I hauled gear in the 2017 Honda Ridgeline across six states, drove it through ice and snow, chased a dually on rural backroads and generally did everything you would do with a truck short of tow with it—and my coworker David already did that. I mean to say that I can affirm that the Honda Ridgeline works as a truck. But that doesn’t mean it’s not unusual.
[Full Disclosure: Honda lent Jalopnik a new Ridgeline for us to go up to Team O’Neil Rally School, where we ripped sideways in their Ford Focus RS on video. Honda also put a full tank of gas in the Ridgeline before we got it.]
Though the Ridgeline does everything you might ask of a truck for a reasonable price (it starts at $30,000) and the 280 horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 got fuel economy in the low-to-mid 20s (I saw about 21-24 mpg for the whole trip), there are some things that are strange about it. I don’t know if I would call them all flaws, but there are oddities.
I guess you should expect some strangeness when Honda builds a pickup truck.
Also, the Honda badges are huuuuuge.
The Ridgeline has one of the coolest truck beds on the market. The tailgate can open down like normal, but it can also open sideways. It sounds like a gimmick, but it makes it way easier to reach things way in the back of the bed without having to climb up in there. Here is a little comparison:
The sides of the bed work as a resonator, so you can play music through the back of the truck itself. Again, this sounds a bit gimmicky, but it’s a nice mood booster when you’re standing around in the cold in New Hampshire waiting for a road to get cleared.
And there’s a ton of space hidden under the bed itself. There’s a full-sized trunk in there, in the floor of the bed. It’s a ton of space for all of your junk (or coworkers) that you don’t need with you in the cabin, but don’t want exposed to rain and snow and potential thieves.
But! Honda also hides the spare tire under the bed. This is a smart trick for space utilization, typical of Honda. It’s great if all you’re doing is driving around or loading a few things in the bed, but it’s also a potential nightmare for serious truck usage, as one reader noticed a few weeks back:
If you load up the bed of your Ridgeline completely, there’s no way to get at the spare unless you unload everything, probably on the side of the highway. Here is how that looks:
Your only course of action is to remember to take out the spare before you fill up the bed, which sounds like a pain in the ass. And it sounds like one of those things that you say you’ll do every time, but then everyone else is waiting for you, and the tire is kind of awkward to get to, and screw it, I’ll leave it this time. Not great.
Another weird thing about the Ridgeline bed. Yes, it has a trunk in there. Yes, it’s just as roomy as a big trunk in an ordinary car. But what’s weird is that it also feels like the trunk of an ordinary car. The Ridgeline’s tailgate, that feels like a truck tailgate. It’s big, it’s heavy, and you slam it closed with authority.
Again, that part feels like a truck and makes you feel like you’re a Real Deal American, livin’ the life and doin’ honest work. So the first thing you do with the trunk lid is you open it like the tailgate and slam it closed just the same.
And it sort of bounces back at you. The trunk bed is big, but it’s light. It works like a car trunk, and it feels like a car trunk. You can’t slam it. Trust me, it feels weird every single time you use it. You’ve just opened the big, heavy tailgate and slammed it closed, then you have to remember to gingerly open the trunk itself and lightly latch it back down.
For a truck, what you want are huuuuuge chunky controls that are totally foolproof. Not that I’m saying anything about truck owners, but you want something that’s simple and easy.
Now, the fundamentals of the truck’s interior are still good. You get nice heated seats, a nice quality materials (other than the cheap-feeling cover that goes over the cupholders) with lots of room, folding seats in the back, and you can get a heated steering wheel. Again, great vehicle for hauling hundreds of pounds of camera gear and three people to New Hampshire and back.
But the interface of the Ridgeline drove me insane.
All of the controls are on a big touchscreen, but a bunch of them are also on the side of the screen, like the volume adjustment. It’s just a no-feel pair of buttons that kind of sort of works, but never acts right.
Same with the GPS. It never wanted to let you look where you wanted to go, the way you entered your destination took forever, and it was always significantly easier and more reliable to use your phone.
And the infotainment system would often lock you out of many of its functions while the truck was moving. This is fine for safety, but while the truck was moving, the system would still ask you to do things that it wouldn’t allow you to do...while moving. Getting whoever was riding shotgun to pair or un-pair a phone on bluetooth was a half hour affair. Most of it was spent yelling.
Without buttons and knobs and a more idiot-proof infotainment system, none of this would have been a problem. As it was, it felt like everything in the Ridgeline was designed for someone in a completely different vehicle.
So the Ridgeline does do truck stuff, it just never feels like a truck or exactly acts like a truck. And while there is the specific oddities I mentioned before, there’s also a general sense to it, too. There’s a lack of truckiness when you’re actually in the Ridgeline.
I’ll put it this way. When you drive a truck, there’s a sensation that comes over you. You look at the world differently. You relax. You ease up. You look down on all the little cars around you, and you just take in the world differently.
An old Toyota 4Runner will do it. A 2000s Dodge Dakota will do it. A new F-150, even in its most comfortable trim, will definitely do it. I don’t know what it is about (grr) manly man trucks (grunt) that make you feel this way (muscle flex), but it’s a mindset thing. Maybe it’s something in the way the wheels seem really distant. Maybe it’s something about the way it sounds over bumps.
But the Ridgeline doesn’t have any of these sensations. You could blame it on being a unibody vehicle as opposed to a body-on-frame construction. You could blame it on how the thing looks like a minivan with the back cut off. You could blame it on the way everything’s laid out so normally on the dashboard.
I can’t definitively explain why, but I can tell you that nothing in the Ridgeline sets off the receptors in your brain that say I’m in a truck. I’m going to drive over this curb and build a shed in my backyard for all the power tools I’m buying today.
I like the Ridgeline. I like how it looks. I like how it drives. Moreover, I respect its ability to do truck stuff without feeling like a truck. Anyone who buys one of these Ridgelines to do truck work in gets respect from me. Fundamentally, the Ridgeline is a good truck.
But I can’t help but want a truck that feels like a truck. It changes how you think. It changes how you drive. And it’s what I like most in a vehicle: it’s entertaining. That’s all that this Ridgeline is missing.