The 2020 Honda Ridgeline is not your typical truck. In fact, it is pretty much everything that a truck is not supposed to be. It has a car-like unibody frame, independent suspension, and front-wheel drive, with the option for all-wheel drive rather than four-wheel drive. And while all of its competitors have over-the-top aggressive styling with boxy bodies and massive grilles, the Honda Ridgeline has the sleek lines of a crossover SUV. And while it may be the rugged, heavy-duty pickup that hardcore truck owners dream of, the 2020 Honda Ridgeline is possibly the best general-purpose truck available today.
After all, while some tasks do indeed require a diesel-powered body-on-frame monster, the truth is that the majority of the over 2 million trucks sold last year are never used for anything more strenuous than occasionally picking up supplies from the hardware store. And while it is perfectly valid to prefer a pickup over an SUV or hatchback for such tasks, a traditional truck compromises its daily driving comfort to achieve its performance. This is where the 2020 Honda Ridgeline excels. By almost being a car with the body of a truck, it makes for a superior everyday vehicle, while still having enough room and power for those times when you need a truck.
A Truck Where it Counts
While the Honda Ridgeline does share a lot of its design elements with cars, when it comes to the engine, it is a traditional truck. The naturally-aspirated 3.5L V6 produces 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, which lines up well with the V6 engine options in its competitors and gives it more than enough power to make for a comfortable daily driver. Unlike many other trucks, the 2020 Honda Ridgeline does not offer a four-cylinder option. While this is an interesting choice seeing that the Ridgeline is not aimed at the heavy-duty market, the excellent fuel economy of the V6 makes a four-cylinder rather unnecessary. Rated at up to 19 MPG in the city and 26 MPG on the highway, the 2020 Honda Ridgeline is among the most efficient trucks on the market.
Another essential part of the drivetrain is the transmission, which has been upgraded for the 2020 model year. While the 2019 Ridgeline used an aging six-speed automatic with no way to manually control the gears other than shifting into low range, the 2020 model now has a modern nine-speed automatic with paddle shifters. This will not only make for a more comfortable ride, but it also gives you more options in bad conditions or when otherwise using the Ridgeline as a truck.
A Front-Wheel Drive Truck?
There is one place where the drivetrain of the Ridgeline is decidedly not a truck – its use of front-drive or all-wheel drive instead of the traditional rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. However, this follows the Ridgeline’s overall design philosophy of offering people what they need, even if it is not necessarily what they want. While rear-wheel drive is excellent at putting down power, for daily driving, it is really more of a liability than an asset as rear-wheel drive vehicles are prone to fishtailing in adverse conditions – especially when, like pickups, they have very little weight over the rear axle. So while the front-wheel drive Ridgeline loses some towing ability compared to its rear-wheel drive competitors, it makes for a much more sure-footed ride in rain and snow.
While the response may be that if you are expecting lots of rain or snow, then you should buy a four-wheel drive truck, four-wheel drive has its own disadvantages compared to the i-VTM4 all-wheel drive system on the Ridgeline. A true four-wheel drive system provides undeniably the best traction available. However, because four-wheel drive locks the entire drive train together, it is not suited to use at higher speeds. This means that even if you have four-wheel drive, the odds are high that when you encounter an unexpectedly slick surface, you are not going to have four-wheel drive engaged. In contrast, the i-VTM4 system on the Ridgeline is always available and will activate as soon as it senses wheel slip. It is also one of the better all-wheel drive systems available, using an electronic twin-clutch setup that can send up to 70% of the power to the rear wheels and can either split that power evenly or give up to 100% of it to the wheel that needs it most. In some situations, this can even provide better traction than a basic four-wheel drive system.
A More Livable Pickup
One of the most inconvenient aspects of owning a pickup is the lack of interior space. While having a huge bed is great, there are some things that you do not want to put back there. Perhaps you have a large and expensive item, or maybe it is just something that you do not want to expose to the elements. Most pickups just do not have much space inside, and putting a cover or shell on the back defeats a lot of the reason for having a truck over an SUV in the first place. However, the 2020 Honda Ridgeline solves this problem in two ingenious ways. First, the rear seat bottoms fold up in a 60/40 split, providing a lot of extra room in the cab for large objects. Second, the Ridgeline has a trunk. That is right – by swinging the tailgate open to the side (it folds down normally as well), you can access a lockable 7.3 cubic foot trunk in the rear of the bed. Further, this trunk has a plastic lining and includes a drain plug, making it perfect for storing wet items or even for use as an impromptu ice chest.
And while the 2020 Honda Ridgeline will never be best in class for towing, that does not mean it cannot pull a trailer when some extra cargo space is needed. In fact, every Ridgeline comes from the factory with an integrated Class III trailer hitch, and the all-wheel drive versions have a standard 7-pin connector as well. The new transmission in the 2020 model also improves the towing experience by giving you both more gears and the ability to manually control which gear you are in – both issues when towing with the old transmission. And when compared to its more traditional competitors, the Ridgeline’s maximum 5000-pound tow rating is not really that far behind either.
But perhaps the best aspect of the Honda Ridgeline is its car-like suspension. While barely giving up anything in terms of payload against the solid rear axle and leaf springs found on most trucks, the independent multilink rear suspension on the Ridgeline offers a much smoother and more comfortable ride. And if you are one of the many people who uses their truck for the daily commute or long highway drives, this can count for a lot. In all, the 2020 Honda Ridgeline makes for perhaps the ultimate light truck, well-suited to daily driving, typical truck tasks, and even moderate off-roading. So if you are in the market for a new truck, set your prejudices of what a truck “should be” aside for a moment and give this unique vehicle a try.