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Above the Ridge

BY RORY DALEY
Observer writer

Friday, September 01, 2017

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Reverse rotation, high-rpm power instead of low-end torque, natural aspiration in place of forced induction. These are all concepts that Honda's technical prowess have allowed them to push against the normal automotive conventions. The 2018 Honda Ridgeline embodies the spirit within the company, call it the anti-pickup.

For the second generation of their only pickup, Honda has taken the class rule book and shoved it in the office shredder. There is nothing like the Ridgeline, starting with its outward appearance. Gone are the previous generations sloping side haunches that integrated into the sides of the rear bed. One would easily mistake it for an upmarket sport utility vehicle because it shares much of its architecture with the Honda Pilot SUV. Regardless, it's still a completely new visage for the model.

The reason for such a radical new appearance is that Honda threw out the first rule of pickup club, body on ladder-frame chassis construction. Unlike rivals — who build their pickups in two separate pieces, placing the body on a frame — the Ridgeline is the only unibody pickup currently in production. Why? Because Honda decided that pickups don't have to ride like a pickup.

Since the body is one entire piece, the only downside is a lack of configuration. For anyone who isn't a full-time commercial employee, the Honda Ridgeline will offer more than enough pickup-ness with a payload capacity of 1,580 lb and the ability to tow up to 5,000 lb. Of course, Honda has added its own twist on things with an extra 7.3 cu/ft of storage space accessed under the rear-half of the bed floor and a dual-action tailgate that drops vertically or can be opened horizontally.

Ride height and departure angles are within the class norms so its off-road credibility isn't in question, despite the lack of full-time four-wheel drive. While the Ridgeline is available in front-wheel drive in other markets (pretty much blasphemy in the pickup world), Jamaica receives the top-of-the-line all-wheel drive version with Intelligent Traction Management. Choose your surface from a button on the console and it will adjust for maximum traction.

Get inside and the benefits of the unibody construction introduce themselves. The cabin is well-appointed and spacious. It seats its five passengers comfortably. All the expected amenities are intact and a few extras like Honda's Magic Seating. The three rear seats can be folded upright to provide additional space should one wish, for example, to carry their bicycle inside the vehicle rather than in the bed.

The seats don't drop to racecar lows, but that doesn't hamper the driving experience. The seating position gives a commanding view of the road, allowing one to deploy the 280bhp from the 3.5-litre V6 at a trod of the pedal. Here the Ridgeline is king. It has a level of refinement its rivals can't match. Tyre noise, chassis and bed shake all banished. At speed, only the optional fitted roof racks generate some wind noise, but at those speeds one should be more worried about losing their licence.

The Honda Ridgeline is the pickup for the rest of us; those unwilling to put up with standard pickup tropes of rough rides, and cramped, sparse, noisy interiors. Using its own playbook, the Ridgeline takes the “lifestyle pickup” moniker with pride, offering refinement for everyday use, including the odd night on the town, with more than enough practicality one occasionally needs from a pickup.

TALE OF THE TAPE

2018 Honda Ridgeline

Drivetrain: 3.5-litre V6 + Six-speed Automatic transmission

Horsepower: 280 at 6,000rpm

Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Starting price: $8.9 million

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