Like Louis Vuitton boxing gloves, the 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport presents a stylish but brutish stance. In black, it looks like a street cruiser that would make any rapper proud, although chrome 22s would help. Buttresses from cab to bed walls give it a sleek side view. A straight up grille and a raised hood give the front bulldog style, while fender flares and big space in the wheel wells emphasize utility.
This truck also offers some surprising practicality, innovative engineering similar to the Magic Seat in the Honda Fit. The tailgate of the Ridgeline Sport opens in the traditional manner, down, but can also swing out. Smuggler compartments are buried under the bed floor, and this truck only comes as a crew cab, with a full four doors.
Honda connoisseurs will find the cabin design surprising, as big, bulky dials serve for temperature, fan, and volume control. A column shifter also seems out of place in a Honda, but the elimination of a long console frees up some space on the floor. Many convenient compartments hold odds and ends in the dashboard.
Tech? What tech?
As this is a CNET review, let's tackle the elephant in the room, or, more appropriately, lack thereof. The 2012 Ridgeline Sport's cabin electronics are about 20 years old. Green and black monochrome displays show the current radio station and air conditioning setting.
The head unit includes a single CD slot, and an auxiliary input comes standard. The most advanced feature of the Ridgeline Sport is that the stereo can play MP3 CDs. The volume and channel controls on the steering wheel are nice, but almost seem excessive with the limited audio sources. Music plays through a 100-watt, six-speaker system. The sound quality here is not terrible, just average. Bass is not very strong, although the highs are a little more distinct. The sound quickly distorts with the volume up high.
Honda offers neither navigation nor a Bluetooth phone system with the Ridgeline Sport, although these conveniences are included with the top-trim Ridgeline RTL, which goes for about $40,000. Driver assistance systems are also lacking, including a rear-view camera, which would be very useful for this truck.
As a pickup truck, the Ridgeline Sport differs from the breed defined by stalwarts such as the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram. Based on a front-wheel-drive platform, the 3.5-liter V-6 engine sits sideways. However, Honda only makes the Ridgeline Sport in a four-wheel-drive format, so the engine sends its 250 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission.
The column shifter takes a little strength to use, popping into each drive mode with determination. There is no manual gear selection here, just two low ranges and an overdrive lockout button that keeps the transmission in gears one through three. Without much in the way of modern fuel-saving technologies besides Honda's VTEC variable valve timing, the Ridgeline Sport only rates 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. CNET's example averaged 18.6 mpg after a combination of city and freeway driving.
The suspension may be independent, but it is also designed to handle real loads. The truck drives over the road with a feeling of solidity, strong springs maintaining tension as they absorb the bumps and holes in a typical U.S. road. The steering wheel turns easily, but does not feel overboosted. Although the bed is short, only 5 feet, the turning radius does not seems particularly tight. The general driving feel is uncomplicated, similar to Honda's cars.
Simple four-wheel drive
The drive system might make serious offroaders scoff, but it offers the same uncomplicated operation as the driving feel. The Ridgeline Sport generally biases torque to the front wheels, but will throw it to the rear wheels where traction is poor. However, at speeds under 18 mph and in the transmission's low ranges, a button on the dashboard locks the torque distribution, maintaining some power at the rear wheels.
In the few loose dirt areas we found to drive the Ridgeline Sport, there was not much opportunity to feel the rear wheels dig in. And the lack of a descent control mode limits the types of slopes we would want to bring it down.
As Ford shows with its F-150, just because a vehicle is a pickup truck does not mean drivers will not want useful cabin electronics features, giving Honda little excuse to restrict any tech to the top-trim Ridgeline. The complete lack of cabin tech in the 2012 Ridgeline Sport is even more surprising when considering the modern exterior design. The driveline tech is not the most modern, which shows up in the mediocre fuel economy. But the Ridgeline Sport earns points for its tough suspension and easy four-wheel-drive system.
|Model||2012 Honda Ridgeline|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/21 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.6 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||None|
|Digital audio sources||Auxiliary input|
|Audio system||100-watt six-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$30,925|