- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

As SUV manufacturers discovered several years ago, many buyers don’t need a truck in its truest form, but want a vehicle with trucklike credentials. The unitbody Ridgeline crew cab provides the image and utility of a pickup without the drawbacks of traditional truck rawness.

The Ridgeline is tailor-made for those wanting civilized transportation for weekday commutes, but also need a ride that can keep pace with active-lifestyle owners who switch into weekend adventure modes. Whether it’s high-energy sports such as cycling, kayaking or surfing, or do-it-yourself home projects, this vehicle is up to the task.

This isn’t a small, timid truck. It’s basically midsized — comparable in exterior dimensions to Toyota’s pumped-up new-generation short-box Tacoma or Nissan’s fresh-design Frontier, but with a full-size interior feel.

Honda’s sport pickup is available in three basic models: base RT, $27,700; midline RTS, $30,075; and premium RTL, $31,490. The RTL also is available with special packages adding a moonroof for $32,640 and a moon roof plus a satellite-linked navigation system for $34,640. Whichever model is chosen, the Ridgeline offers a list of impressive features.

Standard power is provided by a 3.5-liter SOHC VTEC V-6 engine. It delivers 255 horsepower and 252 foot-pounds of torque. Its transmission mate is a five-speed automatic. This powertrain is quiet, smooth and, with the help of VTEC efficiency, packs respectable power. There’s enough grunt to tow 5,000 pounds and tote a pay load of about 1,550 pounds.

Power is sent to a standard Variable Torque Management 4WD system. This full-time system sends torque as needed between the front and rear wheels. Adding to the Ridgeline’s capability in rugged terrain is a rear locking differential. Grip is provided by 245/65R-17 tires wrapping spoke wheels — steel on the RT, and alloy on RTS and RTL models.

The design of the wheels doesn’t quite live up to the styling excitement generated by the Ridgeline’s body, which is a clever blending of sporty flair with trucklike macho. Unlike some pickups that use a large, tough-looking grille to up the power quotient, Honda’s truck has a small, subtle grille.

Muscularity comes up front with an elevated center hood portion, mean-eyed multireflector headlamps, chiseled fenders and flared wheel arches. The most distinctive design treatment is given to the rear end. While the execution is considerably different, the bed rails slant down from the rear pillars to create a sail-panel effect reminiscent of Chevy’s Avalanche.

The tailgate, which drops just short of the box sides in height, is a dual-action unit. It’s hinged at the bottom for dropping in traditional fashion, and on the left side, allowing it to swing open. Pulling a center-mounted handle allows the tailgate to drop and squeezing a handle on the right of the underside unlocks it to swing open. Swinging open the gate also offers access to the locking mechanism for an in-bed trunk.

A light tap on a hidden handle springs open the load floor/trunk lid to reveal a surprisingly large storage compartment. The opening measures just over 2 feet by 4 feet and the well is about a foot deep.

This doesn’t count a forward cubby where the spare is stored.

The tailgate also serves an extension of the steel-reinforced composite cargo box’s load floor. Coated with the same durable spray-on liner as the bed floor, the dropped tailgate extends load-floor length from about 59 inches to 79 inches. Width between the mildly protruding wheel-to-wheel wells is just over 4 feet.

Inside the roomy five-passenger cabin, styling flavor reflects that of the exterior with a look both stylish and utilitarian.

The dashboard design is relatively simple. It’s more fitting for a truck than a sedan, but is accented with metallic-wrapped knobs and an in-your-face speedometer with a metallic bezel. P

ositioned dead center, the exceptionally large speedometer illuminates with white numerals.

The front buckets are firm, supportive and well-tailored, and on RTS and RTL models feature eight-way power adjustability.

RTL occupants are pampered with leather upholstery and heated seats and power lumbar supports up front. Rear seating is a 60/40-split design that lifts to access under-seat storage.

Impressively, occupants in all Ridgeline models are protected by front side air bags and side curtain air bags with a rollover sensor.

The Ridgeline is a well-rounded vehicle — very civilized in terms of interior comfort and quietness, as well as in carlike ride quality and handling — but it’s also rugged and boasts excellent utility.

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