Midsize pickup sheds oddball looks, gains power.
Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Honda, one of America’s favorite car brands, is about to take a second swing at building one of America’s favorite vehicles: the pickup truck.

The all-new Honda Ridgeline pickup due to hit dealerships in June has more power, better fuel economy and a lower starting price than Honda’s first pitch to U.S. drivers, which garnered critical praise but failed to win large numbers of buyers when it was on sale from 2006-2014.

Perhaps most important, the all-new 2017 Ridgeline looks like a pickup. Gone are the odd, sloping walls of its bed and the triangular buttresses that linked the roof of the cab to the sides of the bed. Honda expects the Ridgeline to compete with midsize pickups like the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. Ford is widely expected to join the fray in a couple of years.

The new Ridgeline acquitted itself well in a couple of days testing in the Texas Hill Country. The new 3.5L V6 engine delivers 280 hp and 262 pound-feet of torque. That’s competitive with other new midsize pickups and a healthy increase from the old Ridgeline’s 250 hp and 247 lb-ft.

The Ridgeline accelerated comfortably in the Texas highways and hills, pulling smoothly and holding its own in traffic. The V6 and all-wheel-drive system proved capable in light off-roading that including driving through deep, soft sand up a steep dirt incline. The Ridgeline’s towing capacity of 5,000 pounds trails other V6 midsize pickups.

The Honda’s EPA fuel economy rating makes up for that, checking in at 18 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 21 combined with AWD and 19/26/22 for the base front-drive model. Honda did not offer an FWD version of the previous Ridgeline. The automaker expects it to help boost sales in southern states, where snow is not a factor.

The key combined ratings top competitive gasoline-powered midsize pickups. They trail diesel pickups.

Ridgeline prices start at $29,475 for FWD and $31,275 for AWD. The top model, a new trim level simply called Black, stickers at $42,870 and comes with AWD, navigation, leather upholstery and much more.

The Ridgeline’s interior is roomy and comfortable. The front seat provides plenty of storage. The gauges are simple and clear. Climate controls are simple, but the audio system retains the flat-panel touch points Honda cars use instead of switches or dials for volume and tuning. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for smart phones come with upper models that have an 8-in. touch screen. A 5-in. touch screen is standard. Soft materials cover the dash and doors.

The ride is smooth, absorbing bumps and cushioning off-road impacts. The steering and brakes deliver Honda’s usual fine performance. The cab is quiet at highway speeds.

The rear seat also has plenty of passenger room, and delivers good cargo space thanks to lower seat cushions that fold up to make room for big load.

The pickup bed has enough space between the wheelwell for a 48-in. piece of drywall. The bed is 64 inches long.

As it did with the original Ridgeline, Honda piles innovative features into the bed. The tailgate is dual-hinged to open either down, like other pickups, or from the side, like a door. A useful trunk under the bed floor has room for an 82-quart cooler, making the new Ridgeline even more useful for beer runs than its predecessor.

A true party animal, the trunk introduces another feature: in-bed audio. Top Ridgeline models will have six electronic “exciters mounted between the bed liner and the steel outer walls. Connected to the plastic bed liner, the exciters essentially turn the whole bed into a speaker for the audio system. The sound quality is surprisingly good, and Honda thoughtfully provided a 10-mph shutoff, so the Ridgeline won’t become a moving neighborhood noise-ordinance violation on summer evenings.

Honda builds the 2017 Ridgeline in Lincoln, AL. The pickup offers a wide range of safety features, including blind spot and cross traffic alerts, lane departure alert and assist, front collision alert automatic high beams and automatic emergency braking.

Contact Mark Phelan: mmphelan@freepress.com or 313-222-6731. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.

2017 Honda Ridgeline at a glance:

Five-passenger front- or all-wheel-drive midsize pickup

3.5L V6 engine.

280 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 262 pound-feet of torque @ 4,700 rpm.

Six-speed automatic transmission

Built in Lincoln, Alabama

Competes with: Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma.