Honda Ridgeline: Rides like a car, works like a truck

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The 2017 Honda Ridgeline looks more trucklike than its predecessor. The dual-action tailgate either lowers or opens from the side.

The procession to the midsize pickup cemetery had been quite long in recent years. It included caskets containing the Dodge Dakota, the Chevrolet S-10 and its GMC clone, the Ford Ranger, and, most recently, the Honda Ridgeline.

But then, GM decided it wanted back into the shrunken but still-significant midsize market that Toyota and Nissan now had all to themselves. Its nifty new midsizers, the Chevy Colorado and the GMC Canyon, sold more than 100,000 copies during the 2016 model year, and that got noticed.

Ford, which sells a midsize pickup just about everywhere but here, recently announced that it will resurrect the Ranger midsize, rolling away the stone from the mouth of that sepulchre for the 2019 model year.

And, after a two-year hiatus, Honda's Ridgeline midsize pickup has returned for the 2017 model year.

The Ridgeline is a particularly notable case because it is such a departure from a conventional pickup truck. Traditional pickups are of body-over-frame construction, meaning the cab and bed are bolted to a rugged ladder frame. They are also rear or all-wheel-drive, employing solid rear axles and, in the case of the AWD models, a low-range that affords super-low gearing for off-road use.

Structurally and mechanically, the Ridgeline is much more carlike, really closer to a crossover than a conventional truck. Indeed, much of its structure, suspension, and drivetrain are borrowed from Honda's Pilot crossover SUV. It uses unibody construction instead of body-over-frame, has an independent rear suspension, no low-range, and, in two-wheel-drive form, is a front-driver rather than a rear-driver.

The net result is more a carlike ride and handling than its typical competitor, while maintaining reasonably trucklike towing and payload capacity. The new Ridgeline will tow 5,000 pounds in the AWD form I tested, and 3,500 as a front-driver. Its 5.3-foot bed will carry up to 1,584 pounds.

That black plastic-lined bed contains two particularly clever features. Aft of the rear wheels is an under-floor well that houses the spare tire, jack, and a 7.3-cubic-foot storage compartment that is fitted with a drain plug so that it can double as a food and drink locker that will hold 300 pounds of ice. The dual-action tailgate is lockable and either lowers or opens from the side.

This second-generation Ridgeline is probably not the brightest crayon in the pickup styling box, but it does look more trucklike than its predecessor, although I could do without the vertical body crease intended to simulate the usual division between a pickup's cab and bed. Mercifully, Honda has eliminated those quirky sloped sides on the first generation's cargo bed, which increased the liftover height as you moved toward the front of the vehicle.

Getting into the Ridgeline's crew cab and putting it to work is edifying on several levels. The interior design is clean and smart, particularly in the upmarket Black Edition I drove, with its red-stitched, black leather seats. Visibility is excellent, as is instrument control placement. Rear-seat legroom is good.

The cabin is quiet and comfortable, and the ride and handling are first rate. The steering is precise, and very quick for a truck. A 3.5-liter, 280-horsepower V-6, coupled to a six-speed automatic gearbox, gets the new Ridgeline from 0 to 60 in under seven seconds, which isn't shabby at all.

The Ridgeline is a well-equipped crew cab even in base form. The base front-driver includes niceties like that special tailgate, push-button starting, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, a rear camera, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

All these goodies don't translate into BOGO prices. The Ridgeline opens at $29,475 plus shipping. The super-loaded Black Edition I drove stickered at $42,870.

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