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Honda

2018 Honda Odyssey Elite: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2018 Honda Odyssey elevates the family minivan to a lofty level of efficiency and comfort.

Minivans are the most useful vehicles you can find for mom, pop, and the kids. More than any conveyance, they accommodate people and their stuff in customized ways while delivering entertainment and car-like performance.

Though dwindling popularity has reduced choices to only a few — the Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Sedona and the waning Dodge Grand Caravan — they endure and likely will grow somewhat, even faced with the juggernaut of crossover sport utility vehicles.

2018 Honda Odyssey

Because all have a similar configuration, minivan competitiveness distills to features both practical and desirable, as well as finer points like serenity, security and comfort. Thus, the Pacifica, for example, touts its Stow ‘n’ Go second-row seats, which fold into the floor for extra cargo space.

The 2018 Odyssey doesn’t have that. But it arguably offers something better. It is an eight-passenger vehicle with a “Magic Slide” second row that accommodates three. A small seat in the middle can hold a rear-facing child seat and moves fore-and-aft so parents up front can check on the infant.

Outboard are two captain’s chairs that also move back and forth, and flip forward for access to the third row. But remove the center seat and the outboard seats can be effortlessly moved sideways as well, kept separate or pushed together on the right, left or in the middle for even easier access to the third row.

2018 Honda Odyssey

To keep tabs on the sprouts in back, the Odyssey incorporates “CabinWatch,” an overhead camera that focuses on the second and third rows and displays the view on the multi-purpose center screen up front. “CabinTalk,” allows the parents to interrupt whatever the children are watching and listening to, much like an airline pilot stopping the entertainment for announcements. “CabinControl,” enables control of onboard apps from a smart phone.

There’s an overhead screen that serves both the second and third rows, along with wireless headphones for the second row and jacks in the third row for wired headphones.

2018 Honda Odyssey

Other minivans incorporate dual rear seat screens so passengers can independently watch different programs or movies. Honda opted for the single screen to promote more family togetherness — which individual buyers may or may not like.

The Odyssey has an array of peace-of-mind features, including the Honda Sensing safety array with automatic braking for collision mitigation. Also: 4G-LTE WiFi Hotspot, SXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Siri Eyes Free, content streaming to the rear entertainment system from Smart TV or wireless Android devices, walk-away automatic door locking, power hands-free tailgate, motorized side doors and sunroof, wireless smart phone charging and Honda’s pioneering onboard vacuum cleaner.

Obviously, not all of this stuff is fitted to every Odyssey. Just as obviously, Honda put its best package forward, the Odyssey Elite, at the national press introduction on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was fully optioned with a suggested delivered price of a whopping $47,610, which is encroaching on luxury-car territory.

2018 Honda Odyssey

However, there are a total of five other trim levels, starting with the base LX at $30,930, including the destination charge, so customers can pick and choose to fit budgets. Others are the EX at $34,800, EX-L (with leather upholstery and other upgrades) at $38,300, EX with navigation and rear entertainment, $40,300, and Touring at $45,450.

All Odysseys come equipped with Honda’s 280-hp V6 engine, which delivers 262 lb-ft of torque and features cylinder deactivation for highway cruising, a stop-start system and an Econ mode for improved fuel economy. The EPA rates the city/highway/combined fuel consumption at 19/28/22 mpg.

LX and EX models get the power to the front wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Touring and Elite models have an all-new 10-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode controlled by paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

2018 Honda Odyssey

As before, the Odyssey continues as an effortless performer with car-like handling, improved ride and fatigue-free long-distance cruising. For 2018, the experience is enhanced by a muted inside environment thanks to a host of sound-deadening materials. The main annoying sounds on a trip likely will come from the kids arguing.

Though it’s not exclusive to the Odyssey, one of the apps mimics airline screens that announce the distance and time traveled as well as what’s remaining. If the boys and girls in the Odyssey shout the traditional “Are we there yet?” just point them to the screen.

2018 Honda Odyssey

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Honda Odyssey Elite eight-passenger minivan.
  • Engine:5-liter V6, 280 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic with manual shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 11 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 160/37 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,593 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/28/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,610.
  • Price as tested: $47,610.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2018 Honda Odyssey

Photos (c) Honda.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Blend the futuristic and familiar, and you get the concept of the 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell sedan, forging an expanded direction for the storied Japanese automaker.

This all-new five-passenger four-door runs on compressed hydrogen, producing electricity from a fuel cell to drive a 174-horsepower electric motor that delivers 221 pound-feet of torque. Overall, the Clarity performs like a fully realized electric car except that it does not need charging.

You refuel with hydrogen, which is why the Clarity will initially be available only in California, which has a small but widespread network of 66 hydrogen refueling stations. With its two tanks filled with a bit more than 12 pounds of hydrogen, the Clarity can travel 366 miles, delivering EPA city/highway/combined equivalent fuel economy of 69/67/68 mpg.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

That’s deceptive from a cost standpoint. Hydrogen, one of the most abundant fuels in the universe, still must be manufactured, largely from natural gas. A full fill-up of hydrogen at one of the California stations came to nearly $90. That works out to about 25 cents per mile to yield 366 miles of range.

Figuring gasoline at $3 a gallon, a roughly equivalent 15-gallon fill-up comes to $45. At 25 miles to the gallon — not unreasonable in these times — you’d get a range of 375 miles, or about 12 cents a mile.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

But that’s not the point. This is a vision for the future. The clincher for the Clarity Fuel Cell—everywhere but especially in environmentally challenged areas like California—is that it does not pollute. The only emission is water vapor that is drinkable water when cooled. And the cost of hydrogen eventually will drop substantially.

There is nothing bizarre about the Clarity Fuel Cell. It is a fastback design with modern, sculpted styling and built in ducts that create air curtains around the wheels to reduce wind drag and improve fuel economy.

Inside, with the exception of a power gauge that replaces a tachometer, all the instruments, controls and a center touch screen will be familiar to most drivers. A pushbutton gets things started. You touch console-mounted buttons for Drive, Park and Neutral, and pull up on one for Reverse, as on other Honda and Acura vehicles.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

If you switch off the power and inadvertently leave Drive engaged, the Clarity will automatically shift into Park; it will not roll away. With so many and sometimes confusing new shifters appearing everywhere, those that allow vehicles to roll away in Drive are receiving increasing scrutiny as safety hazards.

As with any electric motor, the Clarity’s delivers full torque, or twisting force, the instant you step on the throttle. The Clarity is quick off the line with an observed 0-60 mph acceleration time of around seven seconds. It is quiet; the only sounds intruding into the passenger pod come from the tires on the pavement.

Honda has been tinkering with Clarity fuel cell vehicles for a decade, starting with the concept FCX. Though no longer experimental, it has limited appeal because of the paucity of hydrogen fueling stations. California’s is a small but viable network. Buyers elsewhere will have to wait until their localities develop more than a few stations here and there.

But the Clarity is no longer an exotic vehicle limited to motorists willing to experiment. Though it still will play to a limited audience in the beginning, do not fear. You’ll still be able to get a Clarity.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

The Fuel Cell model is one of a triad of new Clarity sedans that Honda will deliver this year. The others are a pure electric model with about 80 miles of range before recharging, along with a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid that will be sold nationwide.

However, only those select few in California will be paid for the experience. The Fuel Cell models will only be leased, not sold, so Honda can keep tabs on them and see how they perform at the end of the lease period.

The lease costs $369 a month for 36 months, or $13,284. Though there will be a 20,000 mile a year limit on driving, Honda will provide $15,000 worth of hydrogen fuel, along with 21 days of luxury car rental when and if the Clarity needs service. In addition, California will provide a $5,000 rebate to owners.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell four-door sedan.
  • Power Source: AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor; 174 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Single-speed with sport mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 102/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,134 pounds.
  • Fuel: Compressed hydrogen with fuel cell; 103 KW power output. Capacity:46 kilograms (12.037 pounds).
  • EPA city/highway/combined equivalent fuel consumption: 69/67/68 mpg.
  • Range: 366 miles.
  • Price: Lease only, 36 months; $369 per month with $15,000 fuel allowance and 20,000-mile annual limit.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Photos (c) Honda

2017 Honda Civic Sport Hatchback: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If any vehicle can eliminate the longstanding prejudice against hatchbacks, it’s the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback.

The company has such confidence its latest iteration of the Honda Civic that it doesn’t shy away from simply calling it a hatchback. For many years until just recently, hatchbacks — as well as station wagons — have been anathema to U.S. buyers.

That’s changing, mainly because of the growing popularity of small and midsize crossover sport utility vehicles. Many of the smaller ones are little more than tall hatchbacks with front- or all-wheel drive. Entry-level crossovers now constitute the biggest vehicle segment in the U.S.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

That’s not the case, yet, with hatchbacks. But they do appear to be finding increasing acceptance among buyers — to the point where Chevrolet, for example, designed its new electric car, the Bolt, as a four-door hatchback. It also has added a well appointed four-door hatchback to its compact Cruze lineup. Honda takes a different approach. It started last year with the 10th generation Civic, first as a four-door sedan followed by a two-door coupe. The Civic won the Car of the Year honor from the independent panel of automotive journalists who are members of the North American Car of the Year organization.

Now Honda follows with the four-door Hatchback; performance models are coming later. The Hatchback spans the spectrum from the basic LX, which starts at $20,535 with a six-speed manual gearbox to the plush EX-L Navi, at $26,635.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

The latter includes, among other features, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), navigation, motorized glass sunroof, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, satellite radio, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors and Honda’s Lane Watch camera that covers the right-side blind spot. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also are part of the standard equipment.

But the real hoot for fans comes with two enthusiast-oriented versions: Sport and Sport Touring. The latter, fully equipped at $29,135, unfortunately comes only with the CVT.

The hot number is the Sport, reviewed here, which sells for just $22,135 with the six-speed manual gearbox. It gets the juices flowing with sporting performance and handling. You can order it with the CVT for an additional $800 but unless you’re dead set against shifting for yourself, don’t bother. The stick shift is the way to travel.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

It is the most powerful in the Hatchback lineup, with 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque from a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is so precisely programmed that the dreaded so-called turbo lag is eliminated.

City/highway/combined fuel consumption works out to 30/39/33 mpg. Premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance but regular is OK.

The Sport also features handling enhancements that include stabilizer bars, front and rear fluid-filled suspension bushings, multi-link rear suspension system and a tight steering ratio that results in just 2.1 turns of the steering wheel from hard left to hard right.

That and a stiff chassis delivers a car that stays firmly planted in a straight line or around curves, yet delivers a comfortable ride. The Sport’s supportive front seats are covered in a high-quality cloth that grips the torso.

The Sport’s clutch action and shift linkage are among the best anywhere. Clutch engagement is smooth and progressive, and the greasy shifter follows the driver’s inputs without glitches.

All of the streamlined new Hatchbacks resemble sedans. But they feature a shorter rear overhang, sculptured exterior design and stylish 18-inch alloy wheels that fill the wheel openings and are positioned near the corners of the car.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

Under the hatch is an innovative cargo cover that moves sideways rather than fore and aft, eliminating the need for a crossbar. Cargo volume is 23 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks. Fold the seatbacks and the space expands to 46 cubic feet. Total interior volume, including 97 cubic feet for passengers, is120 cubic feet, which classifies the Hatchback as a large car, though it is marketed as a compact.

That makes for a roomy interior. The outboard back seats offer plenty of head and knee room for people more than six feet tall, and even the center-rear position, which is a punishing perch in most cars, provides decent head and knee room, although the passenger sits on a rigid cushion and must splay his feet on both sides of a four-inch floor hump.

The Civic Sport is conceived and built for driving entertainment, which it delivers with a shot of excitement and a dose of practicality.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Honda Civic Sport four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:1.5-liter four cylinder, 180 hp, 177 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,864 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/39/33 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,135.
  • Price as tested: $22,135.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Honda.

2017 Honda CR-V: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

You have to squint to see it, but the evergreen Honda CR-V has been completely redesigned for 2017.

It’s the reason the CR-V, the best selling compact crossover SUV since its introduction 20 years ago, stays ahead of the game. In that time, about four million have been sold in the United States.

At first glance, the 2017 model has the same family appearance as its 2016 predecessor. But the exterior styling has a brawnier look, with prominent front fenders and grille treatments, including LEDs for daytime running lights, headlights and turn signals.

2017 Honda CR-V

The 2017 CR-V also is bigger and roomier than last year’s model. Though it doesn’t look like much on paper – 1.2 inches longer, 1.4 inches taller and 1.4 inches wider – the stretch delivers a cabin bigger by two cubic feet.

That translates into a couple of extra inches of legroom for back seat passengers along with a flat cargo floor. With the rear seatbacks folded, it is 10 inches longer than before, or more than five feet long.

In addition, the rear seatbacks drop down with the touch of a button to provide extra cargo space. With the seatbacks up, the new CR-V has 39 cubic feet of space; drop the seatbacks and it expands to 76 cubic feet.

It also is versatile, with a cargo floor panel that can be lowered about three inches to carry taller items with the seatbacks up. In the upper position with the seatbacks folded, the entire five feet of cargo floor is flat.

Honda also has made loading easier with a power tailgate that can be opened with the wave of a foot and adjusted for height when it opens.

2017 Honda CR-V

As before, the CR-V can be ordered with front-wheel drive or, for an additional $1,300, all-wheel drive. There now are four versions: LX, EX, EX-L and Touring. Tested for this review was a loaded all-wheel drive Touring model with a suggested price tag of $34,530.

All of the 2017 CR-Vs except for the base LX are powered by a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque, it delivers strong acceleration and confident highway passing along with exceptional city/highway/combined fuel economy of 27/33/29 mpg on the all-wheel drive version.

But the LX is no slouch. Its naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine delivers 184 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, along with fuel economy of 26/32/28 mpg in the front-drive version, which starts at $24,870.

2017 Honda CR-V

All CR-Vs get the power to the pavement with Honda’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses a system of belts and pulleys to vary the power ratios. Under moderate throttle pressure, the CVT accelerates smoothly without any shift points, unlike a conventional automatic.

Under aggressive throttle inputs, some CVTs sound as if the transmission is slipping as the engine revolutions build, which annoys some drivers. Honda finesses that with its G-design shift logic. Depending on conditions, it can provide up to seven distinct ratios to mimic a conventional automatic. There’s also a sport setting on the shifter that delays upshifts to provide stronger acceleration.

On the highway, the tested CR-V delivered steady straight-line motoring with a solid steering feel. Around curves, it flatly obeyed the driver’s steering wishes.

Thanks to other structural and sound deadening enhancements, the CR-V also cruises serenely with little intrusion of wind, mechanical or road noises. The front seats and outboard back seats provide solid support and comfort for long distances. Unfortunately, as in most vehicles, the center-rear passenger must sit on a perch instead of in a well-shaped seat.

Even the base LX model comes with a decent level of equipment, including automatic air conditioning, active noise control, Bluetooth connectivity, Pandora radio compatibility, cruise control and a rear-view camera. But you must step up to an EX if you want SXM satellite radio.

2017 Honda CR-V
2017 Honda CR-V

An interesting feature on EX and above versions is “walk-away door locks.” When the driver gets 6.5 feet away with the key fob and there are no other keys inside the CR-V, the doors lock automatically.

Honda also includes Honda Sensing on CR-V, with automatic braking for an impending collision, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, and road departure mitigation.

The CR-V competes against such stalwarts as the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape. With the 2017 improvements, it appears to have the bones to maintain its sales lead among crossover SUVs, which currently are the most sought-after vehicles on the market.

2017 Honda CR-V
2017 Honda CR-V

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Honda CR-V Touring four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:5-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 190 hp, 179 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 106/39 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,512 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $33,230.
  • Price as tested: $34,530.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Honda.

 

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The best thing about the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid is that it’s a Honda Accord.

That means that it comes with all of the good stuff that has made the Accord a favorite for 40 years, starting with a compact two-door hatchback in 1976 that was so revolutionary early buyers were willing to pay well over the sticker price just to get one.

The 2017 model is the ninth generation, grown to a roomy midsize sedan or coupe that exudes quality, class and reliability—and in the tested Touring version, verges on near-luxury status at a popular price.

HONDA ACCORD HATCHBACK Generation 1
First-Generation 1976 Honda Accord

All Accord models deliver safety, with a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a Top Safety Pick Plus crash worthiness rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Though they would not qualify as sports sedans, Accords have capable performance and handling, a quiet, comfortable ride and fatigue-free long distance cruising. The combination of attributes has enabled the Accord to make Car and Driver Magazine’s annual 10 Best list 30 times.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

Early on, Honda developed hybrid technology that was elegant in its simplicity. Its Insight and Civic hybrid models came with low powered four-cylinder engines boosted by small pancake electric motors to boost power when needed.

Though the system worked fine, it was eventually abandoned after being overshadowed by the more complicated but surprisingly reliable Toyota hybrid system that led to more than a million sales of the Prius in the U.S.

Designing its new Hybrid, Honda engineers were shooting for the magic number of 50 miles to the gallon. With ever stricter U.S. government testing, they fell slightly short of the goal, ending up with a city/highway/combined fuel consumption rating of 49/47/48 mpg.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

It’s part of a push by the Japanese manufacturer to expand its range of alternative fueled vehicles, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell and battery-powered electrics.

The 2017 Accord Hybrid uses a system with a 143-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine working with two electric motors. The total system is rated at 212 hp. A small lithium ion battery pack in the trunk supplies the electric power yet allows nearly 14 cubic feet of space for cargo.

In addition to the 2017 Hybrid, you can order the new Accord with standard four-cylinder or V6 power, and that’s where things get interesting. With continuing low gasoline prices, it’s hard to make a pure economic case for the Hybrid over at least one of its garage mates.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

The tested Hybrid Touring, fully equipped, came with a sticker price of $36,790. That’s $5,285 more than a comparably equipped four-cylinder EXL-Navi at $31,505 and $1,275 more than a V-6 Touring model at $35,515. All three are top-of-the line with the Honda Sensing system that includes collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control.

The four-cylinder Accord’s city/highway/combined fuel consumption is rated at 27/37/31 mpg with the V6 at 21/34/26.

Using a formula of gasoline at $2.50 a gallon and 12,000 miles a year of driving, an owner of a four-cylinder Accord could drive 15.4 years

before his fuel costs exceeded that $5,285 saving over the Hybrid. With the V6, it would take 2.4 years to use up the saving of $1,275.

So it’s likely that the Accord Hybrid will be more attractive to technology enthusiasts and environmentally conscious motorists looking to conserve natural resources. Economy minded buyers with sharp pencils likely would gravitate toward the four-cylinder Accord.

Nevertheless, with a base price of $30,440, the Accord Hybrid looks attractive. The price is around $4,000 less than the current average transaction price of a new car. The base car comes with all the same mechanicals as the tested Touring model, along with pushbutton and remote starting, Honda’s Lane Watch camera that eliminates right-side blind spots, Bluetooth connectivity, power driver’s seat and LED daytime and taillights.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

The $33,740 EX-L model adds Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, HD and SXM radio, leather upholstery, a motorized sunroof and heated seats. The top-line Touring adds navigation, parking sensors and LED headlights, among other things.

The main Accord drawback is the paucity of buttons and switches. Most functions are controlled through the seven-inch touch screen in the center stack. It’s distracting to have to focus on the screen, touch and slide to do simple functions like tune the radio. The aggravation is mitigated somewhat by some redundant controls on the steering wheel.

2017 Honda Accord Hybrid

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring four-door sedan.
  • Engines:0-liter four-cylinder, 143 hp, 129 lb-ft torque; two electric motors, 181 hp, 232 lb-ft torque. Total system 212 hp.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic (CVT) with sport mode.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 101/14 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,536 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 49/47/48 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,790.
  • Price as tested: $36,790.

Photos (c) Honda.

 

2017 Honda Ridgeline: A DriveWays Review…

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

The Sonic Civic

by Jason Fogelson

I’ve never been much of a gamer. But back in 1991, I bought a Sega Genesis. Why? Because I wanted to play the Sonic the Hedgehog game.

The Sega Genesis was amazingly sophisticated in its day, with 16-bit depth and great motion graphics. To my eyes at the time, the images it produced were smooth and detailed, and everything was remarkably vibrant and alive on the screen.

And then there was Sonic, the determined, speedy hedgehog, running through these crazy environments, collecting gold rings. It was fun and addictive, and I’m sure it made me late to my grown-up job more than once during my brief obsession.

Somebody at Honda must have been stung by the Sonic bug at the same time I was, because they have produced a Sonic the Hedgehog 25th Anniversary custom Civic Sedan, and they’re unveiling it at Comic-Con in San Diego.

Expect some old guys to be more thrilled than makes good sense — they’re the ones who bought a Sega Genesis in 1991, just like I did.

I wrote a story about the Sonic the Hedgehog 25th Anniversary Civic Sedan for Forbes.com.

Photos (c) Honda

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