Based on the same platform as the Acura MDX and Honda Pilot crossover SUVs, the redesigned 2017 Honda Ridgeline isn’t as ruggedly constructed a midsize crew cab pickup truck as its competition. In fact, you might be tempted to dismiss it as nothing more than a modern-day Chevy El Camino, a car masquerading as a truck.
In order to examine the new Ridgeline in person, I headed to Malibu, California and the Santa Monica Mountains to answer the following question: Can the 2017 Honda Ridgeline go off-road? Before we get to that, though, it is important to put the Ridgeline into perspective.
The Honda Ridgeline is a more competitive truck than you might guess
Aimed at the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, and Toyota Tacoma, the redesigned Honda Ridgeline is built for the do-it-yourselfer and the weekend warrior, the people who need a truck on weekends but don’t want to drive a traditional truck during the week.
That means the new 2017 Ridgeline foregoes traditional body-on-frame construction, necessary for maximum towing capacity, and includes a 4-wheel independent suspension, which improves ride and handling on the pavement where most pickups spend most of their time.
Ridgeline power, towing and payload ratings
A 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 is tucked under the Ridgeline’s hood, but it doesn’t make as much torque as the competition (262 lb.-ft.), or as low in the rev range (at 4,700 rpm). This, in addition to its unibody construction, is a factor restricting the Honda’s towing capacity to 5,000 pounds, a ton less than a Chevy Colorado or GMC Canyon crew cab with a V6 engine.
The Honda can haul though, up to 1,584 lbs. of payload in its 64-inch cargo bed, a little more weight than a Chevy Colorado or GMC Canyon with a V6 can tackle. Loading the Ridgeline is easy, too, thanks to a dual-action tailgate that swings wide from right to left, or drops down like every other truck. The cab’s rear seat cushion also flips up and out of the way, providing a sizable amount of interior cargo capacity.
Ridgelines also come with a “trunk,” a locking 7.3 cubic-foot storage well beneath the cargo bed that includes a drain plug because it is perfect for use as a tailgate party cooler. A 115-volt power outlet is available for the bed, and a new “truck bed audio system” with six weatherproof transducers that turn the cargo box into a boom box (remember those?).
Available torque-vectoring AWD system
Purists might automatically discount the Ridgeline once they discover that it comes with front-wheel drive. Don’t worry. Get the available Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) all-wheel-drive system, which can deliver up to 70 percent of total engine output to either the left or right rear wheel as conditions warrant. It comes with an Intelligent Traction Management System with Normal, Mud, Sand, and Snow driving modes, too.
Ground clearance measures 7.8 inches. That’s less than any of the traditional body-on-frame trucks from the competition. Yet the Ridgeline’s approach, breakover, and departure angles essentially match or improve upon the Colorado and Canyon twins.
Can the 2017 Honda Ridgeline go off road?
Calamigos Ranch is the site of an annual media event called Droptops and Dirt. Located in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains, the property includes rugged terrain and trails that to showcase vehicle capabilities. Honda brought a Ridgeline to the 2016 event, put it on the more difficult of the two available trails, and turned journalists loose.
Naturally, I was curious. So I hopped into a Ridgeline RTL-E, engaged the “Sand” driving mode, and headed into the wilderness under the guidance of Honda public relations representative Davis Adams.
Freshly graded, the first part of the trail was essentially a dirt road, but as we climbed in elevation and took the fork leading to the more difficult portion of the route, the dips and bumps presented the Ridgeline with regular challenges. Though the truck rocked and rolled and occasionally put a wheel into the air, it remained resolute in its commitment to surpass obstacles, the i-VTM4 AWD system doing a fine job of meting out power to the wheels with the most grip.
Cresting a blind hill, I was impressed with the Ridgeline’s tenacity in the dry California dirt. But I knew that a steep descent studded with rocks, scarred with ruts, and paved with a loose surface lay in wait around the next turn.
I asked Adams: “Does this thing have hill descent control?”
“No,” he admitted. “It does not.”
With parts of me puckering by the second, I headed down the grade in low gear with a foot modulating the brake pedal. Cautiously, carefully, I chose my path down the hill, the truck sometimes sliding and slipping on its 245/60R18 all-season tires. We made it down the grade, scraping the underside once or twice but without shredding the front air dam or causing any leaks.
Honda, your truck needs a hill descent control system.
Honda offers the perfect truck for most of the people most of the time
To say that the new 2017 Honda Ridgeline might just be the perfect truck for most of the people most of the time is an understatement. It is.
But, in my opinion, the exterior styling is too soft. The Ridgeline looks like a Pilot modified by a guy with a Sawzall after drinking a case of Old Milwaukee. Which is almost like saying the Ridgeline looks like an Odyssey modified by a guy… You get the idea.
Not only has Honda ditched the old Ridgeline’s chiseled bodywork and flared fenders, the new truck’s Pilot-sourced interior eliminates one of my favorite things about the original model: the hose-me-out interior loaded with storage nooks, cubbies, trays, and bins. This new one is just too nice inside.
According to J.D. Power studies, styling and design sell new vehicles. How a car, SUV, or truck looks on the outside and works on the inside is just as important as reliability when it comes to the consumer’s decision-making process.
So, while the 2017 Ridgeline represents a compelling package, Honda might just find that those do-it-yourselfers and weekend warriors are continuing to choose the more rugged-looking rigs offered by the competition. That’s too bad, because with the exceptions of towing capacity and extreme 4-wheeling capability, the new Ridgeline rocks.
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