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With this new Ridgeline pickup truck, Honda has taken everything that's good about the Odyssey minivan, the Element SUV and Pilot SUV, and made the newest, most innovative pickup truck on the American market.
The all-new 2006 Honda Ridgeline doesn't look or act like any other pickup truck we've ever driven. It has a family storage solution in its bed that no other pickup truck can match. And it won't cost an arm and a leg to buy or to operate. Honda says the main competition for the Ridgeline comes from Dodge Dakota, Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Explorer Sport Trac and Toyota Tacoma on size and function.
Pickup trucks have traditionally been built with a separate nose section, cab section, and cargo bed, bolted to a separate ladder frame, but this first Honda pickup uses both a welded unibody construction and a steel ladder frame, welded together, with the cab and cargo bed made as one piece, with separate subframes for the engine, front suspension and rear suspension. Honda says it is 20 times more resistant to twisting than any other pickup truck, and 3.5 times more resistant to bending. Honda says the Ridgeline can carry 1550 pounds of cargo or tow up to 5000 pounds.
The Ridgeline is one of the nicest midsize trucks we've driven in terms of comfort and ease of use, though some of the others in this class have a bit more dash and flash inside. At the high end, Ridgeline will be offered with a DVD satellite navigation system, displayed on an eight-inch-wide screen, plus XM Satellite Radio, leather seating surfaces and a moonroof.
The Honda Ridgeline is a relatively heavy vehicle with its four doors, five seats, all-wheel-drive system and independent front and rear suspension, but the V6 engine is low-down powerful, gutsy and flexible, without the thrashiness of some V6s. The transmission upshifting and downshifting was instantaneous, decisive, and nearly imperceptible. ABS brakes were sure stoppers in an unladen condition with one passenger.
The incredibly high stiffness and strength of this body and chassis combination and the isolation of the drivetrain and suspension from the cab make the Ridgeline a joy to drive. It is quieter and more refined than all of the major competition, all of which we drove on the same day over the same course, without a lot of jarring inputs reaching the driver's seat or fingertips. Independent suspension front and rear is an industry first in this segment, and the ride over choppy surfaces or off-road is excellent.
The stiffness of the body and chassis contributed to crisp, sure handling over twisty two-lane roads in San Diego County. The combination of all-wheel-drive and the industry's only vehicle stability system on a midsize truck lets the driver fly around corners with abandon. It felt lighter on its feet than the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Toyota Tundra TRD, and Chevy Colorado.
The new Honda Ridgeline borders on the revolutionary, from its dramatic new look to its tailgate and storage innovations to its combination of body-on-frame isolation and unibody stiffness, all at very reasonable prices. We'd like to have more power, but we found little here not to like, bizarre front-end styling aside. Honda says it will have 50,000 of these to sell over the next 12 months, and we say you'd better hurry. For those contemplating a family recreation or commuting pickup truck for the first time, this one goes to the top of the shopping list.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report from San Diego.