- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

Honda Motor Co. always has seemed to have a penchant for not rushing into projects. The company’s modus operandi has been instead to analyze trends and situations, and then to come up with a better idea followed by an exemplary execution of that idea, or collection of ideas, prior to instituting production of a new vehicle. Witness the Odyssey minivan, the Civic and Accord Hybrids and, now, the new Ridgeline pickup.

The Ridgeline is a half-ton, four-door, four-wheel-drive pickup for the next generation that comes loaded with innovative features. It is being marketed in three levels of trim: the base RT; the midrange RTS; and the top-of-the-line RTL. All are powered by the same 3.5-liter, SOHC, 24-valve VTEC V-6 engine that mates to a five-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission. All models utilize Honda’s heavy-duty VTM-4 four-wheel-drive system.

The Ridgeline design actually began with a blank sheet of paper, because Honda had no preconceived notion of the truck that they would build. The truck in question would have to be: midsize in length, making it garageable; maneuverable; a four-door with large interior space; powerful; and dependable. It would also have to versatile and flexible. The Ridgeline is all that and more.

Visually, the Ridgeline offers an athletic stance, with an exterior profile not unlike Chevrolet’s Avalanche. It is shorter than a full-size pickup, but features a one-piece, billet-style cab-to-bed design. The stock front end bears some resemblance to the Honda Element, though an alternative grille and accessories are available as options to really dress up the leading appearance. The “C” panel sweeps back in saillike fashion, as the bed sides rise forward from the tailgate to meet it. The bed measures 5 feet (6.5 feet with the gate down) and is constructed of composite SMC material that is scratch and ding resistant. There is an industry-first, lockable, spacious Secure In-Bed Trunk that provides 8.5 cubic feet of storage volume. The tailgate is a dual access unit that swings down traditionally (capable of supporting heavy loads), or opens to the left for easy curbside loading and unloading.

Moving inside, the Ridgeline offers an ambience worthy of many an upscale family sedan with seating for five adults. Seats are comfortable front and rear. The aft seats feature a 60/40 split and fold upward, making room for large items and for access to underfloor storage. There are large, sculpted door pulls forward that serve as grab-assist handles, and the air conditioning serves both front and rear occupants. The front seats are heated and there are two power outlets forward.

The test Honda Ridgeline came in the RTS trim level and sported a Noble Green Pearl exterior finish, with a two-tone gray interior accented by metallic trim. The base price was $30,075. with the total rising to $30,590 after adding the destination and handling fee. Available options include XM satellite radio, a voice-activated navigation system, roof rails and more.

The Honda Ridgeline is the perfect solution for the Honda-phile who wants or needs a pickup truck. It is suitable for family transportation, errand running, commuting, more mundane off-roading, and to get to and from upscale social events and programs.

The styling evokes a masculine boldness with carved fender lines, broad nose and aggressive stance. The interior belies the traditional truck atmosphere.

It is functionally versatile, yet offers an unexpected air of luxury.

The 255 horsepower VTEC V-6 delivers plenty of power without any noticeable lag. Handling characteristics are indeed more carlike than truck. The Ridgeline is nimble and takes curves and twists with agility. The ride quality is much more civilized than your average truck as well, soaking up bumps with aplomb.

If there is a shortcoming at all, it may be the bed length for many, as the width is claimed to be class-leading. In the final analysis, the Ridgeline is an example of Honda getting everything right before tackling the highly competitive hauler marketplace.

It is full of innovation and satisfying qualities and features, ranking well above many vehicles that it challenges for the truck buyer’s dollar.

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