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2013 Honda Ridgeline Test Drive Review

by Ben Lewis on

The 2013 Honda Ridgeline is a direct challenge to the values that many hold dear. After all, when was the last time you had to ask what is a pick up truck, and what isn’t?

Hmmm. Well, if we look to the world of advertising, you know you’ve got a truck commercial, if there’s the gravelly voice of a cowboy actor, with the truck doing something heroic like conquering Mt. Everest or towing the Space Shuttle to its new home. There may be a little reality gap here…

Trucks are really good at getting the job done. Taking abuse, asking little more than a splash of fuel and an occasional hose-down when the mud/snow/dirt/sand gets too caked on.

Along the way, like the SUV, the pickup has been somewhat gentrified, and buyers have been expecting things to be a little more comfortable, the options more plentiful, and the looks a little more stylish. But there has to be a limit, right?

Well, it seems like Honda says “no.” With the Ridgeline, we have the answer to “How would Honda build a pickup truck?” And the answer is pretty intriguing. Even since its introduction in 2006, the Ridgeline has taken the path less travelled.

To start with, there’s the looks. From the front, it’s got a familial look to the Pilot SUV, but is more squared off with a sharply chiseled chin. Come around the side, and you find the area that drives truck traditionalists crazy. Along with a full four-door Crew Cab design, Instead of a separate bed, it’s all a single piece, with a C-pillar that angles down and reminds a little of the Chevy Avalanche. We like the Ridgeline’s different take. It’s modern and handsome, and the seamless lines give it a very upscale vibe.

While ours was the top-of-the-line RTL, we’d be especially tempted by the Sport Model, with it’s black mesh grille, privacy glass, and 18-inch black machine-finished alloy wheels. We’d choose the Crystal Black Pearl, and have one of the meanest looking vehicles ever to come out of the Honda factory.

It doesn’t look like a traditional pickup and it certainly doesn’t drive like one. A big part of that has to do with the chassis, which features an integrated closed-box frame with unit-body construction, rather than traditional body-on-frame trucks. This makes for a much quieter ride and allows for a more sophisticated independent rear suspension.

If you’re worried about strength, the Ridgeline’s two integrated fully boxed and reinforced frame rails and seven fully boxed crossmember make for one solid platform, well capable of carrying and towing challenging loads.

Behind the wheel, there’s no worries, as this is one great driving truck. The 250 hp, 3.5-liter V6 is punchy, with ample low-end torque and the 5-speed automatic is swift and smooth. The standard all wheel drive system is up to most tasks and features a locking rear differential, but the lack of a low-range may deter you if you’re planning to do the kind of rigorous off-roading preferred by mountain goats.

We’ll take the tradeoff, because with the independent rear suspension, the Ridgeline rides like a dream, and has precise, confident handling that makes most competitors’ trucks feel like they’re from the Stone Age.

The interior adds to that, feeling modern, comfy and spacious. The front buckets are notably supportive, and in our tester, covered in soft leather. The design is typical well thought-out Honda, with a big grippy steering wheel, easily read gauges, and an easy to use Navigation system with Voice Recognition and rearview camera (a real plus on any truck).

A major reason people buy trucks is utility, and the Ridgeline delivers there too. We especially liked the 60/40 split rear seats whose bottoms easily flip up to create a large storage area with a flat floor. The bed is equally impressive, with a dual-action tailgate that not only flips down like a traditional truck but can also swing to the side for easy loading and unloading. Brilliant.

We’re also crazy for the in-bed trunk, a weatherproof 8.5 cubic foot lockable storage area under the bed. Made of the same tough composite as the bed, it’s a handy place to store valuables out of site, or a perfect place to throw a couple sets of golf clubs. With a 5,000 lb. towing capacity and standard goods including a heavy-duty radiator, and heavy-duty coolers for the power steering and auto transmission fluid, you’ll have no trouble bringing your toys along.

With the Ridgeline’s sensible pricing, you should be able to swing some of those toys, as well.

The lineup starts with the nicely-equipped RT model at $29,450. The bad-to-the-bone Sport comes in at just $30,195. Our leather-lined, top-dog RTL with everything from dual-zone climate control to Navigation came in at $37,380. A comparably-equipped Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier will run a couple grand more, and can’t touch the Ridgeline’s everyday comfort and convenience.  

All in all, this is one smart way to build a pickup truck. For the real-world needs of a lot of buyers, the Ridgeline makes few compromises, while providing real advantages in performance and comfort. And no gravelly-voiced spokesperson required.

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