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2006 Honda Ridgeline Review

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International Truck of the Year
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Honda

Ridgeline is Honda’s award-winning full-size pickup truck. And we really mean award-winning. Honda swept car and truck of the year awards this year at the major motor shows with the advanced new Civic and the innovative Ridgeline. We got tired of seeing the Honda execs on the stage receiving honors over and over again.

First impressions are unusually favorable. We picked up our shinny Nighthawk Black Ridgeline in Detroit and drove it the 75 miles home on a low-traffic sunny spring day. Everything has that soft easy touch and simplicity of a Honda. On the freeway we have plenty of power to keep up and excellent visibility all around – a very pleasant truck to drive.

What’s so special about the Ridgeline? Well, it’s partly in the unit-body full frame structure - the best of both worlds – a rigid and light upper structure and the strength of a “closed box” frame that is integrated into the unit-body. It’s not the typical body-on-frame structure that characterizes all other full-size pickups. Nor does it have a separate box and cab like all other pickups. That all makes for an exceptionally rigid structure. Like all modern automotive designs it has front and rear crumple zones to absorb impacts. Ridgeline is the first 4-door pickup to earn 5-star safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA has also named Ridgeline as the pickup least likely to roll over.

Other reasons for accolades are innovative features like the large (8.5 cu.ft.) In-Bed Trunk™, the enclosed stowage area below the pickup bed. Lift up the panel covering the rear half of the 4X5-foot bed and find a nice, deep water tight place to put your bulky stuff. You’ll also notice the full-size spare tucked up in there out of the way. A dual-action tailgate and optional bed extender make for versatile cargo options.

Getting into the Ridgeline I have to duck. The door opening is small. It’s easy to step into and out of without a running board, though, even with more than 8-inches of ground clearance, but the door sill is just a tad short. A big artsy grab handle is integrated with the door handle. The large, round aluminum trim ring around the speedometer adds a touch of drama to a functional instrument cluster, the surface of which appears to be a rubbery material. A neat three-bin package tray is built into the passenger side of the dash and compliments all the other storage spaces.

Ridgeline’s rear seats are well designed with a wide arm rest that can be folded up to make room for three. My rear seat passengers were universally happy with their accommodations. With the pull of a light-touch handle the seat bottom folds up against the back and latches leaving lots of room for vertical cargo like bicycles. Even with the seats down there is good storage space beneath. We shoved a 10-pound bag of potatoes under there. Later, we put the seats up and hauled our bedding plants across the generous rear floor.

Towing capacity is about 5,000 pounds, total payload capacity is 1550 pounds, and gross combined weight rating is 10,085 pounds. Curb weight is about 4,500 pounds. Standard is a heavy-duty radiator with dual fans, heavy-duty power steering fluid cooler, pre-wired 4- and 7-pin connectors and pre-wired trailer brake connector.

Ridgeline is powered by a transversely mounted 3.5-liter, 24-valve, SOHC VTEC V6 with 247 horsepower and 245 lb.ft. of torque. That doesn’t sound like a lot of engine but it motivates our full-size pickup pretty well. Acceleration is plenty adequate, although I must admit we didn’t put heavy demands on it. EPA fuel mileage estimates are 16/city and 21/highway and Ridgeline has the CARB’s ULEV-2 emissions rating. Tune up interval is 100,000 miles. With the 22-gallon fuel tank we can expect about a 350-mile average cruising range on regular fuel.

The only transmission available is a 5-speed automatic with fluid cooler and Variable Torque Management (VTM4) for the 4-Wheel Drive system. Under normal dry-road conditions Ridgeline is front-wheel-drive. But as soon as traction is needed elsewhere the VTM4 system transfers torque to where ever it’s needed with up to 70-percent going to the rear wheels. The damped prop shaft continually sends power to the rear for use as needed.

Ridgeline comes with Vehicle Stability Assist to keep the overzealous driver out of trouble. It automatically compensates for oversteer or understeer. Suspension is independent front and rear. The ride is firm but not jumpy without a load. And, of course with a load most good pickups ride better, but we didn’t have an opportunity to load her up.

According to the sticker our test truck has no options – just lots of standard stuff. Base price for the Ridgeline RTS (middle level of trim) is $30,075. Included in that price is AM/FM/6 Disc In-dash CD audio system with 7 speakers, prewired for XM radio, steering wheel audio controls, dual-zone automatic climate control with air filtration system, 8-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, three 12-volt power outlets, cruise control, power rear cabin window and the typical power stuff. Standard wheels are 17-inch alloys with P245/65R17 All-Season rubber. “No charge” says the sticker, for a full tank of fuel. Destination charge is to be determined.

US and Canadian content in the Alliston, Ontario-built Ridgeline is 75%.

Ridgeline is covered by Honda’s standard 3-year/36,000-mile warranty with a powertrain warranty of 5-years/60,000-miles.

We liked the Ridgeline and certainly agree that its innovative design is worthy of Truck of the Year honors. At 30-grand for the mid level, unoptioned (but still well-equipped) Honda truck, we consider it a contender. And, with Honda’s reputation for dependability it should be on any new truck buyer’s radar.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions