2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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I love it when something truly innovative hits the market and then is embraced by the buying public. A number of Apple products come to mind, iPhone and iPad especially, and Ikea's way of producing, packaging and selling furniture has changed that sector's entire budget priced segment.

Honda has been an innovator for decades. Of course, all we need to do is look around us for Honda-branded cars and SUVs just about everywhere, along with industry-leading hybrids, but take a closer look and you'll notice Honda motorcycles, both on the road and on the backs of trailers. This time of year those trailers might be loaded down with Honda power sports equipment, like dirt bikes and ATVs, or boats with the brand's reliable outboard engines on transom. I remember when Honda came out with its portable generator back in the '70s. It was a brilliant piece of compact engineering that improved the lives of all who used it, from campers to construction workers, and I'm guessing one would fit right into the handy trunk under the bed of the automaker's Ridgeline pickup truck. And I know a Honda ATV fits perfectly inside the box as I've parked one there myself once, and loading it up doesn't even stress out the tailgate as its dual-action design allows it to swing right out of the way. Brilliant!

I like the way Honda thinks. It took a lot of guts to reinvent the pickup truck and then introduce it into the land of the ever-dominant F-150. Of course the Ridgeline and F-150 don't compete directly, but a friend of mine traded in his full-size pickup for a Ridgeline soon after Honda brought it to market and he's been a happy camper, or rather a happy contractor ever since. Being a foreman he didn't need to haul all the gear to the job site, so the Ridgeline gave him the ride and handling he liked in SUVs, along with the cargo flexibility needed in his line of work. The lockable in-bed trunk has proven its worth in keeping his expensive gear safe from would-be thieves.

Fortunately for my friend, he's never had to change a flat when the truck was fully loaded. I've always wondered what I'd do in that situation. I suppose if I only had an ATV aboard I'd just ride it down the ramps and open the trunk to access the spare tire, but if I had the bed filled with mulch or building materials, and no doubt a flat would occur just at that fully-laden moment, it would elicit some creative expletives at the very least. I think most Ridgeline owners are willing to put up with the truck's many attributes for the very remote chance that the aforementioned might happen.

I mentioned its ride and handling, which is really unmatched in the segment. It corners like an agile SUV, let alone a fully capable truck, and delivers a firm yet comfortable ride. Fully capable? For sure. Of course it's not full-size so don't expect to fit as much in back as the big boys, but it'll haul a payload of 705 kilos (1,550 lbs) and can tow up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs). I tried the latter during the initial press launch way back in 2004, and it wasn't just that the Ridgeline could pull as much as its peers and more than some, but rather that it did so effortlessly. The truck never wavered, with a feeling of total control that should add confidence to expert and novice trailer tower alike. And incidentally, an integrated hitch, 7-pin connection, and trailer brake controller pre-wiring all come standard. I should mention that I took it off-roading during the press launch too, which seemed like playtime for its variable four-wheel drive, which comes standard.

Back then the Ridgeline made do with a 255-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 featuring 252 lb-ft of torque, or at least that's what the automaker claimed. Although now the horsepower rating is only 250 and torque reduced to 247, yet nothing seems to have changed under the hood. Possibly Honda dropped the power insignificantly to improve fuel economy, which is now quite a bit better at a claimed 13.6 L/100km city and 9.6 highway, compared to 14.4 and 10.1 respectively for the 2005 model. And no, they haven't made the jump in efficiency by adding more gears to the standard automatic transmission; it remains a 5-speed. Honda claims new aerodynamic enhancements aid fuel economy, but that would only be true for highway mileage. Either way, better efficiency is a good thing and we'll take it.

Those aero upgrades come as part of a 2012 styling update, with a new front-end design that's made even more appealing in the Sport trim Honda loaned me. Mine was painted black, with a black honeycomb grille and black headlight and brake light housings, plus a red highlighted Sport badge and great looking 18-inch black painted alloy rims. I like the look, a sporty design that carries into the cabin with a leather-clad steering wheel.

Interior quality should impress truck buyers, especially the way everything fits together. It's more like an SUV inside, although Honda's Pilot has come so far since the Ridgeline was introduced that I won't disrespect the brand's SUV to say the Ridgeline is as good. It's better than it needs to be though, and ultra-roomy. The 60/40-split rear seats fold up and get out of the way easier than any rival, opening up a lot of dry, warm space for valuable cargo.

For the most part the Ridgeline delivered the kinds of goods expected in the pickup truck class, with standard powered windows, keyless remote access, powered and heated mirrors, and air conditioning, but the power-sliding rear window was an unexpected nicety in a midsize truck that starts under $35k. Honda includes cruise control and AM/FM/CD audio standard too, and while there's a handy auxiliary jack there's no standard Bluetooth, which was a disappointment. You can upgrade a base DX truck or one in VP trim with iPod connectivity, rear DVD entertainment, and a number of useful utility enhancements plus a lot of accessories, but Bluetooth can't be had. The same goes for my Sport tester, priced near $40k, at $39,430 as per the company's website, but nevertheless I was forced to dust off my aftermarket BlueAnt hands-free unit and hang it on the visor, cord irritatingly dangling through my sightlines, just so I could talk on my phone while driving. To get integrated Bluetooth Honda makes you upgrade to its top-line Touring trim level, an impressively equipped package that includes leather, a 10-way powered driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a powered moonroof, navigation system and more. As nice as it is, it's not the best hands-free solution for those who don't need or want to pay for all the fancy stuff.

But that, my friends, is my only complaint. The Ridgeline is one fabulous truck that should be considered if you're looking for a great driving, fuel-efficient alternative to your traditional pickup. It hasn't changed much in the last seven years and appears not to have needed much upgrading, as it still does most everything a regular pickup truck can do, and a lot more.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Pickup, Honda, 2012, Ridgeline, $30,000 - $39,999,

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