2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E review: It’s alive!

2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E

2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E

Everyone knew the Honda Ridgeline was dead. The sales of the unitbody pickup with the peculiar profile had been somewhat underwhelming in a booming segment of the motor vehicle market. It had arrived for 2005, hit is peak sales of just over 50,000 units in its second year, but by 2014 had sunk to just 13,000 out the door. Meanwhile, Ford sold 780,354 F-series pickups in 2015.

Not that Honda ever expected to eat Ford’s bread and butter. Chevrolet hasn’t, and they’ve been at it a lot longer. And the Honda Ridgeline had gone its own way, sort of like a Subaru Baja, but on a larger scale. Or something like the Chevrolet Avalanche, only smaller. And both of those were temps in their respective showrooms…

2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E interior

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E interior is utilitarian without being spare. (click to enlarge)

So when Honda stopped making the original Ridgeline, everyone assumed that Honda pulled the plug, closed the book, hung it up, and every other metaphor for a terminal condition.  The last year for Honda’s peculiar pickup was 2014. It was done, Tony. Turn off the lights.

Except it wasn’t. The Honda Ridgeline is back. After missing out on the 2015 and 2016 model years, the Ridgeline (one of the coolest names in pickupdom, by the way) has returned for the 2017 model year.

And Honda didn’t change it…but they changed everything, even where the new Ridgeline will be built. Production moves from Ontario, California, to the Lincoln, Alabama, plant that assembles the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX crossovers and the Honda Odyssey minivan. The Ridgeline is built on the same platform as the Pilot, MDX and Odyssey, so the consolidation makes sense, even if it risks making the foursome production constrained if sales of any goes through the roof.

2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E instrument panel

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E instrument panel is another case of Honda designers’ creativity. (click to enlarge)

Although the 2017 Honda Ridgeline is wholly new, it shares much in concept with its predecessor. It continues as unitbody construction, of course, and with the integral cab and pickup bed and fenders. The layout is four-door crew cab, and the tailgate continues the two-way operation, swinging door-like to the side or folding down like a regular pickup tailgate.

Alas, the tailgate isn’t lockable, but the 2017 Honda Ridgeline continues a novel feature of Ridgeline generation one. The rear of the pickup bed has a door in the floor to a huge 7.3 cubic foot in-bed trunk. That’s more than a Miata’s trunk, which measures a mere 4.6 cubic feet. The in-bed trunk has a rubber gasket so water won’t seep in, but has a drain plug in the bottom if any water gets in, spills inside, or if you use the trunk as a giant cooler. The trunk locks and unlocks via the keyless remote.

2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E back seat

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E back seat folds up for indoor storage of large items but the padding is thin. (click to enlarge_

The in-bed trunk also houses the spare tire and jack, as Honda notes, keeping them clean. That sounds trivial until you’ve had to retrieve a spare tire from under the rear of pickup. In the cold. In the snow. With a flat rear tire reducing ground clearance. On the other hand, if the trunk lid is encased in ice and snow, or under, say, that new range you’re bring home from Home Depot, good luck with that spare.

Honda assures us, by the way, that although truck bed isn’t steel, it’s capable of carrying appliances. It’s made from SMC—sheet molded composites—with narrow corrugations for improved traction (and, we’ll bet, strength), with vertical side panels of polypropylene plus long-glass fiber, both UV-stable of course.

The pickup bed of the 2017 Honda Ridgeline is bigger than its predecessor’s in all dimensions. At 64 inches, it’s 3.9 inches longer than the previous generation. With the load-bearing tailgate lowered, the bed measures 83.5 inches, or long enough for your dirt bike. At 60 inches between the side panels, the Ridgeline has room for your buddy’s bike too.

There’s 50 inches between the wheel wells, the proverbial 4’x8’ sheet of plywood or a drywall panel can lie flat.

2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E in-bed trunk

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E in-bed trunk also has a slot for spare tire and jack that doesn’t count as part of its huge capacity. (click to enlarge)

Payload capacity is up to 1,584 pounds, which is more than anyone plans to carry in a Honda Ridgeline, and the bed is equipped with eight tie-downs rated at 350 pounds each.

A peculiarity of the 2017 Honda Ridgeline is the bed lights located in the sidewalls where (a) they seem vulnerable to bashing, and (b) they’d be easily blocked, at least compared to the standard over-the-rear-window light.

Speaking of the side walls, the 2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E and Black Edition trim levels have speakers—or more accurately, exciters—in the walls that vibrate them like speakers. Honda calls it “Truck Bed Audio System,” and it’s not high fidelity, but it’s great for tailgating, annoying those in the next campsite over, or tuning in classics on satellite radio to irritate the guy next pump over playing hip-hop loud enough to curdle the gasoline. It plays only on the inside speakers or outside at a time, but it also works on accessory mode.