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Tow, trail and tailgating: 2017 Honda Ridgeline crosses all of its T's

Yes, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline is a real truck. Despite its unibody construction, at which some truck guys turn up their noses, the Ridgeline is capable of meeting the towing and hauling needs of most midsize truck buyers, whether that's taking the boat out for the weekend, hauling the S2000 to track day or just helping a friend or family member move house.

Like the previous generation, this new 2017 Ridgeline is teeming with clever features that make it easy to live with as a daily driver, a clever bed that features a dual-action tailgate and in-bed trunk, and a spacious cabin that's just as flexible as the bed out back. Unlike the previous generation, the new model features a conventional truck-shaped silhouette that's much more attractive than the old model, which sort of looked like the Pizza Hut logo when viewed from the side.

280-horsepower V-6 engine

It's no secret that the Honda Ridgeline is powered by the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine that you'll find breathing life into the 2016 Pilot SUV. In both vehicles, the engine is rated at 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. That torque is multiplied by a six-speed automatic transmission, the only gearbox available to the Ridgeline, and is either sent to the front wheels or split between all four wheels via Honda's i-VTM4 on-demand all-wheel drive system with Intelligent Terrain Management (ITM) software.

The all-wheel drive system is capable of torque vectoring (actively sending power to the outside wheels) when cornering to reduce the turning radius, and reverse torque vectoring (boosting torque to the inside) while changing lanes at highway speeds to improve stability. Meanwhile, the ITM software has programs to optimize traction on the road and in snowy, muddy and sandy off-road conditions.

The all-wheel drive Ridgeline is rated at 18 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 21 mpg combined. This estimate is reinforced by my average of 23.6 mpg over a day (and well over 100 miles) of testing. The Ridgeline features an Eco mode, activated by a button on the dashboard, that tunes the throttle program for maximum efficiency, but I didn't use it during my time behind the wheel.

Add 1 mpg to each of those estimates for the front-wheel drive variant. Front-drive is a new option for this generation, added after Honda noticed that 66 percent of Toyota Tacomas sold in the large California market are 2WD models and that 63 percent of its own Pilot SUVs are sold in FWD configuration.

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We were able to test the Ridgeline's trailering capability by towing over 4,000 pounds of powersports equipment.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Unibody capability, not an oxymoron

The previous generation Ridgeline stood apart from the rest of its class due to its unibody construction, as opposed to the body-over-frame setup that most modern pickups use. This new 2017 model continues that tradition with a unibody that is 28 percent stiffer than the previous generation and significantly stiffer than its ladder-framed contemporaries.

Again, the Ridgeline shares its platform and chassis design with the new Pilot SUV, but about 50 percent of the suspension components and the truck's subframe have been beefed up, lightened or strengthened for the Ridgeline to better accommodate the conditions and demands of pickup truck stuff.

I was able to test the Ridgeline back-to-back with the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado on a medium-duty off-road test that included climbing a muddy incline, navigating loose sand, articulating over uneven terrain and climbing a very steep hill. I didn't negotiate any terrain as extreme as what I experienced while testing the Tacoma, but the Ridgeline remained composed over the course set before it.

Where the Ridgeline really stands apart from the competition is at speed on uneven, washboard dirt trails. Its stiffer chassis was significantly quieter over the ribbed surface at about 35 mph than either the Tacoma or Colorado and seemed to rattle and shake about less. Its independent multilink rear suspension was better able to soak up the bumps, which created a more planted feeling and better handling when booking it down a dirt trail. Of the three trucks, the Ridgeline is the one I'd pick if I had to spend an entire day in the saddle.

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The Ridgeline stands apart from the competition with much smoother handling at speed on washboard dirt surfaces.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Compared to the previous model, this new Ridgeline has a more truck like silhouette with a 90-degree transition between the bed and the cab that should help the Ridgeline appeal to those who, like me, found the previous model's design offputting. On the other hand, the new look is more generic, but that's often the other side of the double-edged sword of designing for broader appeal.

Gone are the buttresses between the cab and the bed which, in addition to improving the look, also improves side access to the truck's bed. Despite there being a panel cutline between the bed and cab, Honda assures me that the two parts are joined as one piece beneath the exterior panels. Joined from top to bottom via spot welds and industrial adhesive, the Ridgeline should avoid the bed shake that sometimes plagues conventional pickups over bumpy surfaces.

The Ridgeline boasts a 5,000-pound towing capacity for the all-wheel drive variant. That's middle of the road when compared to the likes of the Colorado and Nissan Frontier, but should be plenty for the average midsized pickup truck owner's expectations. I was able to test the Ridgeline while launching a small, 3,500-pound motorboat and, later, while trailering a Honda Pioneer side-by-side ATV and a TRX ATV with a combined weight of about 4,000 pounds. In both situations, I found the pickup to be capable of handling the loads with relative ease. Towing hardware to accommodate up to 600 pounds of tongue weight is standard equipment for the AWD Ridgeline, but optional trailer brake controllers were equipped for both of these demonstrations.

For the front-wheel driven Ridgeline, towing capacity drops to 3,500 pounds with a 420-pound tongue weight. The front-driven model also features a slightly lower ride-height. Payload, for both the FWD and AWD Ridgeline, is 1,584 pounds, enough to load an ATV, motorbike or a hell of a lot of mulch without significantly affecting the Ridgeline's on-road manners.

Self-contained tailgate party

Despite its more conventional silhouette, the Ridgeline's bed distinguishes itself with a few truly unique features. The most prominent is the dual-action tailgate, which swings vertically like a normal truck's and horizontally like a door to allow easy, right-up-to-the-bumper access to the bed, which is useful when lifting heavy objects into the rear of the truck.

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Filled to the brim with ice and bevs, the Ridgeline's in-bed trunk is great for tailgating.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Near the rear end of the bed, the Ridgeline features a locking sub-floor trunk that can accommodate a few bags of golf clubs or up to an 82-quart cooler. The trunk is also waterproof and features a removable drain plug in the bottom: Fill it up with ice and drinks and the Ridgeline's trunk can serve as its own cooler while tailgating.

The bed is also home to eight standard tie down points, has standard composite surfaces that won't rust and can be had with a 400-watt AC inverter at the upper trim levels, which can provide enough juice to power a 60-inch flatscreen TV and more.

The Ridgeline also features the industry's first truck bed audio system in its top RTL-E and Black models. When I say "truck bed audio", I mean in the audio comes from the bed itself, not speakers hidden in the bed. Honda has placed four exciters (sort of like the magnetic drivers that would move the cone on a conventional speaker) directly onto the backsides of the side and front panels of the bed, which transform the composite panels themselves into speakers. The system is completely sealed from the elements and will not be damaged by items like rocks or gravel carried in or rattling around the bed. Audio is loud and the quality is pretty alright, but not great. It's a quantity over quality sort of deal. The truck bed system disables the interior speakers when active, but cannot be used when the vehicle is in motion. (It deactivates at around 10 mph.)

Between the dual action gate, the powerful inverter, the in-bed trunk cooler and in-bed audio system, the Ridgeline is a self-contained tailgating machine.

Spacious functional cabin

Inside the cabin, the Ridgeline boasts more interior space than its competition with 109 cubic feet of breathing room split between its two rows.

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The rear seat folds up to make room for tall and bulky items inside the cabin.

Honda

The rear seats flip up and away, not unlike those of the Honda Fit, making room for tall items like a bicycle (with its front wheel in place) or a flatscreen TV in its box. When that rear seat is folded down, there's still enough room beneath it to hide a bag of golf clubs or a pair of large backpacks.

Infotainment functions are handled by either a 5-inch touchscreen receiver or a premium 8-inch unit. Both use capacitive touchscreens. Both systems are, no surprise, not much different from the Android-based rig we've seen (and generally loved) in the Honda Pilot. Navigation software and maps are provided by Garmin. Audio is produced by -- at the top level -- an eight-speaker, 540-watt audio system. The cabin is home to enough USB ports to power an entire family's gadgets: There are two high-power USB ports on the dashboard and two more on the second row.

Like the Accord and Civic of this generation, the Ridgeline supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay at launch. So, if you're not a fan of Honda's infotainment interface, you can bring your own by plugging in your supported phone.

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The Ridgeline proved itself during light offroading in a back-to-back comparison with the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

The Honda's cabin tech offerings are on par with my favorite Chevrolet Colorado's and head-and-shoulders better than the Tacoma's Entune setup. Factor in its much more spacious cabin, quieter ride and ability to fit bulky items inside its cabin thanks to its flexible rear seating, and the Honda starts to look pretty good.

Honda Sensing

Trucks typically aren't known for their high-tech features, but the Ridgeline steps up to the plate with the full suite of Honda Sensing driver aid technologies. The pickup is available with a well-sorted adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning with lane-keeping assisted steering, and a collision-mitigation auto-braking system with pedestrian detection. Rear cross traffic alert and automatic high beam assist headlamps add further to the list of optional driver-aid technologies. A rear camera is standard equipment. Drivers will have access to either Honda's Lanewatch blind-spot camera or a conventional, sensor-based blind-spot monitoring system depending on trim level.

Pricing

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline starts at $29,475 for the base RT 2WD trim level. Add $1,800 for the AWD variant of that model. RTS, Sport, RTL, RTL-T, RTL-E and Black trim levels add progressively more features, amenities and style. The fully-loaded RTL-E model comes in AWD only and with all of the bells and whistles in tow for $41,370. A Black special edition features shadowy, dark styling upgrades for a line-topping $42,870.

Editor's note: Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgements and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

 

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