Road Trip: Honda Ridgeline Review

You’re not alone if you don’t think of Honda when starting to consider buying a pickup truck. Honda only makes two trucks—the mid-size Ridgeline and the Japanese specific utility truck (or Kei Class) Acty. The Ridgeline is only available in one body style: a crew cab with a short bed. The first Ridgeline was available as a 2006 model year and that first version won the North American Car of the Year. The first generation runs from 2006-2014 and after a short break in production it’s now in its second generation which started with a 2017 model year.

The core of our test was based around the four of us (kids are now 3 and 6) on a 300-mile round trip from Boulder to a dispersed camping spot in Wyoming. Only three of those miles were on a dirt road, but it was a pretty rough dirt road. It was also used around town for going to the pool, the beach, and grocery shopping.

Our test vehicle was the 2020 Ridgeline ATW RTL-E. That’s the third highest trim offered, the highest being the Black Edition, and the two lower ones are the Sport and RTL. The RTL-E starts at $42,020 and minus the destination and handling fee, that’s the as-driven price of the truck we had.

Handling 

The Ridgeline was designed around a comfortable driving experience and it delivered handsomely on that front. With most of our miles on paved roads, the coil-sprung independent rear suspension helps the Ridgeline ride more like a car than other trucks in its class with a solid-axle and leaf-sprung suspension. The nine-speed automatic transmission delivered smooth and easy power to the wheels. We never took corners very hard so we never had any concern with body sway.

The only real concern discovered was the adaptive cruise control (ACC). On the freeway, with the cruise control set and the following distance at the maximum, the Ridgeline would hold speed even when the indicator showed it sensed the vehicle ahead of us. It wasn’t until we were almost uncomfortably close that the Ridgeline ACC applied the brakes to match the speed of the vehicle in front of us. The ACC also had a hard time on two-lane roads where on curves to the right it would spot and react to traffic in the oncoming lane and jostle our speed as it figured out that vehicle wasn’t in our lane. Almost every other vehicle I’ve tested with adaptive cruise has performed better.

Off road the Ridgeline did fine. The last mile or so to our campsite was on a dirt road that started off nice and grated, but soon devolved into being pretty chunky with large rocks and potholes slowing us down to a crawl—especially on one particular steep section and when fording through a small river. I’m sure we used most of the 7.8 inches of ground clearance. I did switch the Intelligent Traction Control to “Mud” but can’t say I noticed a difference in our particular conditions. I can say we did not get stuck or ever worried about being stuck nor did we bottom out.

For the 2020 version Honda replaced the center console stick shifter with a push button configuration which is gaining popularity. They did well to change up the Reverse button action so it’s differentiated from the other selections. At first I was annoyed with always having to look for where to find Drive or Park, but over time I got used to the feel and could easily find the setting I was looking for. Still, it’s not as intuitive or ergonomic as the GMC Acadia AT4 for those 10-point turnaround situations.

Hauling

We didn’t haul a trailer this time, but our AWD configuration is rated to tow up to 5,000 pounds (the FWD versions are rated at 3,500 pounds), which comes in on the low end of its class but is still a useful amount.

The short bed is 51 inches wide by 60 inches long to equate to 33.9 cubic feet of space. This, plus the unique in-bed trunk space (an additional 7.3 cubic feet of lockable, weather tight volume) was perfect for us to haul all of our camping gear into the mountains (and we don’t go light when car camping). The composite bed surface was grippy and resisted getting bashed by hard large objects being thrown in. There are eight cleat style tiedown points, each placed in the high and low points of each corner to tie down gear. I did wish at one point for another cleat at the midpoint of the sidewalls, but it wasn’t necessary.

In the cab, we had kids seats strapped to the rear bench and the kids had enough room. Without the kid seats back there, it’s actually reasonably spacious for an adult. There’s 2.9 cubic feet of storage under the bench and if it’s only two in the truck, the rear bench folds up and offers a nice stretch of flat floor for internal storage right to the ceiling.

The Ridgeline does accommodate an optional roof rack, so there’s some extra hauling space if needed.

Efficiency 

After filling the 19.5 gallon tank to the brim, the computer suggested we had 400 miles of range. The EPA rates the Ridgeline at 19 mpg for city driving and 26 for on the highway. After the 300 mile trip to the mountains the truck computer calculated our average to be 24.9 mpg.

Amenities 

The Ridgeline brings some unique features to a pickup truck. Most notable, and mentioned briefly above, is the in-bed trunk space. This sits at the back of the truck bed and opens just like the trunk of a car. It’s where the spare tire and related changing tools are tucked away (meaning only the rear half of the truck bed needs to be unloaded to access the spare when needed—sure to be a thrilling experience on the side of the road). It’s weathertight and lockable. There are also dividers available to segment the space.

The multi-function tailgate opens sideways as well as drops down like a traditional tailgate. The sideways open configuration is great for easier access to the trunk space or reaching further up into the bed without climbing in—and it made it so my 3-year-old could climb in on his own using the bumper.

For electrical power the Ridgeline has a 12v and USB-A port in the front console, and a set of those in the center console plus the aux port. There are two USB-A ports in the rear of the center console for the second row passengers. Bummed they haven’t adapted to the new USB-C plug yet. The bed of the truck has a 115v/400w AC plug but it does not accommodate a third (ground) prong which basically eliminated the possibility of me powering my Dometic cooler or my Traeger Ranger grill via the truck. Instead I hauled a Goal Zero Yeti 1400 along to run those (which was way over kill).

Comfort 

In the cab, the design feels spacious and open. The sightlines are really good and the infotainment center sports an 8-inch display and offers Apple Play. The down side is the lack of a volume knob. There are volume controls on the steering wheel as well, but I did miss the easy function and tactile feel of a volume knob. 

The tri-zone climate control, especially being able to control the temperature in the back seat, was much appreciated on our trips in managing the kids and their comfort.

Family Friendly 

The back seat includes the LATCH system for strapping in car seats for kids but the rear anchor point is down by the side of the bench. One of our car seats had enough webbing to thread through the anchor pivot and down to the latch, but the other one was too short and required some creative connecting. There’s also a child-lockout that needs to be engaged under the latch on the sidewall of each door. The Ridgeline has tinted rear windows but does not have built in sunshades.

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