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2006 Honda Ridgeline

by Denise McCluggage

Honda is sometimes late to the party, but the potluck dish it finally brings to the table usually earns appreciative attention. That was true with its late-arriving SUVs and is certainly true of its pick-up truck - the 4x4 V6 Ridgeline.

Except "pick-up" is not the right word. There is no right word, because Honda has redefined "pick-up" with this square-ish off-beat creation. The Ridgeline is not apt to entice many big-buckled, big-hatted, sharp-toed owners away from their looming V8s, but it is more than certain to win a number of non-pick-up people who appreciate the flexible usefulness of a thoughtfully conceived, pleasant-riding, sporty-handling vehicle with so many appealing features…and so many tricks in its kit.

Trucks are the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. and Honda had none to offer. It didn't even have a traditional ladder frame on which to build one. So they combined a ladder frame with a unibody sedan construction and somehow came up with the off-roading robustness of one and the highway calm and rigidity of the other.

Anyone limited by preconceptions will see in the Ridgeline a slightly weird medium-sized truck with a crew-cab and a dinky (5-foot) bed. Those free of expectations see a roomy five-place SUV with a convenient open bed in back. Wow, five-feet. Hey, a 4x8 piece of plywood overhangs an open tailgate by only 18". (And they give you free red flags at Home Depot.)

The Ridgeline gives a week-end projecteer lugging space for fire wood, potted plants, sand pile sand - even barnyard detritus - without worrying about sharing space like you do in an SUV with the mess or the odor. That's the beauty of an exterior bed. It also carries trees home from the nursery or grandfather clocks home from the auction in the upright position they were designed for.

Before I get to the really clever stuff let me point out some mildly clever stuff. Like the back seat that folds (look, Ma, one-handed) leaving gobs of unstructured space for what-have-you (a mountain bike for instance.) In seating mode the back seats (comfortably car-like unlike the right-angled excuses in some pick-ups) sport anchors for three child seats, not the usual two. (So go ahead, have the third.)

That five-foot bed is made of an undentable steel-reinforced plastic with a textured surface that keeps stuff from sliding around. It also has indentations where the wheels of all-terrain vehicles or motorcycles (all Hondas if you like) will rest for easy hauling. Tie-down cleats, even lights, make this bed one of multiuse with convenience for all.

Ridgeline Tailgate

OK, Really clever alert: the tailgate not only folds down in the conventional manner, but since it is hinged on one side it can also be opened like a refrigerator door. This makes it possible to belly right up to the bed to aid loading and unloading. AND it makes access to the really, really clever deal: the in-bed trunk!

Imbedded in the bed beneath the floor - hidden, lockable and weather-tight - is a space the size of a huge ice chest (8.5 cubic feet). A trunk in a truck. Who'd a thunk? Obviously it's great for toting stuff out of sight and out of the weather: luggage, camping or work gear, tools or trappings.

But it also has drain holes so you could layer it with ice and beverages and be the star of any beach party or pre-game gathering. Slosh slosh. Get your ice-cold Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper right here.

The 3.5-liter V6 that powers the Ridgeline summons up 255 horsepower at 5750 rpm. The 252-foot-pounds of torque comes in at a rather high 4500 reading, but yet in real world driving the vehicle felt quick enough off the line and pleasantly responsive to the throttle. The five-speed automatic transmission is a delight with quick, seamless shifting. The four-wheel drive requires no attention from the driver being adapted from the VTM-4 system in the Pilot and MDX, Honda's successful SUVs. Usually in front-wheel drive the system can transfer up to 70% of power to the rear wheels, if the need is sensed.

The Ridgeline has a limited-slip differential, traction control (which can be turned off) and an untruck-like independent rear suspension. Few trucks have IRS because solid axles are usually considered better for four-wheeling off-road. The Ridgeline did not seem handicapped by its IRS while being driven in the boonies and most certainly this car-like suspension makes the truck more pleasant on the highway. I did not tow with it, but was told by a colleague that its capacity of 5,000 pounds was pulled with even more perceived stability than experienced with conventional trucks.

Honda Ridgeline Hidden Trunk

If the Ridgeline is a weekend truck it is a through-the-week family conveyance. I can't think of any other vehicle that performs both functions so well. It has a long reach covering many demands with flexibility rather than compromise. It makes for a good driving experience all around and it is as useful as an eager elf.

There is, then, that matter of its appearance. On the kind side one could call the Ridgeline distinctive. It is squared off in odd places such as the wheel wells making the little round wheels within the space look lost and misplaced. (Large square wheels would certainly look better, but might prove a problematic ride.) Some of the other oddities about the Ridgeline I grew to find endearing.

Looks, anyway, are subjective. When I had the truck a number of people came up to ask what it was. More like, "What in tarnation is that?" was typical of the questions. No one ever called it "handsome," or "great looking." But I had it long enough to be defensive and showed off the switchable tailgate and the secret trunk. And cinched it with: "Hey, it's a Honda!"

The Ridgeline reminded me of a joke my mother liked. Two teatime visitors were left in the living room with a four-year-old while her mother went to the kitchen. "Not very p-r-e-t-t-y," one woman opined to the other. The child piped up: "Not very p-r-e-t-t-y but very s-m-a-r-t."

2006 Honda Ridgeline
Model options:


122.0 inches
Overall length:
Engine size:

3.5-liter SOHC 24-valve V6

5-speed automatic


Power rack and pinion

Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) with ABS and Brake Assist

Air bags:
2 front w/ side-curtain airbags
Fuel mileage city/hwy:

V6- 16/21


RT: $ 27,700
RTS: $ 30,075
RTL: $ 31,490
RTL w/ Moonroof: $32,640
RTL w/ Moonroof and Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System: $34,640

For more information visit the Honda website here.