The truck world may never be the same. This month the all-new Ridgeline pickup will land at Honda dealerships across the country, further complicating the decision of truck buyers who in simpler days would have listed Chevy, Dodge, Ford, and maybe GMC as their only options. Toyota, Nissan, and Honda once built nothing even close to a real truck for the American market. Times have changed, and Honda's Ridgeline is out to alter things even more.
Honda's four-door, five-passenger, 4WD entry sets itself apart from the growing slew of others by virtue of its first-in-class unibody frame and four-wheel independent suspension system. A 3.5-liter V-6 transfers 255 horsepower to the wheels through a five-speed automatic. Its appearance vaguely resembles Honda's current Pilot and Element models, but it definitely stands out in any crowd, even dressed in some of the drab colors shown at the show. Honda promises this is not a Pilot with a bed ("It has a ninety percent exclusive frame, we swear!"), but that puts a somewhat accurate image in your head.
The Ridgeline is full of cool features, including a steel-reinforced composite bed, flip-up rear seats, and loads of stowage space for your miscellany. Probably the coolest feature of the Ridgeline, though, is the "In-Bed Trunk," an 8.5 cubic-foot, lockable, weather-tight compartment underneath the bed floor and behind the rear axle. It even has a drain so you can ask it to play cooler for your beverages of choice-just pull the plug when the bottles are empty and the ice melted. Access is made easier via a two-way tailgate that swings to the side to open or flips down like a traditional gate. There's also room for a full-size spare tire in this compartment.
The bed is only 60 inches long, but the lack of wheel-well intrusions means that you can lay a 4x8 ft sheet of plywood down flat. Numerous anchoring hooks will assist securing items back there, and several bed lights will help loading and unloading after the sun has set. Honda designed the bed so that it can fit two of its biggest dirt bikes or a full-size ATV in the back with the rear wheels resting on the lowered tailgate.
The lack of a V-8 may turn away many prospective buyers, but Honda says the half-ton truck will tow 5000 pounds with its 252 lb-ft of torque. While it will be able to tow that much weight without breaking, it might not make it up much of a grade.
Expect pricing in the $27,000 to $32,000 range when the truck goes on sale in March as a 2006 model. The Ridgeline is already being built in Alliston, Ontario. Light trucks made up forty percent of Honda sales in North America in 2004; expect that proportion to increase significantly with Ridgeline's addition to the fleet.