Test: 2008 Honda Ridgeline
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Now in its third year of production, the midsized Honda Ridgeline is what you get when a car company designs and delivers an unconventional and versatile crossover utility truck for an active crowd that hopefully has a thing for Honda motorcycles and ATVs.
The Ridgeline is full of surprises; from its unibody chassis to its independent coil-over rear suspension to its dual-hinged tailgate, which drops down but can also swing to the side for entry.
The 5-ft long bed includes an 8.5 cu-ft trunk (a first for a pickup) and can accommodate up to 1,554-lbs of payload. With the tailgate down it can carry two of Honda's largest off-road motorcycles or one full-sized Honda ATV. Hence, the match made in off-road heaven.
The Ridgeline is the largest Honda ever produced. It garnered huzzahs from the automotive press by being named Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year and the North American Truck of the Year when it debuted in 2005.
Changes are minor for the 2008 model year. The Ridgeline adds a new wheel design and fabric interiors only come in a single style. The Ridgeline saw only aesthetic changes in 2007 as well, like body-colored door handles and new exterior colors. When you're left to tinker with the little things, it's a sign the vehicle's mechanicals are working out.
I tested a 2008 Honda Ridgeline RTL equipped with the Ridgeline’s standard 247-horsepower 245 lb-ft of torque 3.5-liter SOHC V6 engine. It’s the only engine available and it offers a good compromise between performance and fuel economy. The Ridgeline hits 16-city/21-highway and can pull up to 5,000-lbs. There’s no Fuel Flexible Vehicle (FFV), nor ethanol (E85) options.
Honda is expected to add a clean burning V6 diesel engine option for the Ridgeline by 2010. I can’t wait to see what impact that motor has on power, towing, and fuel economy.
The gas V6 moves the truck on and off-road with the assistance of Honda’s nifty Variable Torque Management (VTM-4) 4WD.
The fully-automatic VTM-4 drive system provides front-wheel-drive during dry-pavement cruising, for improved fuel economy, but can send up to 70-percent of the torque to the rear wheels in slippery conditions. It also works like a ‘virtual’ limited slip differential by using the Ridgeline’s Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) traction control and ABS systems to reduce throttle and brake any slipping wheel, while directing power to the partner wheel with more traction. In very low traction situations, the driver can push a VTM-4 lock button on the dash to manually engage both rear wheels to get the truck moving. The maximum torque delivered to the rear wheels allows the Ridgeline to claw up a 28-degree (53-percent slope) dirt grade.
All Ridgeline models come equipped with independent front and rear suspensions for maximum ride control and comfort. Standard transmission and oil coolers, dual radiator fans, and pre-wiring for 4 and 7-pin trailer hook-ups set the Ridgeline up for light-duty towing needs.
I drove the Ridgeline from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, known for its steep grades and breathtaking views.
On the highway, the Ridgeline was one of the quietest and easiest handling pickups I’ve driven. And on Yosemite’s steep and winding asphalt the 3.5-liter V6 engine smoothly exerted serious incline power up Glacier Point road without thrashing or whining. With the proactive VTM-4, there was no skidding on any dips or turns. The brakes were responsive without being overly sensitive. I also experienced the Ridgeline going to work on ugly washboard chip-sealed roads, absorbing the jitters and jounces without jarring the driver and passengers like a leaf-spring and live axle truck would. The Ridgeline felt like a very well-planted SUV, not an open bed pickup.
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