2019 Honda Ridgeline Review

2019 Honda Ridgeline - Ridgeline strategically straddles two worlds


Honda's versatile Ridgeline stirs spirited Big Rig conversation by blurring the lines (or combining the best of two worlds...depending upon one's perspective), of what constitutes a pickup truck.  To best understand Ridgeline's game plan, one must briefly peek back through truck deconstruction history.

Two decades ago, virtually all conventional Sport Utility Vehicles were built from heavy, truck-like body-on-frame designs resulting in truck like characteristics, including teeth-chattering suspension feedback.  Still, the versatility and roominess of these bulky hatch-backed SUVS appealed to the general motoring public, sparking strong sales growth.  

Many of these one-time SUVs took on a gentler demeanor, morphing into 'crossovers' during the past 20 years.  The versatility factor remains while pounds and a portion of off-roading chops get shed in favor of a uni-body car build resulting in substantially smoother on-road travel, (improving dental health), better fuel numbers and more thunderous sales results.

Honda's Ridgeline pickup follows a similar playbook. While just about every mid-and-full-size pickup builds from intricate body-on-frame underpinnings, Ridgeline chose a nimbler uni-body approach. While Big Boy rivals snicker at this unorthodox combination, Ridgeline found its groove as a 'lifestyle pickup.'

It's a pickup targeted primarily to suburban families frequenting seasonal farm stands, not rural farm steads relocating livestock; more visible at Home Depot than Home on the Range.

Ridgeline's latest major makeover took place in 2017.  The current 2019 version builds from this platform with virtually no changes (save for RTL trims adding a moonroof). Generation One spanned from 2006 to 2014 with Ridgeline taking a brief hiatus in 2015 and 2016.

The mid-size Ridgeline now makes in Lincoln, Alabama its production home; the same facility churning out two popular uni-body five-door crossover Honda siblings, the full-size, three-row Pilot and new-for 2019 two-row Passport.  

All three share Honda's 'Global Light Truck Platform' carved from a versatile structure with pleasurable degrees of light off-road capability.

Ridgeline drives much like a car because its uni-body, car-like independent rear suspension. Maximum towing reaches 5,000 pounds in all-wheel drive versions (identical to the all-wheel drive Passport) and rather pedestrian 3,500 pounds with front-drive models.   

Shopping for a Ridgeline requires less decision making compared with fellow mid-sized or larger full-sized pickups.  

Ridgeline comes standard with one engine selection, one bed length and one full-size cab configuration. Full-size pickups mix and match one-row regular cab, mid-range club cabs and full-size crew cabs along with multiple engine choices mated to several available bed lengths dependent upon cab configuration.

The sole powertrain for 2019: a returning, well-tested.  Naturally-aspirated, 3.5-liter V-6 delivering 280 horses, identical to the under hood opportunity found in 2019 Passports and Pilots. Unlike Passport and Pilot, Ridgeline's heavier-duty automatic transmission is a six-speed mechanical-type with straight-gate shifter between front buckets.  Variable Cylinder Management comes standard, shutting down three of the cylinders at highway speed, conserving fuel.

Regular 87-octane fuel fills the 19.5-gallon tank which includes a self-sealing fuel lead, eliminating the need for clunky plastic twist caps.  The six-cylinder delivers very competitive pick-up truck economy of 18 miles per gallon city and 25 m.p.g. highway with all-wheel drive. Add one mile in each category with front drive.

All Ridgeline trims includes some nifty features out back including a multiple-hinged, dual-action tail gate, providing the opportunity to fold down the back gate a-la traditional tail gates, or open in refrigerator door fashion through left-side vertical hinge.  Missing is an easy drop-down tailgate motion allowing a slower, gently landing rather than the current 'thud.'

Also built into the flat bed floor; a trunk.  Not a conventional sedan-type version, but a useful in-bed, weather-tight, lockable unit capable of handling 7.3 cubic feet of stuff (including a small cooler or a diminutive golf bag). Also nearby, a spare tire. For those with an ear for outdoor music, top editions include audio system speakers built into the bed.

This second-generation redo did away Ridgeline's exterior web-like connection of the angled rear C-Pillar and high, slopping cargo bed sides. The 2017-2019 models return with a traditional, workman-like 90-degree angle where C-Pillars meet bed sides.

The bed width measures 78.6 inches wide and 64 inches long, easily swallowing a conventional four-foot wide plywood sheet. Drop the tail gate and length grows to 83.5 inches.  In the macro world of pickup beds, this falls into the 'small' category. When dropping or swinging the tail gate at night, gentle lighting conveniently illuminates the bed.

Ground clearance of about seven-and-a-half inches measures in line with car-type crossovers rather than higher-framed pickups, easing entry and exiting. With Ridgeline, it's a sit down, not a step-up motion requiring no side running boards.

Projector beam headlights, daytime running lights and tail lights all incorporate light-emitting diode (LED) technology delivering bright, crisp beams.

Ridgeline offers multiple trim levels, each adding an additional layer of standard fare. Packages and stand-alone options remain minimal with the contest-based trim level packaging.  Our tester, an RTL-E all-wheel drive included a starting price of $41,920 with a bottom line of $42,965 after factoring the $1,045 destination charge.

Other 2019 Ridgeline trim levels include RT, RTS, Sport, RTL, RTL-T and Black Edition.  Front-wheel drive comes standard in every trim sans RTL-E and Black Edition where all-wheel-drive comes standard and includes 'Intelligent Variable Torque Management.'  As with a majority of all-wheel drive systems, optimum torque automatically distributes between both axles depending upon current driving situations.  Honda's system also distributes engine torque between left and right rear wheels enhancing cornering maneuvers.

RT is the sole trim not offering all-wheel drive.  All-wheel drive is optional on all remaining trims. RT trim starts at $29,990, a relatively high starting price compared with existing mid-size pickups including Ford's all-new 2019 Ranger.

Turning inside, the mid-size Ridgeline handles up to five adults providing above-average head and leg expanses. The full-size second row includes 60/40-split seat bottoms foldable upward, opening an interior hauling space welcoming an adult-sized bicycle.

The front dash mimics a conventional crossover or sedan, rather than a truck-type usually sporting an abundance of dials and four-wheel low gear selects. Instead, Ridgeline offers multiple terrain drive modes. All-wheel drive choices feature four (Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand); front-wheel drive, two (Normal and Snow) selectable via a button near the transmission shifter.  The very modern looking instrument panel includes a center digital speedometer display and information center, including the selected terrain drive mode.

Push button electronic start comes standard and activates via a circular, button illuminated in red on the dash to the right of the steering column.

Below the in-dash eight-inch multi-function touch screen resides a narrow, horizontal ventilation region with its own long, digital window with two rows of push buttons monitoring fan speed, direction, temperature settings along with front and rear defrosters. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration allows Smartphone apps and downloads to work in tandem with the flat screen and comes standard in top three trims.

Folks searching for convenient twist knobs assisting the color touch screen...be patient. Not long ago Honda products began an ill-fated attempt at streamlining and modernizing the audio system by bypassing volume and station-select knobs in favor of the smooth artistry of touch screen variants.  While laudable, Honda's attempt to build a better mouse trap fell short.

Honda's all-new 2019 Passport crossover got the memo, reintroducing a sound system volume knob.  Ridgeline needs one sooner rather than later along with a station select partner knob. Secondary steering wheel volume/station preset controls (positioned at 9 o'clock) assist greatly when quickly altering volume, minimizing finger pecking.

At a Glance

Price as tested: $42,965

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

Horsepower] 78.6 inches

Overall Height: 70.8 inches

Fuel Economy: 18/25

Curb weight: 4,431 pounds

Assembly: Lincoln Alabama

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.