by Frank A. Aukofer

There will be those who will scoff or beg to disagree, but the 2017 Honda Ridgeline stands out as the best in the midsize pickup truck class.

Wait. It’s not supposed to be. We’re talking here about revered—and sometimes loved—stalwarts Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, as well as critically acclaimed newcomers Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

All of these, after all, follow the good old American formula of a rugged body on frame construction, rear leaf springs to enhance load carrying, rear-wheel drive with available four-wheel drive and a long list of variations to suit any customer.

Then there’s the Ridgeline. Launched 10 years ago in 2006, it was derided by some as a pale imitation of a real pickup truck, more like a crossover sport utility vehicle with an open cargo bed. Instead of a body on frame, it came with a car-like unibody. Though it had all-wheel drive, it was based on a front-drive system.

16Ridgeline_136But it also came with one intriguing, unique feature: a weatherproof, lockable trunk underneath the floor of the cargo bed. That attracted any number of tailgaters; some of whom didn’t need much daily heavy-duty hauling.

The second-generation 2017 model still has those attributes, improved, as well as other desirable features. But it also now earns credibility as a fully realized pickup truck.

There are five pickups competing in the midsize class: Ridgeline, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier and the new Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon fraternal twins.

They are all roughly the same size and weight: between 17 and 18 feet long and curb weights within 135 pounds of each other. Payloads vary, as does towing capability; variations depend on equipment and the choice of model. The latter four use rugged rear leaf-springs to enhance load carrying.

But the Ridgeline comes equipped with a multi-link rear suspension system that enhances ride and handling. Yet it can carry payloads up to 1,499 pounds. Competitors’ payloads range from 1,120 to 1,590 pounds.

16Ridgeline_121In Honda-orchestrated comparison tests with Colorado and Tacoma, the Ridgeline delivered equal capability but better handling and comfort on- and off-road.

The Ridgeline’s 280-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine delivers 262 lb-ft of torque, enabling it to tow up to 5,000 pounds. All Ridgelines come standard with tow hitches. Unloaded fuel economy is rated at 18/25/21 mpg. Competitors have towing capabilities ranging from 3,500 to 6,100 pounds.

There are seven versions, starting with the base RT model, with a $30,375 price tag, and ranging up to the top-line Black Edition at $43,770. It features interior, exterior and wheels all painted black, no doubt for customers who want to appear mildly menacing.

Driven for this review was the RTL-E, with a $42,270 price a notch beneath the Black Edition. Both versions come standard with all-wheel drive; other Ridgelines are available with all-wheel drive as well as front-drive for customers in kinder climates.

16Ridgeline_058All Ridgelines carry the same 3.5-liter V6 linked to a six-speed programmable automatic transmission. Front-drive models come with a snow setting to minimize slippage. All-wheel drive models come with settings for normal, snow, sand and mud. The settings, along with nearly eight inches of ground clearance, impart substantial off-road capabilities for the all-wheel drive versions.

Several Ridgeline innovations deserve mention: the sheet molded compound bed liner sustained no damage in a demonstration in which 1,500 pounds of rocks were dumped from six feet high off a front-end loader. A reinforced rear cabin can keep a 1,100-pound load from intruding into the passenger cabin in a 30-mph frontal collision, Honda says.

All Ridgelines arrive with full basic safety equipment. The tested RTL-E also came with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring. Curiously, only one model, the RTL-T, is equipped with Honda’s Lane Watch system, which shows the right side blind spot on the center screen.

Super cool for tailgating is an audio system that uses so-called “exciters” to convert the cargo area into a giant loudspeaker. The weatherproof exciters, similar to the magnets in audio speakers, are attached to the insides of the vertical side and forward bed liners. They vibrate the liners into giant speakers. Audiophiles might get picky but they sounded fine to these ears.

If potential customers can get over stereotypes and take a discerning look at the Ridgeline, it should soon become a respected member of the midsize pickup class.

16Ridgeline_008Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E four door pickup truck.
  • Engine:5-liter V6, 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic with programmable all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 17 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/under-seat rear storage volume: 109/3 cubic feet.
  • Truck bed/trunk volume: 34/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,515 pounds.
  • Payload: 1,499 pounds.
  • Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/25/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $42,270.
  • Price as tested: $42,270.

Photos (c) Honda