Guess which pickup truck has the top reliability rating of any consumer truck sold in the United States. Two hints: It's built by a company that's known for fuel-efficient car, and it's not one of the best-selling trucks in the country.
The answer: The Honda Ridgeline.
Introduced in spring 2005 as Honda's first pickup, the Ridgeline isn't a brawny brute capable of towing 8,500 pounds and climbing over sizable rocks off road.
Rather, the Ridgeline is a four-door, five-passenger, four-wheel drive, mid-size truck that's agile for everyday driving and comfortable for outdoor getaways on less-aggressive off-road terrain. Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.
And the Ridgeline remains the only truck with some innovative features, such as a lockable trunk in the floor of its pickup bed and a tailgate that can flip down the usual way or swing out, like a car door, for easier access to the bed. The Ridgeline also has car-like unibody construction to help provide a smooth ride.
Unlike many other trucks, there's no bargain-basement version of Ridgeline, which helps to explain the lagging sales.
The well-equipped Ridgeline has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, with destination charge, of $29,160. This includes a V-6, five-speed automatic transmission and standard four-wheel drive and compares with $26,840 for a V-6-powered, 2010 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab SE with four-wheel drive and automatic transmission.
A 2010 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab with four doors, V-6, four-wheel drive and automatic transmission has a starting retail price of $27,550.
The Frontier and Tacoma have body-on-frame construction typical of trucks. They also are offered in lower-priced versions that have less equipment. For example, a 2010 Tacoma with regular cab with only front seats, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission starts at $16,145.
Clearly, Honda officials had something different in mind for the crew cab-only Ridgeline, and it was mostly the owners of Honda cars like the Accord and Civic who also have pickups parked in the driveways.
In 2005, Honda officials estimated about 18 percent of the millions of Honda owners in America were in this category, and they projected annual Ridgeline sales of 50,000. Alas, Ridgeline hasn't caught on, despite the stellar reliability rating of Consumer Reports, where the Ridgeline is a recommended buy and reliability is "better than average."
Even the Tacoma, another recommended buy, doesn't have that reliability rating. Neither do top-selling trucks like the full-size Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado.
The test Ridgeline, a top RTL model with navigation system and voice recognition, leather-trimmed seats, satellite radio, moonroof and alloy wheels, would never be confused with a truck taking guys to a construction site.
The interior was spacious, front and back, and excellent in fit and finish. Controls were large and easy to understand and doors closed solidly.
I marveled at how wide the Ridgeline interior is. My front passenger and I had wide seats and good-sized center console with lots of storage between us. I especially appreciated the deep center storage that could swallow my purse and keep it invisible under a closed cover.
Front-seat headroom of 40.7 inches in Ridgelines with no moonroof is more than the 40.1 inches in a Tacoma Double Cab and the 40 inches in a Frontier Crew Cab. The test Ridgeline with the power-operated moonroof had 38.7 inches of headroom up front, and it was still roomy for me and a 6-foot passenger.
Back-seat headroom in the Ridgeline totals 36.4 inches, which is less than the Tacoma's 38.5 inches and the 38.7 inches in the Frontier.
But shoulder room of 62.6 inches in the Ridgeline back seat is noteworthy. The Frontier only has 58.3 inches of rear-seat shoulder room, while the Tacoma has 59.3 inches.
Yet from the outside, the Ridgeline doesn't appear as big as it is. The Ridgeline is Honda's longest vehicle, more than 17 feet long from bumper to bumper. This is longer than even the Honda Odyssey minivan.
But drivers don't feel that they're wheeling around in a big, wallow-y vehicle. Rather, the Ridgeline moves amid city traffic easily, and there's no need to worry about crowding the next lane or sticking out in the grocery parking lot.
There is a sizable turning circle, however, of 42.6 feet, and the test Ridgeline bounced a bit over choppy pavement. Road noise can be loud on rough road surfaces. I didn't notice much wind noise.
There's one engine for the Ridgeline — a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6. It's the same V-6 used in the Honda Pilot sport utility vehicle and has strong, confident sounds. With torque peaking at 247 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm, this V-6 moves the more than 4,500-pound Ridgeline capably, even if there's not instant get-up-and-go when the accelerator pedal is pressed.
I was impressed with how smoothly the automatic transmission channeled the engine power. Passengers didn't notice shift points.
Too bad, though, that the Ridgeline doesn't come with Honda's notorious fuel-sipping qualities. Instead, the Ridgeline's federal government fuel mileage ratings of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway are about middle of the range for 2010 pickup trucks. A Tacoma with V-6 and four-wheel drive is rated at 17/21 mpg.
The 5-foot-long Ridgeline bed is made of composite and has no wheel arches intruding.
All safety equipment, including curtain air bags, traction control and electronic stability control, is standard.
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