Honda sold 3,200 Ridgeline pickups to Canadians in 2010, a sales high point for the decade. Last year? Two hundred twenty-nine sold.
Those numbers alone would have any reasonable person asking why Honda bothers with the Ridgeline.
Car companies spend hundreds of millions to develop a single model like the Ridgeline, even if in this case it shares mechanical basics with the quite popular Pilot SUV (sport-utility vehicle). The Ridgeline seems like a senseless waste of money.
Think about it. Honda sold 229 Ridgelines last year, though to be fair the pickup was essentially out of production while Honda conserved resources needed to develop other, more popular and more profitable vehicles – the new Civic and so on.
Meantime, Toyota sold nearly 12,000 Tacomas in 2015 and the twin midsize pickups from General Motors, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, notched sales of nearly 10,000.
So why does Honda feel the need to keep a tiny toe in the pickup world? Why make the Honda Accord of pickups? Are enough people interested in buying a pickup with a wonderfully refined and quiet ride, though one that cannot – because of its size and platform and Honda’s lack of pickup expertise – be a hard-core off-roader (like the Tacoma) or a true roll-up-your-sleeves work truck (like the Tacoma, the Nissan Frontier, and the Canyon/Colorado)?
Surely the answer is that Honda envisions the Ridgeline as a luxury car, not a real pickup at all. And that’s consistent with a broader trend. Today, pickups are as much comfortable, premium vehicles loaded with technology as they are working rigs for ranchers and carpenters.
The pricing of the Ridgeline tells the story. The least expensive four-wheel-drive Ridgeline goes for $36,590 and the Ridgeline Black Edition I just tested starts as a whopping $48,590.
Yes, you read that correctly. A tricked out Ridgeline with a direct-injected V-6 (280 horsepower/262 lb-ft torque) and nothing-special six-speed automatic gearbox costs well in excess of $50,000, fees and taxes and other extras all in.
Fifty large for a Honda pickup with functional limitations? You bet. Towing capacity is 2,268 kg or 5,000 pounds and that torque number tells you the Ridgeline will struggle and incinerate fuel if asked to drag a so-so sized boat up a steep road.
So you will want the Ridgeline if you desire an SUV with a bed for occasional trips to the garden centre or some such duty. You will want the Ridgeline if you value comfort above bush-whacking. You will want the Ridgeline if a quiet, controlled ride trumps stump-pulling. And you’ll take the Ridgeline if fuel economy is not a big worry (12.8 litres/100 km city, 9.5 highway or 11.3 combined).
And you’ll surely be curious about the Ridgeline if you’re a former Ridgeline owner. Every single one of them, at least all of them I’ve questioned, love the Ridgeline and happily accept its limitations – towing, payload (719 kg).
For them, the Ridgeline undoubtedly is a triumph – a tight, cozy gem that’s roomy inside and bigger on the outside in every important dimension, including bed length (1,625 mm). Yet this bigger and beautifully engineered Ridgeline is lighter than the old model, though barely more powerful (250 hp) and marginally less thirsty than in 2014 (11.8 litres/100 km combined).
What Honda has achieved with the cabin remake is also remarkable, but not unexpected. The latest version of the Pilot which arrived for 2016 was a preview of what Honda planned for the newest Ridgeline. The design is sensible and pleasant, but not particularly creative or breathtakingly beautiful.
The infotainmnent interface has a big screen and is pretty simple to learn, but it’s not ground-breaking in any way. The system is refined, not innovative. That’s Honda.
A last point out the bucket seats up front and the rear bench in this four-door pickup. Those front seats are delightful; ideal for a long drive. The back is roomy enough, but the flat seats are best for short hops.
The Ridgeline gives Honda the right to claim legitimacy as a full-line, mainstream car maker – and sell a few thousand more vehicles using technology developed for the Pilot. Perhaps it might someday also be a platform for a more serious Honda foray into pickups, too.
For that to happen, however, Honda will need to do more than make the Accord of pickups.
2017 HONDA RIDGELINE BLACK EDITION
THE LOOK: The clean exterior design is a winner. Take note of the standard LED taillights, and available LED projector headlights and LED daytime running lights.
THE DRIVE: Lively and responsive, yet buttoned-down and substantial. Quiet at highway speeds, in particular. The engine is a direct-injected 3.5-litre V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic. Honda says the all-wheel-drive system is the most advanced in the class. Off-road you’re limited to medium duty trails.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS: All models also come standard with a Class III towing hitch and AWD modes add a 7-pin wiring connector. Under the skin is Honda’s latest Global Light Truck Platform with its car-like fully independent front and rear suspension systems. The construction is a car-like unitized design.
THE CABIN/STORAGE: The cabin is replete with soft-touch materials and all the pieces fit nicely together, with tight gaps and straight seams. The standard 4.2-inch colour display is clear and easy on the eyes. Standard gear: heated front seats. Available gear: heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and ventilated front seats. The 60/40-split and folding rear seat can handle up to three passengers, though they are better for two. The seat bottoms fold up, making it possible to load a 47-inch flat screen television or a mountain bike with the wheel intact. There is also under-seat storage for carrying golf clubs with the rear seats down. The composite bed is reinforced by UV-stabilized ultra-high-strength steel. It’s big enough to haul four-foot-wide plywood sheets on the floor beneath the wheel wells. There’s a trunk in the bed, a dual-action tailgate, an available in-bed audio system, a 115-volt outlet, 400-watt charging, and eight tie-downs.
THE BRAND: Honda is a very strong car brand, a wimpy pickup brand.
WHY BUYS? Honda owners who want a Pilot with a truck bed.
Powertrain: 3.5-litre V-6 (280 horsepower, 273 lb-ft of torque).
Transmission: six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.8 city/9.5.
Comparables: Toyota Tacoma, GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier.