2017 Honda Ridgeline long-term update: Towing a race car
Can our little unibody truck haul a desert race car? We find out.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
There is a reason America loves her trucks. We, as a country, have stuff, and that stuff must often be moved.
Although our long-term Honda Ridgeline's unibody construction and independent suspension calls its truck credibility into question, its bed holds a payload of about 1,500 pounds and it's rated to tow 5,000 pounds. Now, I don't have a lot of stuff, but I do have a race car that needed to get from the garage to the open desert for a suspension-testing session.
Backing the Ridgeline up to a trailer is pretty easy thanks to its rearview camera, and my trailer's electronic module plugged right into the Ridgeline with no hiccups. I threw some spare tires in the bed, drove Car 1617 on to the trailer and was on my way.
Part of my drive included a steady downhill highway section where the brakes were forced to provide most of the stopping power. The Ridgeline doesn't have a towing mode to help with engine braking, or a trailer brake controller to utilize brakes installed on a trailer. Instead, I put the transmission in Low, which kept the truck from shifting above third gear. It helped to keep the truck at a steady pace without using the truck's brakes too much, but I would have welcomed the ability to actually choose my own gear and have a bit more control.
Still, the Ridgeline handled the 3,000-plus pound trailer quite easily. The trailer didn't sway at all and the 3.5-liter V6 had enough power to stay close to or in the powerband, even on the return trip going up the hill. Putting the transmission in D4 locks out the top gear, which was enough to keep my lighter load motivating over the hill, but still doesn't allow for the manual selection of gears.
The Ridgeline occupies a very unique space in the truck world as its independent suspension means it drives more like a car. It still has the same functionality of a truck, but it's dialed down a bit. The Chevrolet Colorado can tow up to 7,700 pounds and the venerable Toyota Tacoma is rated at 6,800 pounds, while the aging Nissan Frontier is rated at 6,710 pounds. The trade-off? The leaf-spring suspension in the rear of a traditional pickup can make for an uneven ride.
Frankly, I'm not sure I would want to tow anything heavier than my race car and open trailer with the Ridgeline, at least not routinely. Towing at the limit puts stress on the engine, brakes and transmission, and while the Ridgeline handled my needs with ease, I would want something bigger to tow 5,000 pounds on a regular basis. Plus, the absence of a towing mode and an integrated trailer brake makes pulling heavier loads a bit dicey. But, if smaller cargo is your jam, the Ridgeline does very nicely.