Test Drive: 2017 Honda Ridgeline

A not-so-traditional truck that picks up speed and handles seamlessly

by Justin Kaehler

Honda is looking to shake up the truck market—again. The company has just introduced its second-generation Ridgeline mid-size pick-up truck—delivering what the brand believes is the ideal blend of real-truck capability with real-city comfort. We recently took delivery of a 2017 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition and drove it from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, with a few runs to Joshua Tree National Park for good measure. Having spent a lot of time behind the wheel of more “traditional” trucks, this latest Ridgeline is nothing less than a revelation.

To explain why, let’s back up for a minute. Despite the additions of heated seats and backseat DVD players, most trucks are still workhorses at heart. Their rides are choppy, with vague handling and steering that is more a suggestion than direct input. Parking requires focus and patience, as squeezing one of these behemoths into a space can require a 10-point turn or two, and even then you’ll likely hit something in the process.

The Ridgeline, on the other hand, drives just like a Honda. What this means is that on the long stretch of freeway between LA and Palm Springs, the Ridgeline delivers a smooth, confident ride. Its 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6, rated at 280 horsepower, easily gets this truck up to freeway speeds—and then some. And with its quiet, leather-trimmed cabin, heated front seats and Apple CarPlay, this truck makes the three-hour drive a supremely comfortable one.

Once we hit Joshua Tree, things just get better. The main road that winds through the park is a driver’s dream with smooth asphalt, perfect switchbacks and epic scenery as far as the eye can see. As the view is the main attraction here, taking it easy is the ideal way to go. And the Ridgeline is more than up to the task, responding well to steering input while feeling flat and stable in the corners.

A quick turn onto Joshua Tree National Park’s Geology Trail reveals nature’s rockier side. A bumpy, 18-mile long path, flanked with awe-inspiring rock formations, this trail takes one deep into the heart of the park. It’s a seemingly tame road, but the uneven terrain can eat up and shake apart a standard road car. Per park rules, four-wheel drive and ample ground clearance is required. While not equipped with a “true” 4WD system, the Ridgeline gets an intelligent AWD system that utilizes computers and mechanical magic to maximize traction. When faced with the wet, loose and granular surface of Geology Trail, our Honda confidently charged forward with very few issues.

That said, this trail is rutted in such a way that the Ridgeline’s ride does turn buzzy and harsh. A dedicated off-road machine would have a larger tire and softer suspension to help smooth things out, but in the city-based Honda this vibration and noise comes front and center. This truck won’t ever win the King of the Hammers extreme off-road race, but it will still get to and from most campsites with ease.

Back in the tonier parts of Palm Springs, however, the Ridgeline feels right at home. Visually, this newest version is leaner than its forebear, feeling sleek up front and finished simply in the rear. And the none-more-black finish of this Black Edition adds an extra bit of sophistication, making the truck feel like it was designed more for a night on the town than a day on the ranch.

That’s not to say the Ridgeline isn’t practical. Its dual-mode tailgate makes loading things—including full-width sheets of plywood—a breeze. And the locking in-bed storage provides a discreet place to stash extra cargo, or simply provide a mobile cooler for those who live to tailgate. Best of all, this Honda is incredibly easy to park, removing the stress one finds when trying to take a truck downtown. Just find a spot, turn in and you’re done.

We can’t help but think that the Honda Ridgeline offers the right amount of truck for the majority of truck buyers. In terms of truck cred, it can tow up to 5,000 pounds, carry up to 1,500 pounds in the bed, and handle most light off-road duties. It’s perfect for those who like to get outdoors—just load up the dirt bikes, kayaks or camping gear and get the adventure started. And for those who never leave the city, this truck’s calm, smooth ride and easy-to-drive character will keep you covered.

Images by Justin Kaehler