2009 Honda Ridgeline RTL review: Marketing 101

2009 Honda Ridgeline RTL

2009 Honda Ridgeline RTL

Lesson one in Marketing 101 is that products must have differentiation to have any chance at success. It can be better, it can be cheaper or it can be different. When Honda decided to enter the pickup truck market with its own open bed hauler, it decided the traditional American pickup would be hard to beat, playing the home team on their home field. Cheaper wasn’t the Honda way. So it would be different. We present Exhibit A, the Honda Ridgeline.

The Honda Ridgeline isn’t like any other pickup truck on the market, but even with a unit body construction including even the bed, it still has a load capacity of 1,100 pounds. It’s available only as a four-door with a full-automobile-sized cabin, and it also fully independent suspension so it really does have that coveted car-like ride.

2009 Honda Ridgeline RTL interior

The 2009 Honda Ridgeline RTL interior is distinctive as the exterior; note column shift. (click to enlarge)

And appearance…it’s, ah, different. It looks like it was carved from a fresh bar of Ivory soap: there’s no break between the cabin and the bed, and shouldn’t the cargo box of a pickup truck be, well, a box? Certainly, should it should it be a shape that begins with tetra- or poli- or parallaheptasomethingorother that you would know if you had spent more time studying solid geometry rather than the blonde in the third row over and second seat back?

Well, it is. And while American pickup truck purists who have politely (for the most part) demurred from buying the sturdy offerings from Toyota and Nissan, the Honda Ridgeline has secured a niche in the iconoclast market. It’s a truck for those who need to haul but just can’t place their blue jean-clad derrieres in the cabin of the classic American pickup truck.

The advantage of the Ridgeline, however, is that it also suffers khaki just as readily as denim. It’s more agile in a parking lot than the typical pick’emup truck. However, it has a pickup truck’s step-up into the cabin, so it’s not the perfect accessory for that little black dress.

For 2009, Honda revised the 3.5-liter single overhead cam VTEC engine (the standard and only engine offered) with a new camshaft profile, tuned for maximum torque, plus larger intake valves and a revised higher-flow dual-stage intake manifold (now made from ultra-lightweight magnesium instead of aluminum). It seems like a lot of work to raise peak output by just three horsepower, up to 250, and edge max torque up by two lb-ft. The primary benefit, however, was fattening the torque curve across the entire rev range, adding flexibility and better pulling ability.

2015 Honda Ridgdline RTL instrument panel

The 2015 Honda Ridgdline RTL instrument panel has a large central speedometer. (click to enlarge)

Honda also made a number of other changes under the hood, most of which make boring reading: “Improved engine control electronics incorporate a 6-degree crank pulse sensor for enhanced knock control.” Aren’t you sorry you asked?

There’s more: Honda changed the ratios standard-equipment five-speed automatic transmission to take advantage of the new engine torque characteristics. The automatic four-wheel drive differs from the conventional pickup truck in that its primary drive is through the front wheels, though it operates in all-wheel drive when accelerating up to 30 mph and the rear differential can be manually locked for starting and driving on slippery surfaces up to 18 miles per hour.

In everyday use, a driver can’t tell which wheels are doing the pulling and on ice and snow the Honda Ridgeline we tested was ably surefooted and we were never needed to engage the rear differential lock. We suspect that most Ridgeline drivers will forget it’s even there. What the Ridgeline doesn’t have, however, is a low-range transfer case but we’ll bet that most conventional 4×4 pickup drivers never use the one they have. And in fact, for four-wheel drive pickup trucks with an all-wheel drive mode, most drivers seldom use the locking center differential—usually “4-hi”—very much either.

2015 Honda Ridgdline RTL pickup bed

There’s a”trunk” accessible under the pickup bed floor of the 2015 Honda Ridgdline, but not when the pickup bed is iced over. (click to enlarge)

Newly standard on the Honda Ridgeline is an integrated trailer hitch. Tow-rated at 5000 lbs, the Ridgeline also has a wiring harness standard on the upper three of four trim levels.

Our test 2009 Honda Ridgeline was the almost-top-level RTL. Base level RT and intermediate RTS are priced $28,200 and $31,305 respectively. The Ridgeline RTL with navigation carries a sticker price of $36,530. Our tester had a base price of $34,180 and in true Honda fashion, it came with no options. Add only a destination fee of $670 for a bottom line of $34,850. There are no options.

However, there are accessories, though our test Ridgeline didn’t have any. Ridgeline owners have a regular candy store of choices, from a variety cargo handling accessories, including surfboard, snowboard, ski racks and new for 2009, a motorcycle bed extender for $365. Honda also for $1,375 offers a locking hard tonneau to cover the pickup bed.

That would be sort of a cover for a covered bin. The Honda Ridgeline is the only pickup truck offering a locking trunk under the cargo floor. The trunk has a shortcoming we discovered during our test Ridgeline’s stay: cover the pickup bed floor with ice and what’s in the trunk will stay in the trunk. Likewise the trunk would be inaccessible with any kind of a load in the pickup bed. Yes, that’s obvious, but there you go.