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How does the 2017 Honda Ridgeline stack up to the competition?

Can Honda go from worst to first with the new 2017 Ridgeline? We take a second look at it and the competition and make our best guess.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline made its world debut during the 2016 Detroit auto show.
Jon Wong/CNET

Historically speaking, the Honda Ridgeline has been the worst-selling pickup truck in the US for the last half a decade, but a ground-up redesign for the 2017 model debuting at the Detroit Auto show this week represents a new hope for the nameplate.

In 2014, Honda only sold 13,389 of 'em. For comparison, The Toyota sold more than 155,000 Tacomas and over 750,000 new Ford F-150s rolled into driveways during that same year. Of course, comparing anything to the F-Series, America's best selling vehicle overall for 32 years running is a bit unfair, but the sales gap with the Toyota is just as telling. With nowhere to go but up, the shiny, new 2017 Honda Ridgeline spinning slowly on a pedestal in Detroit this week is a second chance for the Honda to make its mark on the American truck market.

Let's be clear that the new Ridgeline is not going toe to toe with the heavyweights -- your Ford F-Series, Ram 1500 or GM's Silverado/Sierra. Rather, its primary competitors are the current crop of midsize, 2016 model year pickups. I'm talking about Toyota's Tacoma, the Chevrolet Colorado (and its twin the GMC Canyon) and the Nissan Frontier; and specifically the V-6 variants of those models.

I hear what many of you are already saying, "The Ridgeline shares its platform with a crossover and is based on a front-wheel drive architecture. There's no way this is a real truck, right?" Well...

While Honda's not gotten very specific with the Ridgeline's specs, we can make educated guesses based on what we do know. The truck will share its ACE body structure, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel drive system with i-VTM4 terrain management software with the new 2016 Pilot SUV. The crossover-like unibody construction and front-biased architecture may not be as robust (on paper) as the competition for off-road excursions, but Honda's i-VTM4 terrain management software could help the Ridgeline to make up some lost ground on its more rugged cohorts. Even if it doesn't, the potential for better on-road manners still leaves the Honda well-suited for the plethora (and frankly majority) of things that need towing or hauling on pavement.

We can also assume that the Ridgeline will at least match the Pilot's 280 horsepower, 260 pound-feet of torque and max 5,000 pound towing capacity when equipped with AWD. Honda has also stated its second-generation Ridgeline's payload as "approaching 1,600 pounds."

Looking at the competition, the 2016 Toyota Tacoma 3.5L, 2016 Chevrolet Colorado 3.6L and the 2016 Nissan Frontier 4.0L are all well matched with the Honda's speculated numbers. The Colorado makes the most power at 305 ponies and the Frontier makes the most torque at 281 pound-feet, but on paper these engines all seem well matched. Let's call the Ridgeline's engine "on par" with the competition.

Only the Colorado's 1,580 pound payload seems to match the Honda's hauling ability. However, all three competitors best our 5,000 pound guess at the Honda's towing capacity, ranging from 6,300 pounds for the Nissan up to a class-leading 7,000 pounds for the Chevy. Changes to the towing hardware leading up to launch could help the Ridgeline to gain back some ground, but not likely enough.

Specs2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD (estimated)2016 Toyota Tacoma V6 4x42016 Chevrolet Colorado V6 4x42016 Nissan Frontier V6 4x4
Engine3.5L V-63.5L V-63.6L V-64.0L V-6
Torque (pound-feet)260265269281
Towing capacity (pounds)5,0006,5007,0006,300
Payload (pounds)1,6001,1751,5801,381

Combine the payload with the announcement that the Ridgeline will also have the widest flat loading floor of the class, and it starts to look like the Honda will be well suited for hauling, even if it's not the best choice for towing. The 48-inches between its wheel well intrusions will make it easier to load the Ridgeline up with plywood sheets, bulky furniture or other wide items. Consider also the extra accessibility of the dual-action tailgate and the additional, secure storage space in the in-bed trunk and the Ridgeline's bed starts to look the most functional way-back in the class.

Let's not forget that in-bed storage is both waterproof and drainable -- meaning it can double as a giant cooler in a pinch -- or the tailgate party friendliness of the available 400-watt in-bed audio system. This sounds like the kind of truck you could hang out with.

That's good, because you'd be spending a lot of time with whatever truck you choose. In addition to being tools for work and toys for play, most trucks are also daily-driven commuter machines. So, being easy to live with and well-appointed matters more than you'd think.

The Ridgeline breaks out of the gate with a standard multiangle rearview camera. Of the competition, only the Colorado also makes the camera standard; it's optional on the other two.

Features2017 Honda Ridgeline2016 Toyota Tacoma2016 Chevrolet Colorado2016 Nissan Frontier
Rear cameraStandardOptionalStandardOptional
Advanced driver aidsLDW, LKAS, FCW, CMBS, BSM, LaneWatch camera BSM, RCTALDW, FCWN/A
Noteworthy dashboard techHondaLink with Android Auto, Apple CarPlayToyota Entune with Entune appsChevy MyLink with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, OnStar 4G LTE w/ WiFiNissanConnect smartphone apps

Speaking of options, the Honda Sensing suite of driver aid features brings lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning with collision mitigation braking and road departure mitigation to the class, as well as either a Honda LaneWatch camera or blind-spot monitoring system. The Taco makes due with just optional blind spot monitoring, but no intervention systems. The Colorado has optional forward collision and lane departure warnings, but also no intervention. The Frontier is the worst of the bunch with nothing beyond its optional rear camera. For drivers who think of their truck as the family car, the Honda starts to look pretty good.

In the cabin, the Ridgeline appears to be equipped with the same HondaLink infotainment stack as the Pilot, which means navigation powered by Garmin and Aha by Harman powering a smattering of connected features. However, Honda did announce that the Ridgeline would launch with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The Colorado is really the only truck that can match that sort of tech with its excellent MyLink system with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and available OnStar 4G LTE with in-car Wi-Fi.

Though the first impression was a troubling one and its history even more troubling, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline looks pretty good on a second glance. No, it may not be poised to rule the class, but at the very least the Honda finally looks worthy of consideration again and should be uniquely suited to slot nicely into a range of niche uses for urban drivers more interested in Ikea runs, trips to Home Depot and tailgating on the weekend than getting stuck in the mud or towing boats.

At the very least, it looks like a regular truck now.

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