In the heavily masculinized world of automobiles, trucks are the truly butch boys. Big and rugged, these haulers are expected to extend their capable aura of strength to their owners. Not planning to haul loads of cinderblock and lumber in your shiny new Ram? No matter, you'll still gain butch points even if your most difficult challenge is a tight parking spot at Home Depot.
So when I first saw pictures of Honda's first foray into the world of trucks, the Ridgeline, you'll understand that I was among the skeptics. The odd body stylings and chunky profile at first glance said "poseur" not "power." This was a truck that trumpeted the fact it had a trunk. Yes, a trunk, like a car. A receptacle for groceries and Macy's bags and all those other more feminine things a vehicle is sometimes asked to transport.
Well, I'm here to tell you that the trunk is actually pretty fabulous. And the rest of the Ridgeline turns out to be a slick and pleasing performer as well.
While preview photos of the Ridgeline had left me lukewarm, the boxy shape grew on me as I saw real-life examples on the street. The Ridgeline has no break or seam between the cab and truck bed as you find in other trucks, giving the Honda a smooth look from stem to stern. The front fascia, with its unique grill and bottom-slanted headlights, gives it a ready-to-pounce demeanor.
The tailgate is notched down about an inch lower than the sides, adding a bit more clarity to the driver's rear view. It can be easily lowered like a traditional tailgate, or swung open like a door, depending on the task at hand. The bed itself is big enough for weekend warriors and gardening junkies but, as with any four-door truck that sacrifices bed length for extra seating, you won't be loading up long construction materials.
In the truck bed is the aforementioned trunk, which offers secure storage -- a welcome addition for SUV and truck drivers who don't like leaving their valuables in plain sight where they tempt a smash-and-grab. You can easily drop a large cooler into the trunk (or a full afternoon of fashion bargains, your pick). It's a great design and engineering idea that I fully expect to be copied soon by other manufacturers.
The Ridgeline's interior is restrained and truck-like, meaning heavy on the plastic, yet comfortable. Exterior noise is minimal, and the ride is surprisingly smooth. Handling is likewise smooth and more nimble than you would expect from something that looks so unwieldy. The back seats quickly fold up to increase the available storage area if you need to pick up a few buckets of house paint (or if you happen upon a really good sale at Saks).
The V6 under the hood provides enough power for everyday driving and occasional hauling, although if cinderblocks are on your regular transportation list, you should probably check elsewhere. Gas mileage is about what you would get with a mid-sized SUV.
Overall, the Ridgeline is a surprisingly capable and inviting entry into the truck market for Honda. It doesn't give off the same vibe as a Ram, an F-150, or a Silverado, but it doesn't need to. It has a vibe all its own.
And did I mention the fabulous trunk?