Drive: 2006 Honda Ridgeline
By: Mike Magda,
© 2005 PickupTruck.com
There’s a story of a pharmaceutical company in the ‘30s or
‘40s that developed an antiseptic cream that didn’t sting
when applied to a cut. The manufacturer thought this medical marvel would
be welcomed in every household. No more iodine or other inflaming ingredients
that made children cry and adults cringe. But consumers didn’t buy
the new antiseptic. They had been brought up by their mothers’ sage-like
wisdom that explained: “The stinging means the medicine is working.”
The message was simple, effective and deeply entrenched in young minds.
So later in life, no one believed the state-of-the-art antiseptic was
killing germs and preventing deadly infections. Legend says the company
added a dab of alcohol to the formula. When customers started feeling
a little burning, the trust returned.
I wonder if Honda will have to inject a little “sting” into
the new 2006 Ridgeline because customers will find the ride so pleasant
that they won’t think the truck is really “working.”
believe that a unibody pickup with 4-wheel independent suspension, transverse-mounted
V6 and all-wheel-drive that runs in front-wheel-drive most of the time
can work like a truck? We’ve all been conditioned from early childhood
that trucks have body-on-frame construction, separate cab and cargo box,
live rear axles, north/south V8 engines and part-time 4-wheel-drive that
runs mostly in rear-wheel-drive.
more telling, every generation of truck engineers for the past 100 years
has been instructed that’s the only way to build a pickup. It’s
an inexpensive, easy-to-assemble vehicle that is highly profitable, and
manufacturers are not willing to change that cash-generating strategy.
They point to past failures, like the ’61-’63 integral cab-box
Styleside pickups from Ford.
bound by tradition when it assembled a small, tightly-knit group of engineers
in Ohio and assigned them to build a pickup. There were cost considerations
and the truck had to conform to certain Honda guidelines in safety, performance
and durability. But these engineers had an open mind and clean sheet of
paper when they decided to design a personal-use pickup with enough truck-like
ability to meet the majority of tasks required by families.
a hardcore work truck numbed down with plush leather seats and booming
stereos that is marketed to urban warriors. It was designed to first meet
the needs of commuters and soccer dads, then toughened up to handle towing
and payload demands of mainstream recreational owners. Bottom line: the
design and execution works. This truck doesn’t “sting”
but preliminary indications are it “works” better than promised.
I drove the
Ridgeline—and some competitive vehicles—along twisty roads
and over semi-rugged hills in Southern California. I towed 5000 pounds
through a lane-change course and hauled 1100 pounds through a sweeping
autocross course. There’s no doubt in my mind that driving impressions
alone will sell this vehicle to shoppers looking for refinement, utility,
handling and ride comfort, especially if they’ve owned a pickup
before or are in the process of cross shopping.
is very quiet, reasonably responsive and undeniably smoother than any
other pickup on the market. But there are tradeoffs with the Ridgeline,
as any experienced truck customer will discover. The first problem is
finding a direct competitor.
is unlike any other truck. It is in a class by itself. But Honda is clearly
targeting owners of the Ford Explorer Sport Trac and Chevy Avalanche in
addition to 4-door models from Toyota Tacoma, Dodge Dakota, Nissan Frontier
and Chevy Colorado. Honda also mentions the Ford F-150, if only to acknowledge
the sales leader and to show how it can measure up in certain categories
to a fullsize half-ton pickup.