressive level of comfort enjoyed by occupants. This is such that, out on the road, you never feel like you’re driving a pickup. Sorry, a family pickup. The drive is more akin to that of a large SUV.
The 2018 Honda Ridgeline is a mighty nice-looking pickup. With the exception of the Black Edition, which did not rub me the right way (beauty in the eye of the beholder and all that!), I found its contours well-balanced, and they imply a premium level of luxury inside. The engine has muscle, and given that most of the time the Ridgeline will not be loaded down with extra-heavy cargo, it does the job. Honda continues with the new edition to offer original solutions RE the cargo bed. Really, this family-friendly vehicle is versatile enough to be the only one you need.
Model tested: 2018 Honda Ridgeline Touring
Consumption figures according to Natural Resources Canada:
City - 12.8L/100 km
Highway – 9.5L/100 km
Consumption figure according to Honda: 12.6L/100 km