June was Honda's best sales month ever, up 17.9 percent from June 2007. The company moved a remarkable 130,083 vehicles, and dealers can't keep their economical Civic and Fit vehicles in stock. For Honda's Ridgeline pickup, as with all large trucks, sales were down, in this case 34.2 percent from last year. We all know why.
But what if you need a large pickup truck? In that case, this Honda could be a fine choice, for a number of reasons. One is the way it's built. If you look at a Ridgeline, you'll see that the body is all one piece, not a cab and a separate bed behind it. That's because it's built on a closed-box unit-body frame, different from conventional trucks with their separate body and frame. The unit-body frame adds strength and stability, and, combined with a four-wheel independent suspension, makes the Ridgeline feel like a car when you're driving it.
My Nimbus Gray Metallic text car echoed the macho, oversized feel of its Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Toyota, and other competitors, and there was a lot of the chunky look of the company's Pilot SUV too. That's what you expect when you buy a truck.
Inside, the Ridgeline offers the right cues for a rugged working vehicle, with upsized controls, sturdy handles, and expansive panels, but quality is typical Honda perfect. The gauges look like an Accord's, magnified 50 percent. The silvery trapezoidal door grips are nothing like you'd ever see on a GM or Ford vehicle.
There are storage nooks everywhere. I found out the last day I had the truck that the entire console between the front seats slides forward, opening up a huge hidden bin. The rear seats flip up, providing copious room for boxes, bicycles, or a month's worth of groceries.
The Ridgeline comes with one engine only, a high tech 247-horsepower V6, coupled with a five-speed automatic. This further separates it from its competitors, who proudly offer V8 power (with its inevitable poor fuel economy). The 4,500-pound Ridgeline does just fine with a V6, and can tow 5,000 pounds or carry a half ton in its five-foot composite bed.
Even here, Honda goes its own way. The dual action tailgate opens down or to the side. The latter position is great for accessing its unique lockable 8.5-cubic-foot in-bed trunk, which can swallow up a 72-quart cooler or three golf bags. Lockable out-of-sight storage is a blessing in an open truck.
Every Ridgeline comes standard with Honda's Variable Torque Management four-wheel-drive system, which provides front-wheel drive for normal travel on dry streets and automatically engages all-wheel drive when you need it in rain, snow, ice, sand or mud. For safety, the Ridgeline also comes with anti-lock brakes and Vehicle Stability Assist, which helps keep the truck moving the way the driver intends. There are plenty of airbags, too, including one on the passenger side that detects the passenger's position and adjusts accordingly. The Ridgeline earns top-level five-star ratings for government front and side crash tests.
The V6 is rated by the EPA at 15 City, 20 Highway, which is pretty good for a big truck. The EPA's Green Vehicle ratings reward Honda's sophisticated VTEC engine with a 7 in the Air Pollution score but the realities of size lead to a middling 4 on the Greenhouse Gas score.
There are four flavors of Ridgeline to choose from: RT, RTX, RTS and RTL. Every Ridgeline comes with air conditioning, tilt wheel, power windows and locks, cruise control, keyless entry and a 100-watt audio system. You also get a power sliding rear window that's great for a quickly cooling off the cabin.
The RTX adds a trailer hitch with 4- and 7-pin trailer wiring, alloy wheels, a different grille and body-color door handles (beats black plastic). The RTS upgrades the stereo to 160 watts with a subwoofer, six-disc CD changer and steering wheel controls, dual-zone automatic climate control, an eight-way power driver's seat, and RTS-specific alloy wheels. The top-of-the-line RTL, like my test vehicle, features leather seats, heated in front, a moonroof, XM Satellite Radio, HomeLink remote system, and a compass. If you want a navigation system, you can order one with the RTL as well.
Prices range from $28,000 for the RT to $35,090 for the RTL with Navigation. Add $635 for destination and handling (you can expect this number to increase along with gas prices).
A big truck isn't the image that springs to mind when many of us think of Hondas. The company built its reputation in the 1970's on its tiny Civic and compact first generation Accord. Honda has become a full-line manufacturer now, and wants to compete in every segment of the marketplace. It just so happens that big trucks are cold right now, but fortunately for Honda, that's not its main market, hence the record-setting month.