2006 Honda Ridgeline
The 2006 Honda Ridgeline is the venerable Japanese manufacturer's first pickup design, and it has been very well received by the automotive press. Its cargo versatility ranges from a spacious, configurable interior in the vein of the we tested previously, to the pickup bed, which has a large trunk underneath.
Also like the Element, the Ridgeline has chunky styling that will polarize opinions as surely as will its country of origin. With a deliberately bold face and an Escalade EXT-esque buttress treatment between the cabin and the bed, the Ridgeline's distinctive exterior design cues may seem overwrought to America's dyed-in-the-wool pickup buyers.
But Honda has given the Ridgeline some heavy-duty bona fides, and while its towing and hauling capacity aren't eye-popping by any means, its combination of interior space and comfort, as well as innovative cargo options make it a viable family workhorse.
Buyers may be a little baffled by the Ridgeline's trim packages, which tie together unrelated features such as the moonroof and XM Satellite Radio. Our test car had the highest trim level, which includes moonroof and navigation options. Including destination charge, our 2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL has an suggested price of $35,190.
The 2006 Honda Ridgeline comes well equipped with tech options when outfitted at the highest trim level: RTL with moonroof and GPS navigation. This package also adds XM Satellite Radio (including three months of service) and a convenient auxiliary input jack for an MP3 player. No provision for Bluetooth cell phone interaction is offered. The list of other available (sometimes dealer-installed) accessories is extensive, although our test car included none of them. They include an iPod interface ($199), a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with video-in RCA jacks ($2,028), a tailgate-mounted rearview camera (only when navigation-equipped, $497), and a lockable tonneau cover ($1,199). While we appreciated our car's inclusion of the auxiliary audio input, it's available with only the highest trim level. Likewise, ordering the moonroof is the sole way to get XM Satellite Radio.
The Honda Ridgeline's navigation and audio systems can be controlled with voice commands, which work much better than the joystick/button combo.
Once you've hashed out these decisions, however, the Ridgeline's interior impresses in most regards. The RTL package includes heated leather seats with eight-way power adjustment, including lumbar support for the driver, heated side mirrors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Legroom is vast in front and ample in the backseat, which splits 60/40 with each part folding up and clicking into position against the rear cabin wall with a simple pull of a lever. Even with the rear seats down, a good amount of storage space is available underneath them.
The huge center-console storage area also permits simple configuration. A pinch latch lets the cup holder area slide forward, exposing the CD storage on the cabin floor beneath. This lower area has movable dividers and a sliding, rubber-topped shelf that can cover the front or back half. The center armrest slides forward to an extended position for cruising and tilts rearward to open yet another storage area. Two 12-volt jacks are mounted on the lower dashboard next to the seat-heater switches, and there's a third in the rear cabin. The middle third of the rear window is power-sliding.
The Ridgeline's cabin electronics are similar to what we've seen lately on other navigation-equipped Hondas and Acuras. They include a good-size touch screen and a row of hard buttons, including an easily touch-recognizable zoom rocker on the edge nearest the driver. A joystick button is also present, though happily we managed to avoid it completely; the steering wheel controls for cruise control, audio mode, channel up/down, and volume were part of the reason. Cabin occupants can set climate control with two large knobs and a few large buttons.
But the best input method of all is the voice-recognition system, which accepts spoken street names. Entering intersections for urban destinations is a very rapid process: click the steering wheel button, say the street name, and touch the name on the screen (assuming it's in the first five returned--a good bet when you've narrowed down the possibilities to a city). Repeat for the other street and touch the screen once more: the system calculates the route. The male- or female-voiced routing instructions are helpful but don't include street names, which seems curious given the system's ability to recognize them aurally. The current street is displayed visually at the bottom of the map.
The 160-watt audio system consists of an in-dash six-CD changer that loads from behind the main screen. The screen's power-tilting movement has a nice initial wow factor but conjures visions of 10-year-old Ridgelines with screens stuck permanently open or closed. Help is already on hand in the form of aftermarket dash kits for clean conversion to a single- or double-DIN installation. Seven speakers, including a subwoofer, deliver solid sound. You can adjust the sound through the main screen, which also displays satellite-radio song information.
The rear gate on the Ridgeline can lever down or swing out. Plus, there's a sizable trunk under the bed.
Moving back to the pickup bed, we see that Honda's innovative thinking and genre-defying use of unibody construction and an independent rear suspension have paid off. The space freed up under the bed goes to a watertight, lockable trunk measuring an impressive 8.5 cubic feet. Simply lift the rear half of the steel-reinforced composite bed for access. The space-saver spare tire sits aft of the trunk opening on a sliding tray (a full-size spare is optional). The trunk well also features a drain plug, making it a tailgater's best friend--ice and beverages not included. The tailgate itself incorporates another nice touch: it can open both flat to the bed or on a left-side hinge, allowing it to swing out of the way for loading the bed or trunk.
The 2006 Honda Ridgeline is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that generates 247 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque in this application. It manages to get the hefty 4,498-pound Ridgeline up to speed well enough, but it won't win any drag races--the Ridgeline ain't got a Hemi. The lack of more grunt power may seem too large a concession, given this market segment's image requirements and competitors' larger engine options, but the aluminum-alloy engine revs freely, thanks to VTEC variable valve timing on the single-overhead cams. Heavy-duty cooling units augment both the electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission and the variable-assist power steering system. The main radiator has a second fan to ensure nothing gets cooked under hard use.
The Ridgeline's engine may seem small by pickup standards, but Honda's tech gives it a ULEV-2 emissions rating.
Power is routed to all four wheels through Honda's VTM-4 torque-management system, which features a push-button-locking rear differential for low-traction starts or for use when stuck. The Ridgeline uses a drive-by-wire throttle system that functions transparently and with convincing feel in normal driving. Under normal conditions, most power goes to the front wheels, but VTM can shift as much as 70 percent of available torque to the rears.
Honda's engine technology allows the Ridgeline to achieve EPA fuel-economy ratings of 16mpg in the city and 21mpg on the highway. The Ridgeline's ULEV-2 emissions status is an impressive feather in its cap.
The RTL offers a 1,554-pound payload capacity and can tow 5,000 pounds with a prewired trailer connection. The bed is wide enough to hold four-foot-wide sheets of plywood and can be fitted with motorcycle wheel guides, among numerous other custom cargo options.
The 2006 Honda Ridgeline's height and weight require sophisticated chassis-control electronics to ensure that the driver remains in control. The standard Vehicle Stability Assist system works with the antilock braking sensors to regain traction by braking spinning wheels, and the brake-force-distribution system (also standard) is especially important for panic stops due to the pickup configuration's inherent front weight bias. Brakes are 12.6-inch vented discs in front and 13.1-inch solid discs at the rear. Solid unibody construction with an integrated closed-box frame add up to five-star front- and side-impact NHTSA crash ratings. Dual-stage and side-impact air bags protect both front passengers, with additional side-curtain air bags deploying in the event of a rollover. A tire-pressure monitoring system is standard.
The Ridgeline's basic warranty is good for three years or 36,000 miles, and five years or 60,000 miles on the power train. The basic warranty period includes free roadside assistance. The first scheduled tune-up is at 105,000 miles.