2017 Honda Ridgeline

Light-duty pickup trucks are an American phenomenon. Factory-made Ford Model T pickups existed from 1925, and apart from Henry’s clever centerline location of all the wheel reaction forces, most pickups have since followed Ford’s precept of a steel ladder frame with a cabin for passengers, a front-mounted engine, and a box behind that for cargo. Most pickups had semi-elliptic springs for their beam axles front and rear, and even post-T-era Fords used them for their rear axles.

2017 Honda Ridgeline

When it created the Ridgeline 10 years ago, Honda broke dozens of assumed-to-be-inviolable rules about what a pickup was supposed to be. Despite that, it initially sold a lot of the easy-riding, unit-construction, semi-passenger-car four-door vehicles. But theRidgeline was never really accepted by stalwart traditional pickup users who had only slowly succumbed to the lure of heaters, air-conditioners, power steering, automatic transmissions, and other passenger car accouterments for their work trucks. As sales figures fell, Honda started planning this more acceptable successor.

 

The Japanese haven’t been able to fully crack into the full-size pickup market despite Tundras and Titans, and the Koreans haven’t tried yet. But I bet Honda could do it, if only it would just totally optimize the design and forget about making visual clones. In the meantime, the Ridgeline is a really excellent vehicle.

1. These flexible-material wheelhouse bands allow the bottom of the Ridgeline to be protected against minor scuffs and shocks around its perimeter, and they reduce the visual height of the body sides.

2. Totally unnecessary separation of the cabin and the bed side panels make the Ridgeline more like a “real” truck. Whatever it takes.

3. This very nice rib runs through the door-handle finger indents and is picked up again at the rear of the bed side to carry all the way across the tailgate.

4. Vertical tracks are necessary in all four doors to allow the main glass panels to descend.

5. This very subtle crease that defines the front fender is rather nice and aligns with the bottom of the side glass.

6. The slightly raised center portion of the hood provides a bit of visual thrust.

7. The hood is further emphasized by the raised rib aligning with the main radiator grille opening. It’s all quite refined but still “trucklike.” Sort of.

8. The blunt part of the front end is relatively small, with the corners chamfered to allow the headlamps to direct air back along the body sides rather than over the hood.

9. The plastic bumper is carefully shaped to appear exceptionally sturdy, with just enough shaping around the lamps to give the ensemble a carefully composed but very tough look.

10. These small round lenses are emphasized by the sculpting above them. Inset from the face, they’re well protected.

11. The outer lamps are quite large, which helps balance the overall graphic composition of the complete front end. It’s not aggressive or tough, but it’s far from the soft look of the earlier model that looked like a soap carving that had been washed once too often.

12. This small surface on the doors, set at about 45 degrees to the ground plane, adds visual length and subtracts visual height. A very nice surface detail.

13. With no need for aerodynamic trickery, the rear bumper fills out the perimeter footprint of the Ridgeline, giving the impression of space and substance.

14. There is very little brightwork on the Black Edition model shown here, but these small bars do a good job of defining the rear corners of the body and draw the eye downward.

15. The base line of the tailgate lies just below the Ridgeline badge, at least a foot above where the bed floor could be on a strictly front-wheel-drive pickup. But the deep trunk space below the bed is a useful innovation that would have to go in such a layout.

16. Fancy, power-operated backlight sliding glass is a refinement that pickup drivers would have laughed at 50 years ago. But it’s very practical.

17. Stiffening the ribs in the roof panel help assure that the cabin does not resonate like a drum.

18. The wide metal surface repeats the wheelhouse trim profile and provides the truck with a sense of individual fenders on the plain body sides.

19. Extending the doors to the very bottom of the cabin is unusual, but does increase ease of access and eliminates shoes touching the exterior skin.

20. This handsome steering wheel is very much a typical passenger car design with multiple buttons and controls—not at all what one normally thinks of as “trucklike.”

21. The cowl over the instruments screen is nicely sculpted, with slight hard lines moving forward that transition into a flat plain across the entire glare shield.

22. These A/C vents are modeled to give the central panel the short bottom trapezoid shape of the vehicle’s grille.

23. The seats are simple, their general aspect a bit sports car-like.

24. The bright trim around the transmission control is definitely more luxury car than truck, obviously the design intention. This is a family utility vehicle, not a truck at all.

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