2006 Honda Ridgeline EX-L Navi
Click image to enlarge


Test Drive:

2006 Honda Ridgeline


Review and photos by Laurance Yap

They probably wore cowboy boots to work, too.

You can sense, just walking up to the 2006 Honda Ridgeline – the company’s first pickup and the largest Honda ever – that the company was a bit worried people wouldn’t take it seriously as a real truck. So the directive seems to have been to get in people’s faces about the truck-ness of it all: from its ultra-square facial features to the tough-looking ridges in the side, to the way the roof angles down to connect to the box in a great whacking triangle, the Ridgeline is as chunky and tough-looking as it can get without being made of cast iron.

I’m not much of a truck guy, but I like Hondas, so that initial approach to the truck involved no small amount of trepidation. I was kind of worried that the Ridgeline would drive the way that it looked, that it would be constructed more for bouncing around construction sites and scrabbling up rocky roads than a master of the urban jungle. But after a couple of days behind the wheel, my fears were averted: the Ridgeline drives just like any other Honda, albeit a very big one; and the combination of its slick driving dynamics along with the tough image that the styling projects may just be an ideal combination for a lot of potential truck buyers out there.

2006 Honda Ridgeline EX-L Navi
Click image to enlarge

Running errands around downtown Toronto and cruising up the DVP, it never ceased to amaze me how much attention the Ridgeline attracted. Honda people would accost me in parking lots, wondering if this was going to be their next big purchase; truck guys (many of whom drive import cars in their non-professional lives) dreamt about this being the bird that kills two stones – a truck tough enough for their work duties while comfortable and refined enough to take the kids to school in. And to a person, they all just loved the idea of a truck built by Honda – something that was elegantly engineered, fun to drive, and would last forever.

Sure, the Ridgeline isn’t built for heavy-duty work, but let’s face it, these days pickups are bought for all kinds of other reasons, most of which don’t involve towing huge trailers or hauling bricks and mortar. These “personal-use” customers, people who use their trucks to explore rough but not punishing terrain, who go up to the cottage on weekends from their downtown condos.

2006 Honda Ridgeline EX-L Navi
Click image to enlarge

For purposes like that, the truck’s 3.5-litre V6, with 255 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, is more than good enough, with the upside that it behaves just like any Honda engine. It’s butter-smooth no matter how fast it’s spinning, it sounds great, and has instantaneous throttle response that most truck users won’t be used to. People upgrading from another Honda will just love it.

While serious-truck people might pooh-pooh the Ridgeline’s front-biased VTM-4 all-wheel-drive system (it’s primarily front-drive except under acceleration and when the rear wheels need to be engaged to improve stability), in practice it’s difficult to tell whether the truck is being pushed or pulled. That comes primarily from its excellent mechanical refinement – the operation of the engine and transmission is muted, almost imperceptible in most conditions – but also from the Ridgeline’s substantial sense of mass. While it’s not actually that heavy at around 2,000 kg, it does feel a bit truckish in the way there’s just a little bit of slop in the steering and brakes. While it’s still sharper to drive than most other trucks on the market, thanks to its unique quasi-unibody construction, the Ridgeline is still a truck, and behaves like (a very sophisticated) one.

So, at least in an urban environment, the Ridgeline wasn’t quite the cut-and-thrust warrior that I hoped it would be, which isn’t to say it’s not nimble; being smaller than most full-sized trucks, and with steering that’s at least pinpoint-accurate if not immediately responsive, it’s easy to thread through gaps in traffic and around tight corners. Visibility out the front is great, but thanks to the sloping sides and small rear window, it’s sometimes difficult to tell where the Ridgeline’s rear end is.

2006 Honda Ridgeline EX-L Navi

2006 Honda Ridgeline EX-L Navi

2006 Honda Ridgeline EX-L Navi
Click image to enlarge

But that’s a problem that I have in every truck, being a small guy driving a really big box. What’s impressive about the Honda is how versatile and usable that box is. The interior is a riot of clever expanding cubbies, hidden storage compartments, and great big holes that will swallow all of your work and play detritus while still managing to look relatively organized. In addition to big door bins and a couple of pop-out shelves in the dashboard, the console actually expands horizontally to accommodate large objects, the armrest extends as well as folds, and there’s a really handy slot to put your cell phone into. The rear set of seats folds up to reveal a surprisingly capacious cargo area, and the pickup bed, with its high sides, also has a trunk built into the floor. That trunk is a genius idea, especially as it’s accessible through a tailgate that swings out as well as down; but install the optional bed extender, as Honda did on my test vehicle, and you need to flip out the bed extender for the trunk lid to open – which isn’t so smart.

Other than the dumb bed extender, the rest of the Ridgeline is executed with the usual Honda quality and attention to detail. While the interior may be almost unremittingly monochromatic – mine was done in two very similar shades of olive-green – it is constructed of high-quality materials with excellent finish. All of the major controls are oversized, with big aluminum trim bits around them – you can work them all with gloves on. The controls for the radio and (optional) navigation system seem quite a bit smaller in comparison, but that’s only because everything else – even the doors over the 12-volt plugs – is so huge. Ergonomics are expectedly superb: the touch-screen navigation is particularly intuitive, and a 6-disc CD changer hides behind it (did I mention the subwoofer-enhanced stereo sounds fantastic?).

With a starting price of just under $35,000, the Ridgeline may initially seem expensive, but remember that the base model is no “stripper” like those from the domestics. All Ridgelines come with all-wheel-drive, a five-speed automatic, side curtain airbags, power locks, windows, and mirrors, and vehicle dynamics control, so even the base model is very well-equipped. Move up from the LX to the EX-L and you get leather seats, a power moonroof, and even more goodies; a loaded EX-L with the navigation system stickers for $43,900, which is a lot of money, but I’ve seen Dodge Dakotas that cost as much, albeit with a V8 instead of a V6.

2006 Honda Ridgeline EX-L Navi
Click image to enlarge

Of note is that the Ridgeline recently earned a five-star safety rating for both frontal and side impact crash tests performed by the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety.

Is Ridgeline destined for success? It’s hard to tell at this stage, but judging by the amount of attention mine drew over the last couple of days, there are a lot of people – a surprising number of them, I would say – that seem genuinely attracted to the idea of a Honda pickup, and that aren’t looking for a serious truck with serious height, weight, and fuel consumption. There are, after all, a lot of people that just want something that’s tough to look at but still pleasant to drive; that don’t need extreme hauling or towing capability but are looking more for a vehicle that can fulfill multiple roles equally well. This being Canada and all, the multitalented, fence-sitting Alliston-built Ridgeline will probably do better than Honda expects.


More

  • First Drive: 2006 Honda Ridgeline, by Paul Williams


    Technical Data: 2006 Honda Ridgeline EX-L Navi

    Base price (LX) $34,800
    Base price (EX-L Navi) $43,900
    Freight $1,425
    A/C tax $100
    Price as tested $45,425 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
    Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-sized pickup
    Layout transverse front engine/AWD
    Engine 3.5 litre V6, SOHC, 24 valves, VTEC
    Horsepower 255 @ 5750 rpm
    Torque 252 ft-lbs @ 4500 rpm
    Transmission 5-speed automatic
    Tires 245/65R-17
    Curb weight 2064 kg (4,550 lbs.)
    CVWR 2,745 kg (6,050 lbs.)
    Wheelbase 3,100 mm (122 in.)
    Length 5,253 mm (2006.8 in.)
    Width (with mirrors) 2,217 mm (87.3 in.)
    Height 1,1808 mm (71.2 in.)
    Box length 1,524 mm (60 in.)
    Box depth 526 mm (20.7 in.)
    Box width 1257 mm (49.5 in.)
    Towing capacity 2, 268 kg (5,000 lbs.)
    Payload capacity 705 kg (1,550 lbs.)
    Ground clearance 208 mm (8.2 in.)
    In-bed trunck capacity 240.7 l (8.5 cu. ft.)
    Fuel consumption City: 14.4 L/100 km (20 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
      Hwy: 10.1 L/100 km (28 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
    Fuel type Regular unleaded
    Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
    Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
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