When Honda introduced the Ridgeline in 2005, it was the truck equivalent of Zima. Zomething different. Not quite a truck, not quite a SUV. It looked kinda like a midsized Chevy Avalanche, but didn’t carry the tough look. Some would argue that it competed against the Subaru Baja as a modern four door El Camino, but it was chunkier in comparison. Honda billed it as the truck for “Cool dads”, but the pitch fell too short. Honda’s Ridgeline was just too different. The sales numbers proved this.
In 2006 The Ridgeline hit its sales peak at 50,193 sold in the U.S. When the original design ended in 2014 the Ridgeline sales struggled at 13,389. To put this in perspective, the Ford Ranger sold 92,420 models in 2006 and in its last year run of 2012, sold 19,366. (Honda sold 14,068 Ridgelines that year.)*
With such low sales, Honda followed Hollywood’s latest trend and rebooted the Ridgeline.
First they stopped production of the previous design for two years. This let the memory fade a bit and allow a better reaction for the new version.
Second they made it fit the mold better. The original Ridgeline left you wondering what it was. The image of this Ridgeline is better defined.
Alas, as with other reboots, the traditions of the original are easy to spot. The New Ridgeline is of unibody construction just like the old one. This is proudly acknowledged by the executive vice-president of American Honda, John Mendel. He touts the rigidity of the unibody, while promising a smoother street ride than the traditional, body on frame trucks of Chevrolet, Toyota, and Nissan.
John is smart to point out that the Ridgeline in no way competes against the big boys of the full size team. No sir! The Ridgeline is aimed squarely at the Colorado, Tacoma, and Frontier.
But, in a way, it’s not.
Even though Mendel boast that this is a tough truck, and that the payload and towing rates are right in the fight with the other welterweights, (Up to 1,600 pounds payload and an estimated 5,000 pounds towing as of this writing) he openly admits that contractors need not apply.
This truck “Isn’t about the jobsite” he stated during the Ridgeline’s introduction at the NAIAS, it’s “about the lifestyle.”
In short, the Ridgeline is for the hobbyists. People who need a truck for light duty projects and occasional hauling, but not a career building companion. Campers, beach combers, motorcyclists, and kayakers are who Honda is aiming at; not landscapers, pool supply runners, and handymen. Sure you can fit a sheet of plywood between its wheel wells in the bed, but you still have to lower the tailgate and have it stick out a little to have it lay flat.
Honda also insisted on keeping the spare tire tucked in a separate compartment under the floor of the bed. Not underneath the bed as other truck do, but in a mini trunk under the floor of the bed. (The mini trunk also has a spot with drain plugs so you can turn it into a cooler.) This would be such a hassle if you were carrying a load of gravel and you suddenly blew a tire on your way home. But Honda thinks this will be a rare occurrence with its buyers. This is reinforced by the addition of a new sound system for the bed and the vehicles front wheel drive layout.
Honda has found a way to turn its bed into a giant speaker using six of what it has named “Exciters”. The exciters vibrate the bed just like a magnet in a speaker, creating a large sound device. Evidently Honda wants to be all about that base.
If that doesn’t shake up the market, the Ridgeline’s front wheel drive surely will. Besides being body on frame, all trucks have been designed with rear wheel drive as standard. This is done so that when you put a load in the bed, it adds weight to the driving wheels and adds to their traction. It also helps when towing. Truck purists are going to give the Ridgeline a long, sideways look before shaking their heads and moving on. But, again, these are not the people Honda is aiming at.
The Honda Ridgeline is a recreational tool built for fun times. It comes with a six speed auto as its only transmission choice as well as an all-wheel drive option with a multimode terrain management system so owners don’t have to do any work in switching from front wheel drive to all wheel drive. It’s in bed 400 watt converter can power sawzalls and drills, but will more likely be used for margaritas and x-boxes.
Like every reboot, the Honda Ridgeline is high on gloss and shine. Only time will tell if it makes it into the heart of the buyers.
- Sales numbers provided by left-lane.com
- Quotes are from the 2016 NAIAS video on youtube