Put your big-tire, high-riding, monster-truck fantasies aside for a moment.
And, yeah, I understand that’s a pretty heretical request here in Texas, home to ponderous pavement-pounding SuperDutys and growling diesel-powered Rams dragging 20,000-pound trailers.
But we’re talking the 2020 Honda Ridgeline, a mid-size, car-based pickup so mild and practical it could cruise the mean green streets of San Francisco without attracting a single glare.
Think of the Ridgeline as the anti-pickup – and that may actually be an attribute.
Granted, it still looks like a couple of good ol‘ boys got hold of a Honda Pilot crossover one weekend, cut the back quarter off and welded on a pickup bed.
However, after a week spent with the unibody Ridgeline – and several days grumbling about its odd looks – I came to kind of value it.
Consider this: The Ridgeline can behave like a car when you want that or act like a truck when you need it, which might make spending $43,000 for one seem pretty darn rational.
Still, I admit, the brownish-gray all-wheel-drive RTL-E model I had looked pretty emasculated sitting next to a Chevy Colorado or even a Toyota Tacoma.
The Ridgeline’s medium-sized blacked-out grille and civilized swept-back headlamps appeared to have been borrowed from a crossover – as did its short hood and front fenders, and some of it probably was. The Ridgeline shares its powertrain and basic platform with the Pilot, the Passport and the Odyssey minivan.
Appropriately, a crisp generic character-line cut through its polished door-handles, while slightly flared fenders provided more than enough space for the vehicle’s car-like 18-inch gray wheels and 245/50 tires.
Even with all-wheel drive and a tough black liner in its 5.3-foot pickup bed, the truck’s proportions and lines just didn’t seem muscular and menacing enough to rate real-pickup status.
But as I keep reminding potential dates, looks can be deceiving.
My Ridgeline sported a standard 3.5-liter V-6 with 280 horsepower, mated to a new, well-sorted 9-speed automatic transmission.
Though the truck can’t tow quite as much as other mid-sizers with body-on-frame bones – it’s rated at 3,500 to 5,000 pounds – its lively V-6 packs solid low-end power and will wind eagerly to 6,500 rpm.
Moreover, the Ridgeline can accelerate to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, according to Car and Driver, which is about as quick as its competitors.
More important maybe, it handles and rides better than any of the conventional body-on-frame trucks I’ve driven, thanks to its car-like platform and independent rear suspension.
Around town, the Ridgeline tackles potholes and bad pavement with a mildly firm suspension, stepping over imperfections like an agile sport sedan and carving low-speed corners like a good crossover.
On the highway to Midlothian, it stretched out nicely, gobbling up ribbons of concrete as effortlessly as any SUV or crossover.
The truck also had a nifty locking 7.3 cubic-foot in-bed trunk with a drain – just in case you wanted to ice down a case of, uh, pop.
And despite the drag and weight of all-wheel-drive, the 4,400-pound Ridgeline can get overall fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon.
My only mild complaints were with the truck’s numb steering and slightly weak brakes. I’m a car-guy accustomed to the retina-stretching stopping-power of high-performance vehicles.
Nonetheless, I wouldn’t hesitate to drive the Ridgeline to San Francisco – assuming, of course, that they allow Texans in.
Like the exterior, the black interior of the truck felt more SUV-ish than pure pickup.
Its upper dashboard was flat, for example, overseeing a mid-dash dominated by an 8-inch touchscreen whose audio component required me to use the screen to tune the radio and control the volume.
The system also offered Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, as well as safety features like active cruise-control, lane-keeping assist and road-departure mitigation.
But let me ask you this: How does a smart automaker like Honda conclude that anything requiring me to take my eyes off the road to tune or turn up the radio is a good idea?
Beats me. The Ridgeline’s broad console, at least, was pretty user-friendly with simple push-buttons for the automatic transmission borrowed from Acura and the Honda Accord.
I also liked the truck’s door-panels with their squared-off tops and slender swaths of glossy-black trim that matched the trim around the touchscreen.
Likewise, the Ridgeline’s seats looked fairly upscale with smooth bolsters and perforated centers, though leg-room in back was a bit limited.
My well-equipped RTL-E model did not have a single option.
Sure, I wish Honda’s designers had butched up the Ridgeline and given it the sort of dusty-cowpoke exterior befitting a truck.
But even with its dude-ranch looks, the Ridgeline can match any mid-size pickup for total utility and that definitely qualifies it as a truck.
2020 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E Review
What I liked most: The Ridgeline’s refined car-like manners and truck-like capabilities.
What I would change: Give me a more truckish body, please, to better disguise those car-like manners.
MSRP: Base price, $42,020 for the RTL-E model; as equipped, $43,140.
Official color: Pacific Pewter Metallic.
Fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon in town, 24 on the highway and 21 mpg combined with filler on the left.
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July 7, 2020 @ 9:47pm
2019 Ridgeline owner
First, I absolutely love my Ridgeline. My brother, who owns an F150, calls it an urban truck. Great description, even though he considers it an insult. It's comfortable, it's utilitarian and it's loaded with luxury items. I can hit the town and fit right in or haul landscaping supplies on the weekend.
I don't understand your requirement to use the audio screen to change the volume or the channels. You can use the handy controls on the steering wheel or voice control instead. You failed to mention the dual opening tailgate or the in-bed speakers, or even the electrical hookup in the bed.
I drive mine on vacation because of the comfort and convenience as well as the sheer fun of driving it. You should probably read the manual before you write these reviews as you left out quite a bit.