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2017 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition Road Test Review

The world's most intelligent pickup truck

When you think of Honda, do trucks immediately come to mind? Such might have been the case back in 1963 when founder Soichiro Honda expanded beyond motorcycles to build the company's first-ever four-wheeled vehicle, a tiny mini-truck dubbed T360, but most don't conjure up images of pickup trucks or anything similar when they hear the brand's household name now.   In most markets throughout the world Honda is predominately recognized for its bestselling Civic compact car, ultra-popular CR-V compact SUV, Accord mid-size sedan, and more recently its bestselling HR-V subcompact SUV (congrats to Honda on this latest feat). Still, you really should consider the company's new Ridgeline.

Thinking outside the box

It's one of the most advanced pickup trucks in the industry, but as usual Honda has taken a very different tact with this mid-size entry. Like its predecessor that came along in 2005, the new second-generation Ridgeline features a crossover-SUV-like unibody design, but to leave it there would do it injustice. As a bit of a backgrounder, most pickup trucks are made up of an individual cab and box/bed riding atop a rigid external frame supported by a solid rear axle in order to carry heavy payloads and/or tow sizeable trailers. With the 2006 Ridgeline, Honda integrated a closed-boxed frame within its unit-body design, combining much of the towing and hauling strength of a rugged frame with the taut structure of a monocoque body shell. This gave it much greater overall rigidity than conventional compact or midsize pickup trucks, while still allowing for a capable 2,268-kilo (5,000-lb) tow rating plus a functional five-foot bed, which was large enough to haul one of the brand's ATVs during its Southern California press launch, or up to 705 kilos (1,550 lbs) of anything else on its backside, not to mention a tailgate that both lowers in the usual fashion or swings sideways so you don't have to detach it when clamping on the optional proprietary ramps designed to work with ATVs, motorcycles and the like. It came close to measuring up to the towing capacity of its more conventional competitors, while delivering more interior room, a nicer ride, and better handling.

A new level of mid-size truck refinement

I have to say the new Ridgeline's suspension is even more compliant. I've never driven a pickup truck from any manufacturer that rides as smoothly as this top-line Black Edition, combined with a serene near-silent cabin and very supportive seating, so if comfort is top of your list look no further. The interior is beautifully finished too, with a complete soft-touch dash top and upper instrument panel that wraps all the way around the centre stack-mounted infotainment system, as well as across the front door uppers. The door inserts and armrests were covered in comfortably padded stitched leatherette in my fully loaded model, while my tester included a heatable stitched leather steering wheel filled with high quality switchgear. A colourful multi-information display sits within the gauge cluster, a nice high-end addition that comes standard across the line.   The Ridgeline's standard infotainment system, sitting overtop the centre stack, is one of the nicest in any truck, with resolution, depth of colour, richness of contrast, and graphical design that's way above average, while all quick access buttons are touch-sensitive. I found the audio display particularly good, showing album cover artwork along plus lots of information about the music you're listening to, depending on where it's sourced, while overall sound quality was excellent.

Nicely designed and plenty practical

Back to design, there's no shortage of piano black lacquer in this truck. It's covering almost every surface that's not finished in those soft synthetics, leather, metallic trim, of which there's plenty, or high-quality harder plastics, a long strip of the inky composite spanning the instrument panel before circling around the attractively designed and easy-to-use dual-zone auto HVAC system, the latter complete with nicely detailed temp toggles next to a dedicated monotone LCD display set in between. Controls for the three-way seat heaters and coolers sit below, flanking the stereo's CD slot.   The lower console gets a large rubberized tray for your phone, along with a 12-volt charger, USB port, and auxiliary input, while just behind are two accommodating cupholders surrounded with glowing red LEDs. The shifter knob is leather-wrapped and its base highlighted with black lacquer and metallic trim, while right below is a large button for accessing the intelligent traction management system, which allows for Normal, Snow, plus Mud and Sand settings. Just behind is a large storage bin with an attractive scrolling cover, the bin itself incorporating a rubberized floor, USB and 12-volt chargers, as well as a slide-able and removable change tray.   Above everything is an overhead console that houses a handy sunglasses holder, which also acts as a conversation mirror for talking eye-to-eye with to those seated in back, plus LED reading lights, a garage door opener, and switchgear for the powered glass sunroof, plus of course controls for the dome light. On that note all switchgear is up to Honda's usual excellence, with zero slop or wiggle, nice damping and good materials quality.                                                                        

Stretch out and enjoy the ride

The first thing larger folks will notice when climbing inside the Pilot is its full-size width, which means there's no shortage of room up front. I also found the driver's seating position very comfortable, made more so via multi-adjustment plus two-way memory and supple perforated leather with red accents, specific to my Black Edition tester. I especially like the inner armrest that can be clicked into the exact position you want or pulled entirely out of the way, while the steering wheel had ample rake and telescopic adjustment for most any body type. Truly, the Ridgeline's overall ergonomics are spot-on, whereas visibility is superb all around.   The rear seating area should be large enough for most body types, while the seats were plenty comfortable. Additionally, there's ample side-to-side space for three adults abreast, but it's much more comfortable for a couple of rear guests thanks to a wide folding centre armrest that's really more like two outer armrests with a couple of cupholders down the middle. My top-line model included auto HVAC controls in back for a total of three zones, while both outboard passengers can enjoy three-way heatable seats. Also notable, the 60/40-split lower cushions can be lifted vertically for loading items you may want to keep safe and dry, but the Ridgeline's real innovation is once again found outside behind the passenger compartment, where cargo most often goes.

Unparalleled cargo hauling flexibility

First you'll need to either drop the dual-hinged tailgate in the conventional fashion or swing it open to appreciate the Ridgeline's unusual yet very welcome take on pickup truck versatility. It's noticeably wider than it used to be, now capable of swallowing up four-foot sheets of building material, although its five-foot length means you'll need to keep that tailgate lowered in order to fit in eight-foot or longer sheets of plywood, plasterboard, 2x4s, etcetera. The floor is nearly completely flat too, missing the usual wheel intrusions, while the box' sidewalls are no longer as high and unevenly shaped so that it can accept a small conventional canopy or camper.  The bed is actually constructed from SMC (Sheet Molding Compound/Composite), a glass-fibre reinforced polyester resin material, and therefore doesn't need a bedliner, while eight tie-down cleats allow you to safely fasten cargo. Maximum payload is 713 kg, which is class leading. A 115-volt AC power outlet gets bolted into the passenger-sidewall as standard equipment, while a 400-watt weatherproof speaker system that would be ideal for camping or tailgate parties is also standard and built right into the bed.   Still, the Ridgeline's pièce de résistance has always been it's watertight, lockable standard trunk, which once again gets fitted right at the rear of the bed for easy access. Of note it also acts as a cooler that you can fill with ice and drain from the bottom. The spare tire is tucked neatly within its own compartment under the front portion of the load floor, so there's lots of space for your gear. The trunk is an awesome idea for everyday life and one I particularly appreciated having, as it allowed me to lock away my laptop bag where most criminals wouldn't likely consider looking, and even if they saw me stow it there it's much more securely protected than a truck's cab.

A pickup that drives like a sporty crossover SUV

The Ridgeline's second-best asset is the way it drives, the standard direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 delivering excellent straight-line performance and good power during highway passing manoeuvres thanks to 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, an improvement of 30 horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque over its predecessor. The proven six-speed automatic is wonderfully smooth and refined as it goes about its duties, and amply quick shifting, while the Ridgeline's handling isn't just superb for the class, it's excellent all-round, the latter thanks to the aforementioned unibody platform architecture shared with the latest Pilot mid-size crossover, which includes fully independent front and rear suspensions and standard multi-amplitude dampers, all combining for the smooth ride mentioned earlier. Its steering feels more crossover SUV than pickup truck too, with quicker turn-in and more confidence-inspiring, car-like tracking capability at high speeds.  We took the previous Ridgeline off-road during its launch program and it managed light- to medium-duty trails easily, so Honda saw no reason to deviate from a less traditional all-wheel drive setup. Therefore the new model's i-VTM4 AWD system doesn't include the usual low-range mode, instead utilizing a fully automatic, crossover SUV-style design with the selectable driving modes noted before. It automatically adjusts torque distribution between front and rear wheels to optimize traction in slippery conditions, and together with all the usual standard electronic traction and stability control features it should at least measure up to the previous model's off-road capability, while even more critically to the Ridgeline's target market, deliver more than adequate control over rain-slicked and snow-covered roads.

Fuel efficiency is best in class

Also important, Honda claims the Ridgeline is the most frugal V6-powered truck in the segment at 12.8 L/100km city, 9.5 highway and 11.3 combined, while real-world results of owners on Fuelly.com noted an average of 20.6 mpg (the equivalent of 11.4 L/100km), which is right on the money with Canada's five-cycle EnerGuide estimates.   The 2017 Ridgeline is available in five well-equipped trims, starting with the $36,590 base LX, which is followed by the $39,590 Sport, $42,590 EX-L, $47,090 Touring, and the range-topping $48,590 Black Edition. Standard kit not already mentioned includes auto on/off halogen headlights with LED driving lights, LED taillights, 18-inch alloys, remote start, a windshield wiper de-icer, proximity-sensing keyless access, pushbutton ignition, ambient lighting, a 7.0-inch TFT multi-information display within the primary gauge cluster, 8.0-inch colour infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, a multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text messaging and email capability, Wi-Fi tethering, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, 225-watt seven-speaker cabin audio, heatable front seats, the aforementioned 60/40 split-folding rear bench seat, and a Class III trailer hitch.                         

Best safety in the segment 

It also gets the segment's usual active and passive safety features, plus an assortment of Honda Sensing active safety gear as standard too, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, emergency autonomous braking, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, and more, all of which would result in an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating for all trims if the U.S.-spec truck being tested came with as much standard kit as our Canadian version. Of note, the Ridgeline is the only 2017 pickup truck to receive such safety accolades.  Sport, EX-L and above trims add Honda's fabulous LaneWatch blindspot camera system, one of my favourite safety features, whereas the EX-L upgrades to perforated leather and more, and Touring and Black Edition trims include navigation, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, etcetera. Again, most competitive pickups don't offer much in the way of active safety, giving Honda the clear edge when it comes to family-oriented buyers.   I'm not going to run over every option, but suffice to say you can get all the expected extras depending on trims, with my Custom Black Pearl-painted Black Edition basically a uniquely styled Touring model.

Get ready to be impressed

If you're wondering whether I'm the only auto writer impressed with the new Ridgeline, consider for a moment it just won the industry's most prestigious 2017 North American Truck of the Year, as well as the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada's 2017 Best New Small Truck. All the accolades only make sense, as it's easily the smoothest, quietest, most refined pickup I've ever driven, while adding plenty of welcome innovation and standard safety to the segment. Honda deserves praise for bringing such an intelligent pickup truck to market.   

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press  

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press   

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.

 
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