Function over form?

BY Haney Louka. Jan 13 04:00 am

It must have been a daunting task for Honda’s engineers when the time came to update the Ridgeline.

It also benefited from innovative features not found on other pickups, including a lockable storage compartment in the box and a tailgate that can open with either left or bottom hinges.

Much like the larger Chevrolet Avalanche, another pickup with a continuous cab and box design, the Ridgeline’s styling did not try to hide the fact that it was a one-piece design, with no obvious separation between the two.

For 2017, the Ridgeline returns after a two-year hiatus and offers customers a decidedly Honda take on what a small pickup should be. It’s an evolution that’s true to the original, with some significant steps forward that aim to strengthen the company’s foothold in this small but important market segment.

The first thing that struck me when I saw the new truck is the loss of the sloped box sides that were a trademark of Ridgeline styling. Instead, we get a more conforming profile that separates the cab and box with a joint in the sheetmetal. It’s still a unibody structure, but it’s made to look like it’s a body-on-frame design.

If the new Ridgeline’s profile is more truck-like, its front-end styling has gone the other way: the family resemblance with the Pilot crossover on which it’s based is undeniable. Where the old Ridgeline had styling of its own, the new one embraces Honda’s new front-end look.

I can’t say I’m a fan of the Ridgeline’s looks; they’re too carlike in front and too trucklike in the back to be a cohesive package. But prospective customers will need to decide that for themselves.

The newest Ridgeline is indeed a decisive step forward from the previous one, which is sure to keep existing customers happy, while appealing to others in the small pickup market.

The $36,590 starting price nets the aforementioned cargo area versatility, standard V-6 power, all-wheel drive, 225-watt audio, remote start, heated seats, front wiper de-icer and a rear-view camera.

An additional $3,000 buys the Sport package, which adds a sunroof, three-zone climate control, “LaneWatch” blind-spot display, unique wheels and other goodies.

The EX-L stickers for $42,950, adding leather upholstery, heated rear seats and steering wheel, parking sensors, rear climate controls and more.

Our $47,090 Touring tester had a truck-bed audio and lighting system, navigation, rear cross-traffic alert, LED headlights, premium audio, in-bed power inverter and rain-sensing wipers.

To be sure, these options are not your typical small-truck features.

A four-door Tacoma 4x4 stickers for $38,505 with an automatic transmission, and can climb into the low 50s when fully optioned. On the surface, one might think that the Tacoma offers more utility, but the spec sheet states otherwise.

The Tacoma has a 6,000-pound towing capacity and 950-lb payload, and comes standard with trailer sway control. The Ridgeline has a 1,500-lb payload and can tow up to 5,000 lb. with the dealer-installed towing package.

Of course, the Tacoma has a true part-time four-wheel drive system with a low-range transfer case, and the presence or absence of these features goes a long way toward defining the type of truck that’s being offered.

All Ridgelines are powered by the same 280-horsepower, 3.5-litre V-6 that propels the Pilot; that’s up 30 from the old model. The new truck is slightly larger all around, but at the same time, it has shed a few pounds and sips fuel at a relatively frugal 12.8 L/100 km in the city (9.5 on the highway), a significant improvement over the old truck. The Toyota Tacoma sits at 13.2 and 10.7 respectively, for those keeping score.

For the most part, people call on their trucks to be daily drivers, and this is where the Ridgeline comes into its own. I would have no trouble believing someone if they told me that I was driving a Pilot when behind the wheel of a Ridgeline. It’s roomy, comfortable, smooth, refined and quiet. These are the hallmarks by which the Ridgeline makes its case, and it’s a compelling one at that.

Whether it’s your cup of tea is something only you can decide.

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