So this is how it went for the Honda Ridgeline, from the moment it entered our lives until the day it left, one year later:
Logbook Entry #1 November 29, 2005: On the Ridgeline's first day with us, I drove it straight from the office to a friend's apartment to help move his bed to his new condo across town. A double box spring and mattress fit lengthwise in the bed with the tailgate down. I also folded up the rear seats and we stashed four wheels and summer tires from his Mazda 3 hatchback.
In the next month alone, the Ridgeline's five-foot cargo bed and commodious 8.5-cubic-foot underbed trunk saw groceries, more tires, luggage, a (fake) Christmas tree, cross-country skis, a futon, a Polaris ATV, a 48-quart cooler, and hunting gear--not to mention what wasn't listed in the logbook. That was one month. It went on to carry hundreds of grocery bags, one load of sixteen tires, a La-Z-Boy recliner, thirty cans of paint, three sets of wheels and tires with a jack and two toolboxes, a queen-size mattress and box spring along with a bookshelf and card tables, chairs, lamps, a fridge, coolers, dog crates, more luggage, three mountain bikes, and thirteen bags of mulch.
It's no surprise that we hauled a lot of crap over the course of twelve months. The Ridgeline is a pickup truck. But it was more handy than your average box on wheels. Two things stand out: that weatherproof underbed trunk and the dual-action tailgate. The supreme simplicity and overwhelming usefulness of a trunk in the bed of this clever truck made seemingly everyone who saw it say the same two things: "What took so long?" and "Why doesn't every truck have one?"
Look at the photo directly above to get an idea of exactly how big the trunk is. It easily will hold a dozen grocery bags full of bacon, corralling them securely for the ride home. Its location far aft and up against the cargo-bed floor makes it simple for shorter folks to load and unload. Just the fact that it can contain smaller items that would slide around in the bed of a "normal" pickup truck makes it that much easier to put into use.
Add the everyday usefulness of a tailgate that swings not only down but also out, allowing you to belly up to the very edge of the bed, and you begin to understand the specialness of this trunk. We were also enamored of the lid that lifts with minimal effort and stays in the raised position while you load. It was just as easy to close with one hand and a solid click.
You can see part of the spare tire in the above photo, too. It sits on a tray that you slide out with the tailgate swung open, allowing you to easily free the spare--as long as there's no freight in the trunk or the bed. Not that we ever had the misfortune to try it.
The 60/40 back seats are another example of Honda's thoughtful engineering. Each side releases with the pull of a handgrip, then locks up and out of the way with an easy push. This one-hand operation is probably the simplest method of freeing up cargo space we've ever experienced. When the seats are lifted, you can stick in a bicycle--sans front wheel--east-to-west, locating its rear wheel securely in a slot along the floor. The seat-support legs fold flat against the cushion (see above). When the seats are lowered, the supports are designed to allow a bag of golf clubs to slide underneath; the passengers perched above get an armrest with two cup holders that pulls down from the seatback.
The Honda truck's usefulness and clever touches extend to the front cabin, where there are enough lidded and unlidded cubbyholes of different shapes and sizes to sort and hold maps, telecommunicators, receipts, sodas, sunglasses, coins, and music. Without commingling. Associate art director Nicole Lazarus made the observation that, from a design standpoint, the bold but not macho interior "welcomes a man or a woman equally." We would add that the bold but pretty darn unattractive exterior, however, repulsed men and women equally.
Back to that really fine interior. The gauges are big and easy to read, and the buttons and switches are operable with mittened hands, although the farthest radio controls might as well be in the glove box as far as shorter drivers are concerned. The shorties among us also called for adjustable pedals.
Seats front and back were universally praised for comfort and spaciousness (but some sniffed that a vehicle in the $35,000 range ought to come with power passenger-seat controls), and so was the use of good materials on all cabin surfaces that you actually touched among the wide swaths of hard plastic. After 28,745 miles, the Ridgeline's interior looked only slightly used, although the composite pickup bed took marks like chalk on a blackboard. Someone noted that the corner of a cereal box actually left a mark on the matte-black surface.
The Ridgeline had two problems that were fixed under warranty. The touch-screen navigation system needed recalibration, and a squeaky steering wheel required a new clock spring, a new cable reel, and then an additional bit of foam tape to finally shut it up. A recall of inner clips on all four door handles was the only other maintenance needed, other than three inexpensive (less than $300 total) scheduled stops dictated by messages on the dash.
Overall, we praised the Ridgeline time and again for its carlike ride, its carlike handling (with the exception of a decidedly trucklike turning circle), and its carlike refinement. But enough about the Ridgeline's carlike fabulousness.
Its 247-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic transmission were deemed plenty strong for light-truck duties. Translation: plenty of pull around town with a couple of people and a few antiques, adequate power with five passengers and the maximum 1554-pound payload capacity, and a grunting dog if you tow anything near its 5000-pound max rating. Both times we hitched a trailer and a light car (one Sunbeam Tiger and one BMW 2002), the Ridgeline reacted like a drunk, with sluggish acceleration, not enough torque, gear-hunting on the slightest inclines, and poor straight-line stability.
There was also the matter of fuel economy, which dropped by almost half when towing, a testament to how much heavy loads stressed the V-6-powered Ridgeline. Assistant editor Sam Smith noted that he burned through about three-quarters of a tank of fuel during one 140-mile stretch at highway speeds while schlepping his 3500-pound trailer.
Once the load was left behind, however, it was back to sweetness and light in the logbook. Over the course of the year, it made such a splash among us that, when votes were cast for the 2007 All-Stars, the Ridgeline rated among the ten cars we love best.
We can say with no hesitation that the Ridgeline is not for serious towing and hauling. As technical editor Don Sherman noted: "It's not likely to suck customers out of their traditional big pickups. The pickup faithful will never embrace the Ridgeline: The high load floor and tall bed sides discourage easy loading. The tailgate is three inches higher than my full-size, 1996 Chevy's. It doesn't offer a V-8."
But if you need the interior space and utility, crave a more refined ride, admire its Honda-ness, and harbor only an occasional urge to roam the woods or tow a small racing car, this is your ideal truck.