2012 Honda Ridgeline

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Honda’s take on the old Chevy El Camino (and Ford Ranchero) probably came along a few years too soon.

In 2006, when the first Ridgeline appeared, real trucks (body-on-frame, rear-wheel-drive with real 4WD, not AWD) were like the pre-Chicxulub crater T-Rexes of the late Cretaceous era: Abundant and dominant.

Then came the asteroid – in the form of doubling gas prices and a doubled-over economy. Big trucks with big engines and big appetites aren’t as popular lately.

The car-based crossover SUV surge has also shown people who really don’t need heavy duty (or real 4WD) that a car-based machine rides and handles better than a truck-based machine.

The Ridgeline – like the small mammals scurrying underneath the feet of T-Rex – has survived this long and may yet prosper, now that conditions are more favorable .

WHAT IT IS

The four-door, five-passenger Ridgeline is a unique vehicle: part mid-sized car, part mid-sized pick-up. It is fundamentally car-based in terms of its underlying architecture, so it rides and handles more like a car than a truck. But it has a truck-like five-foot bed out back – composite lined, too -  as well as more ground clearance (8.2 inches) than a car and full-time all-wheel-drive.  So it’s great in snow, a perfect Home Depot Mobile and also a suitable familymobile.

Prices start at $29,250 for the base RT and run to $34,830 for the top-of-the-line RTL.

Since there’s no other vehicle on the market right now that’s like it, it has the market to itself.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2012

The Ridgeline enters its sixth year in production largely the same as before, with a few tweaks to the powertrain that result in slightly better gas mileage on the highway and a new Sport trim that’s priced only a few hundred bucks above the base RT but comes with a lot of extra stuff, including black powder-coated 18-inch wheels, matching blacked out grille up front and black-trimmed brake lights out back, fog lights, a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel and all-weather floor mats inside. Base price for this new Ridgeline trim is  $29,995.

WHAT’S GOOD

Does most of the things most people need a truck to do without actually being a truck.

Easy to drive and pleasant to drive.

Six years in production and known to be solid.

Unique.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Can’t do a few of the things that a real truck can, like deal with severe off-road conditions or pull a heavy trailer.

Kind of slow. Takes a solid 9 seconds to make it to 60.

Kind of piggy. Despite being car-based and having only a 3.5 liter V-6, the Ridgeline’s max-effort fuel economy is just 15 city, 21 highway – only slightly better mileage than several V-8 powered mid-sized trucks can manage.

Unique. You either love the looks (and the concept) or you hate it.

UNDER THE HOOD

All Ridgelines are powered by a SOHC 3.5 liter, 250 hp V-6 teamed up with a five-speed automatic and full-time all-wheel-drive.

Unlike “real” trucks, the Ridgeline’s drivetrain is front-wheel-drive based – and biased. Most of the time, most of the power goes to the front rather than the rear wheels. And of course, the AWD system does not have a two-speed transfer case and so, there’s no Low range gearing.

Honda does fit the Ridgeline with a driver-selectable locking differential, though – which is very useful on slick/snowy roads.

As mentioned up above, 0-60 takes about 9 seconds, which is slower than most current mid-sized (and more powerful) real trucks. In 2006, 250 hp was decent. Six years on, 250 hp is on the weak side – especially in a vehicle that weighs as much as the Ridgeline does (4,505 lbs.).

As a result of the weight – and partly also because the Ridgeline has a less efficient five-speed automatic vs. the more effectively geared six-speeds that are now common – fuel economy is merely so-so: 15 city, 21 highway. This is a slight (1 MPG) uptick over 2011 but nothing to brag about relative to real trucks. For  example, the V-8 powered (4.7 liters) 2012 Dodge Dakota will give you about the same mileage: 14 city, 18 highway. But you’ll also get 52 more hp (302) and much better acceleration.

Towing is also a weak – well, not-so-strong – point.

You can pull up to 5,000 lbs. with a Ridgeline and the bed will take 1,550 lbs. A  Dakota (and other mid-sized trucks) can typically pull close to (or even more than ) 7,000 lbs.

On the other hand, the Ridgeline can pull – and carry – significantly more than most cars, crossover wagons and minivans – which usually max out around 3,500 lbs.

ON THE ROAD

Though the Ridgeline looks like a medium-sized pick-up truck – and is marketed as such by Honda – it lacks two things most of the vehicles it competes against have or offer as optional equipment : A V-8 engine and a “real truck” 4WD system with a two-speed transfer case and Low range gearing.

Instead, the Ridgeline has a full-time AWD system and a car-ish V-6 engine. These aren’t defects, just differences – but they do put the Ridgeline at a disadvantage when the talk turns to off-road capability, towing numbers and other “real truck” bragging points.

My take on this is it’s Honda’s fault for putting the Ridgeline in the position of having to defend itself on these points instead of touting itself as an alternative to the traditional pick-up that can work better for the recreational user.

For instance, Honda’s Variable Torque Management full-time all-wheel-drive system arguably gives the Ridgeline a leg up over 2WD and even 4WD pick-ups in most real-world driving scenarios. Remember: 4WD is optional on most trucks – and a 2WD truck can be more helpless in poor weather than a front-drive passenger car. And more, most “real truck” 4WD systems are part-time and not intended for use on dry, paved roads. Most of the time, you’re driving around in 2WD (or should be) even though you’ve got 4WD.

The Ridgeline’s lighter-duty AWD system isn’t the best choice for going off-road if “off-road” means deep mud or wilderness trails and rock-crawling. But it should have no trouble getting you out of the driveway – and down the (paved) road – when it snows. And it provides a handling advantage when it’s dry – and you’re cornering.

Wet pavement, too.

So on those days when it’s not snowing, you’ll enjoy a smoother ride and more precise, car-like handling characteristics (thanks to the fully-independent suspension) than most “real” trucks (many of which have solid rear axle suspensions) can give you.

Though engineers have worked near-miracles with modern pick-ups to make them more agreeable to soccer moms and suburbanites, there’s only so much you can do with the basic layout – at least, without also compromising off-road capability,  He-Man tow ratings and so on.

It’s a Catch-22 situation.

Unless you redefine the equation – which is just what Honda has done.

AT THE CURB

Ridgeline offers a roomy and comfortable five-passenger cab with four full-size doors and a clever five-foot-by four-foot cargo bed with flush mounted lights, multiple tie-downs, composite liner and an additional 8.5 cubic foot lockable storage area tucked into the floor of the bed. This little cubby has a drain plug, too – so you can fill it up with ice and a 12 pack of whatever. Or use it to stow live bait – and carry home your catch. It’s also a great place to stash expensive tools, etc.

The tailgate folds down and to the side – which serves to extend the usable length of the bed when it’s folded down (as for hauling dirt bikes or a 4×8 sheet) or give you “wide-open” access to it.  I used my tester to carry a gas-powered tiller and various unwieldy/oversized stuff down the road to a buddy’s house – and the Ridgeline was as useful for this job as my Nissan Frontier pick-up. Maybe more so, since my truck doesn’t have an integrated composite bedliner like the Ridegline does.

Additional versatility is provided by the multiple 12V power points in the cab, about a dozen storage bins and an expandable, “deep dish” center console.

The interior is spacious and user-friendly, with oversized rotary knobs to control important functions like the fan speed and AC/heat settings. The materials and finishes are dullish and plasticky, but that can be a plus in terms of wiping down spills and keeping the truck clean and decent-looking after six or seven years of use. I personally really like the column shifter, too. It may not be as “sporty” as a console-mounted floor shifter, but it’s easier to use and frees up space on the console.

There’s 36.4 inches of rear seat legroom and 39.1 inches of headroom. A six-foot-three, 200 pound guy (me) can sit back there happily for hours at a time.

THE REST

The Ridgeline’s very comfortable to drive – and it’s also very safe. The sudden instability/loss of control/susceptibility to rolling over that has long been an issue with pick-ups and truck-based SUVs is not an issue for the Ridgeline. Back in ’06, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Ridgeline the best ratings possible in both its Static Stability Factor and Dynamic Rollover tests – making it the first four- door pickup to ever receive NHTSA’s 5 star rating.

It’s also a safe bet. We have six years of track record to go by and – so far – the Ridgeline has proved itself to be a well-built/durable vehicle. It may not be the latest thing – but it’s a not a lemon. I’ll take that over “latest thing” any day of the week.

It also has a fiercely loyal – if small – following. There are Ridgeline clubs and owner’s groups, all of them devoted to this latter-day El Camino and a great resource if you ever need advice or help. See here for more info.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Granted, the Ridgeline’s not a mechanical Pro Bowl linesman like a V-8 Dakota or even a V-6 Nissan Frontier. But that’s not what this vehicle is about – even though Honda hasn’t done a particularly good job of making that clear.

If you really need a “real” truck -  fine, go get you one. There are plenty of choices.

But if you need or just want something different – and in its own way, better in several key areas than a traditional truck – at least give the Ridgeline a look.

You might find it suits you better than a “real” truck.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  30 comments for “2012 Honda Ridgeline

  1. James
    January 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    I own a 2006 Honda Ridgeline RT. A lovely vehicle.

    I do agree that Honda’s attempt to sell the Ridgeline as an alternative to traditional 1/2 ton pickup trucks was probably incorrect. Honda really needs to get on the stick and SELL the Ridgeline as the thinking man’s choice for a practical, part-time truck with full-time passenger carrying capacity.

    One other disadvantage of the Ridgeline not mentioned in your article is the Ridgeline’s price history. The MSRP of the original 2006 models isn’t that far removed from the current price schedule. The current prices are a bit more reasonable…six years into the game! What made the Ridgeline such a slow seller, then and now, is that you really don’t get THAT much for your money (vis-a-vis a straight line comparison to a domestic 1/2 ton), Honda quality notwithstanding. I love the functionality of my Ridgeline, but I’d never buy new.

    • January 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm

      Hi James,

      Indeed! The savvy way to go is to shop for a lightly used one, given they haven’t changed much since ’06. Probably you could pick up a nice ’07 or ’08 with low miles for around $20k.

      I like the Ridgeline a lot – and I say this as the owner of two “real” trucks. Except for driving down into the fields/woods (we live on 16 acres) and pulling stumps out of the ground, the Ridgeline can do pretty much everything my “real” trucks can – and is more everyday-friendly, as mentioned in the article.

  2. January 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    To me (and many others,) this poor vehicle is Unspeakably Ugly. A real eyesore. In the same league as the Pontiac Aztec.

    • James
      January 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      In the same league as the Pontiac AzteK? No. Not at all. The Ridgeline is no cover model, granted, but the Aztek remains the sole occupant of the niche that it created.

      • January 9, 2012 at 8:21 pm

        Yeah – and like its looks or not, the Ridgeline isn’t a stupid vehicle. The Asstek is.

        Interesting gossip: A guy I know, who worked at GM, told me that the person in charge of the Asstek design team was the son of a high-up GM executive and because of this, no one would dare say out loud that the Asstek was a horrible idea and should be aborted before it ever saw the light of day….

  3. Bryce
    January 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    A similar vehicle would be the Subaru Baja, which was Subaru’s attempt at resurrecting the beloved Brat. It has a 4 cylinder engine and is based on the Outback wagon, but is a good choice, IMHO, for people who want some truck capability. The Ridgeline has a V6 and larger bed, though, for bigger jobs, so that may be a better choice…anyone else out there know much about the Baja?

    • January 9, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      The Brat… brings back memories!

      Remember those rear-facing jumpseats? Gives you a sense of how much things have changed, now vs. then. An automaker could never offer such a feature today. It’s not “safe” – and, what about the children?

    • mikehell
      January 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      Bryce,
      I was just looking at the Baja as an alternative to a truck. I’d prefer a gently used Tacoma extra cab, but “gently used Tacoma” and “less than $15K” are two conditions that seldom intersect. The Baja can be hard to track down but most are reasonably priced. The Ridgeline would be ideal for me needs but it’s too expensive and the poor MPG makes me kvetch.

  4. SojournerMoon
    January 9, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    I have never understood the purpose of the Ridgeline. If you go to the Honda website, they show pictures of it clothed in mud and shot in the jungle. Yet anyone who knows anything about trucks, offroading, or jungles knows that this makes about as much sense as Paris Hilton on a farm in Arkansas. I think the closest descriptor I can come up with for this vehicle is that it’s the crossover of pickups, and that’s not a compliment.

    I’m a car guy, but I’m also a truck guy. I grew up in trucks, learned to drive in a truck, and if you forced me to have only one vehicle in the garage, it would be a truck. Yes. A “real” truck. I’m really glad that this Ridgeline exists if only because it is another example of the marketplace attempting to address a need that some part of the market has. I’m just clearly not in that market. But I’ve also never figured out the El Camino/Ranchero thing, either. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

    When this first came out on the market a few years back it was way overpriced, as someone else mentioned earlier. You could get a Chevrolet Avalanche, a much nicer vehicle, for far less money. Granted, price has crept up on the Avalanche while the Ridgeline has remained fairly stable. That may have a lot to do with how outdated it is, now, too. Yet to me, I’d much rather spend a little more and get real 1/4 ton pickup, aside from reliability concerns.

    The Ridgeline is an ugly duckling no matter how you look at it. It’s not a particularly good truck, but it’s also not a particularly good anything else. It seems to be the “truck” that auto journalists love to pick as their favorite simply because they hate driving trucks.

    I could pick apart all the faults with it that I see as a truck guy, but that would take too long. I’ll just point out that 15/21 is poor gas mileage for this segment. If I can get a 2012 Avalanche with more room, more payload, more towing, more power, more performance, and that weighs more yet gets identical gas mileage, then Honda is doing something terribly wrong. Plus you get storage cubbies in the fenders that don’t require you to open the tailgate or unload all your stuff in the bed to get to them, a fold down rear wall that effectively extends the length of the bed to full-sized standards (and provides a nice way to turn the bed into a camp-out shelter). Yes the price may be a bit more, but I see sales on Avalanches all the time (just like all domestic full-size trucks) that would put it’s out-the-door price at less than the base price of a Ridgeline, and you hardly ever see deals on Hondas.

    I think the one thing that Ridgeline might have going for it is it’s more of a very large mid-size than a full-size truck. Kind of a 9/10ths pickup. I’m sure there’s someone out there that has figured out what’s good about that, but I haven’t found them yet.

    • BrentP
      January 10, 2012 at 12:17 am

      El Camino/Ranchero/Falcon Ute is for people like me. People who don’t have to haul or tow heavy stuff (well nothing that weighs more than 3 adult passengers could) but would like to be able to move big stuff, dislike driving trucks/vans/etc, prefer a muscle/pony car type of vehicle, and who have no need to haul kids around.

      In other words someone who could use a cargo oriented passenger car that isn’t a station wagon and doesn’t have a roof limiting what will fit in the cargo area.

      • dom
        January 10, 2012 at 1:12 am

        I can haul a complete V-8 long block and trans in my El Camino along with a bunch of other stuff at the same time. The air adjustable shocks in the rear are the deal. Good explanation BrentP.

      • January 10, 2012 at 10:42 am

        I could go for an El Camino for just those reasons. I don’t use my trucks to go off-roading. I use them mostly to haul large/unwieldy/dirty stuff. Old engines (like Dom) or stuff from Home Depot… or the trash, to the green boxes down the road.

        When the time comes ti replace “Buttercup” (the gold ’98 Frontier) I may just start looking for an El Camino or Ranchero!

    • January 10, 2012 at 10:52 am

      I understand where you’re coming from – as a truck owner myself. But I also like the Ridgeline concept, even if the execution could have been better.

      As others have already mentioned, it is like the old El Camino in that you can haul bulky/dirty stuff in the back but it still rides and drives more like a car. That’s appealing, if you need to carry bulky/dirty stuff fairly often, but never go off-road and so don’t need 4WD and don’t want the less-than-great handling of a real truck.

      One of the points I mentioned in the review is that the Ridgeline will have better poor weather traction (and handling) on-road than a 2WD (rear drive, light in the ass) truck. I can tell you this is true from personal/professional experience. To get equivalent snow traction in a real truck, you need 4WD – which usually costs a lot more than the 2WD version. But even then, real 4WD is not designed for paved road/dry road handling, as you know. In fact – and I mention this for those who may not know – most truck manufacturers tell you not to engage 4WD on dry, paved roads because of the increased wear and tear.

      So, while I might not buy this particular vehicle myself, I do get the concept. Its main flaw, as I see it, is the poor gas mileage. If it returned a solid 8-10 MPG better than an otherwise similar real truck, it’d be a winner.

    • Ken
      January 24, 2012 at 7:29 am

      It’s real simple. The Ridgeline is for those of us who don’t want an F-150 or a RAM 1500 to begin with. Towing? Don’t need it. Hauling very heavy loads? Couldn’t care less. Boulder crushing and 4WD pulling stumps in monsoons? Nope.

      I need a car I can throw a YZ250 in the back of and occasionally extra traction and clearance to get where I’m going. That’s what a Ridgeline is. I care more about satellite radio, leather and heated seats than I do towing or 4WD low.

      To get what I want out of an F-150 is 48k+, and even then I’m not getting what I really want because the handling is still not as good and neither is the traction in the 99% of the time I spend driving around town. Meanwhile I can get everything I care about in a Ridgeline for $36k. All I lose is the crap I couldn’t care less about.

      The interior dash is ugly as hell though and the exterior could use some work.

      • January 24, 2012 at 10:11 am

        I like everything about the RL except its mileage and acceleration, both of which are mediocre at best. Now, if the mileage were significantly higher, the acceleration would not bother me. But it’s both borderline slow and thirsty.

        Land Rover models typically had the same problem. The new Evoque, however, is much better. It’s decently fuel efficient and pretty quick, too.

  5. chiph
    January 11, 2012 at 3:32 am

    Ridgeline rear-ended at 40mph by a F-350. Insurance total-lossed it, but the driver had no injuries and the body looks like it could have taken even more of a hit.

    Ridgeline Rear-ended

    http://www.ridgelineownersclub.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=58337&stc=1&d=1326121021

    • dom
      January 11, 2012 at 4:16 am

      Wow, the crumble zone worked perfect. That is excellent engineering right there!

    • January 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Very, very impressive.

      A 40 MPH rear-end hit by a massive (and full-frame) truck and the Ridge appears to still be drivable.

      Wow!

      • chiph
        January 11, 2012 at 4:42 pm

        It was indeed drivable (owner drove it to the insurance adjustor). The roofline had a small dimple in it, which is probably what put it over the edge so far as repairability, but otherwise, the damage was just to the back end and the rear set of doors.

  6. dbestplace
    January 12, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Those of us who own them, know how useful they are as well as nice to drive, especially on a long trip.
    Many RL owners still have trucks in their stables, they are just dedicated to what trucks do best. Carrying or towing big loads.
    What the RL does best is every day chores, light to medium hauling, and all weather long distance driving in comfort and safety.

  7. Flash O Matic
    January 13, 2012 at 3:23 am

    I have owned my Honda Ridgeline since Nov. of ’05, have put a little over 101,000 miles on it, and I have not had one mechanical issue with it. Except for a couple of minor fit/finish issues, it has been rock solid. All I have done is put new tires on it around 74k miles, new front brake pads, and changed fluids as per the maintenance schedule, and that’s it.

    I cannot say the same for the GM product I owned before I bought my Ridgeline. By the time I had a little over 100k miles on it, I had put over $5000 into it, and it still left me stranded about a 1/2 dozen times. Not only that, shortly after I sold it, when it had about 105k miles on it, the new owner had to have the tranny rebuilt to the tune of $2500.

    Finally, is the RL the truck for everybody…?…absolutely not. If you need a rock crawler, stump jumper, or need to pull 10,000 lbs., the RL is not the truck for you. But, if you want one of the best riding, best handling, most versitile, and safest trucks on the road…take a look at the RL.

    • January 13, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Thanks for the input, Flash!

      I’ve noticed RL owners are a very loyal group; your post gives us the reason why -

      • Flash O Matic
        January 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm

        Thanks Eric. Yes, RL owners are a very loyal group. I think part of it is because it is such a good vehicle, it is reliable, and just super-versitile.

        For the folks above who said they “don’t understand” the RL, or don’t like it for whatever reason, I would like to ask a question…have you ever spent an time behind the wheel of one? I think if you did, you would have a totally different view of the RL.

        Before I bought my RL, I actually looked at all the major full-size pickups, but decided they are just not for me. Just too big, wouldn’t fit in my garage, and averaging 12 MPG in mixed driving…it just did not make a lot of sense for me personally to buy a full-sized pickup.

        As I said above, the RL is not for everybody but, for me, it’s the perfect vehicle. I have the bed for hauling stuff back and forth from Home Depot and the like, for weekend projects. It has the lockable water-tight trunk when I keep my golf clubs in the summer and my shotguns/rifles during hunting season. It seats 5 comfortably, I have the piece of mind that it is one of, if not THE, safest trucks on the road, when I am driving around with my family, and it fits in my garage.

        Long story short, I am VERY happy with my RL, and would buy another in a heartbeat. Of course, I am waiting to see what Honda does with the ’13-’14 model years…as there are rumors that it will have a bigger engine, with more horsepower, a 6 speed AT, and will get better gas mileage. If that is the case, you will see a 2013-2014 RL sitting in my garage as soon as they become available.

        • January 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm

          Yup!

          I’m happy that Honda has decided to stick with it. As you probably know, there was a rumor that Honda was going to quietly drop the RL after the 2011 model year. But it appears there’s second-generation RL coming next year – which will apparently incorporate several of the updates you mention.

          It won’t happen, but I’d love to see turbo-diesel version. 30 MPG highway, excellent low-end torque. Kind of like the Q7 TDI – but not as pricey (and more everyday usable, too).

          • TimGo
            January 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm

            Excellent article Eric. I agree with the turbo diesel, but I would happily take an even 25mpg if it lost none of its current capability.

          • January 14, 2012 at 8:55 pm

            Thanks, Tim – and, me too!

          • Robin
            February 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm

            Thanks Guys for all the good comments. I bought my new Ridgeline as a SUV/Truck. I am a girly girl/hunter. I needed something I could go hunting in but yet have the nice vehicle to drive also. My last two vehicles have been Hondas and I love them. I traded my CRV in on my Ridgeline. I just love my new RL. It drives and rides great. My husband is a Chevy Z71 guy. Is he going to go get him a RL? No, but we know that the RL is not made for that kind of hauling that he does. He loves my RL and I just think the negative posts are not taking in consideration what the RL actually is made for.

          • February 11, 2012 at 6:03 pm

            Hi Robin,

            Sounds like you made the right choice! Good to have you with us, incidentally.

  8. leroy
    June 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    I have been into offroading my whole life. That being said, you would have to be a full-on retard to take a nice 20k+ truck offroad. That’s what dirtbikes, atvs, SxS’s, old beater trucks and rockcrawlers are for.
    For day to day usefulness i have found awd preferrable to a 4×4, as i dont have time to hit the button/pull the lever when a tire slips.
    I find the unitbody over frame to have a much better ride.

    I do wish they would direct inject it and put in a 6 speed like the touring odessey has. no excuses there. seems like it would get better power, better mpg and better towing.

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