As a pickup truck, the Ridgeline Sport differs from the breed defined by stalwarts such as the Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram. Based on a front-wheel-drive platform, the 3.5-liter V-6 engine sits sideways. However, Honda only makes the Ridgeline Sport in a four-wheel-drive format, so the engine sends its 250 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission.
The column shifter takes a little strength to use, popping into each drive mode with determination. There is no manual gear selection here, just two low ranges and an overdrive lockout button that keeps the transmission in gears one through three. Without much in the way of modern fuel-saving technologies besides Honda's VTEC variable valve timing, the Ridgeline Sport only rates 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway. CNET's example averaged 18.6 mpg after a combination of city and freeway driving.
The suspension may be independent, but it is also designed to handle real loads. The truck drives over the road with a feeling of solidity, strong springs maintaining tension as they absorb the bumps and holes in a typical U.S. road. The steering wheel turns easily, but does not feel overboosted. Although the bed is short, only 5 feet, the turning radius does not seems particularly tight. The general driving feel is uncomplicated, similar to Honda's cars.
Simple four-wheel drive
The drive system might make serious offroaders scoff, but it offers the same uncomplicated operation as the driving feel. The Ridgeline Sport generally biases torque to the front wheels, but will throw it to the rear wheels where traction is poor. However, at speeds under 18 mph and in the transmission's low ranges, a button on the dashboard locks the torque distribution, maintaining some power at the rear wheels.
In the few loose dirt areas we found to drive the Ridgeline Sport, there was not much opportunity to feel the rear wheels dig in. And the lack of a descent control mode limits the types of slopes we would want to bring it down.
As Ford shows with its F-150, just because a vehicle is a pickup truck does not mean drivers will not want useful cabin electronics features, giving Honda little excuse to restrict any tech to the top-trim Ridgeline. The complete lack of cabin tech in the 2012 Ridgeline Sport is even more surprising when considering the modern exterior design. The driveline tech is not the most modern, which shows up in the mediocre fuel economy. But the Ridgeline Sport earns points for its tough suspension and easy four-wheel-drive system.
|Model||2012 Honda Ridgeline|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/21 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.6 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||None|
|Digital audio sources||Auxiliary input|
|Audio system||100-watt six-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$30,925|