Nearly three decades ago, George H.W. Bush, in accepting the Republican Party’s nomination to be its presidential candidate, called for a “kinder, gentler nation.”
Whether that ever happened remains up for debate, especially these days.
Still, you could say Honda is doing its part with the redesigned 2017 Ridgeline, a capable, tough-enough truck with a kinder, gentler side when it comes to ride comfort, handling and convenient features.
To be fair, the second-generation Ridgeline, back after a two-year hiatus, actually leads the segment in hauling capacity with a maximum payload of 1,584 pounds when equipped with the all-wheel-drive system. Even the front-wheel-drive version — new this year — carries just 124 pounds less. But when it comes to towing capacity, off-road prowess and even rugged truck looks, well, it comes up a little short.
To its benefit, its look is more mainstream this year: Those fastback flares atop the bed sides, thankfully, are gone. Honda thought they made the truck look beefier, but the flares drove some folks away. And they made it more difficult to reach into the front of the bed, too.
Removing them enabled Honda to extend the bed to 66 inches — that’s four inches longer than the previous generation’s and a couple of inches longer than its foes. The bed comes with a textured protective coating and is wide enough to accommodate 4-foot-wide sheets of plywood or drywall panels.
The real fun comes at tailgate parties, with Ridgeline’s exclusive in-bed trunk that passes as an 80-quart ice chest and with a drain plug. It’s weather-sealed to keep the ice longer (or to keep out the rain when carting around dry goods). Plus, an optional in-bed audio system provides the tailgate music while the teams are getting ready to rumble.
Access to the trunk is made easier with a dual-motion tailgate, which pulls down or swings out from the side. It does not have hydraulics, though, so beware that it can flop down fast and heavy.
When it comes to towing, Ridgeline can handle the smaller boats and trailers but lags behind the competition in pulling strength. The all-wheel-drive versions come with a 2-inch receiver hitch and have a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds, while the two-wheel-drive can handle 3,500 pounds.
Heading off the road, it can accommodate only light duty. Multiple terrain settings are new this year and help Ridgeline navigate through mud, sand and snow, but it doesn’t have the ground clearance, overhangs or suspension setup for serious off-roading.
What Ridgeline does have is serious on-road capability, delivering a quiet, smooth ride like no other truck. Perhaps this should come as no surprise since it is based on the smooth-riding Honda Pilot SUV.
Road crevasses and potholes are well-absorbed from the car-like underpinnings. Nary a sound is heard from the wind or engine. Braking is strong, and the electric-driven steering is quick and responsive.
Power comes from an improved 3.5-liter V-6 engine that puts out 280 horsepower, 30 more than the previous Ridgeline. It is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission. Together, with the AWD, they manage the best fuel economy in the midsize-truck segment: an EPA-rated 18 mpg in town and 25 on the highway for a combined figure of 21 mpg. The FWD saves 1 mpg all around.
Inside, reminders of its kinship to Pilot abound. The dash setup has a large infotainment screen and easy-to-see gauges, and the center stack buttons look familiar and are within easy reach. Materials have a good feel throughout, and the panel fit is clean and neat.
Seating for five offers plenty of head, shoulder and leg room up front and class-leading legroom in the rear. The rear seat also folds.
The Ridgeline still only comes in one configuration, a four-door crew-cab with short bed, but there are seven trim levels to spruce it up and add electronics. The base RT, though, is wonderfully equipped and gets the good stuff like the dual-action tailgate and in-bed trunk, plus push-button start, auto-off lights, Bluetooth, USB and seven-speaker sound system.
Moving up the ladder gets you things like all-wheel-drive, upgraded wheels, heated seats, power moonroof, 8-inch touchscreen and in-bed audio. A top-line Black Edition features — you guessed it — lots of black: paint, wheels, grille, and black leather seats with contrast red stitching.
Advanced safety features include forward adaptive cruise control, collision warning with auto braking and lane-departure warning with lane keep assist.
The new Ridgeline is smarter, smoother-riding and more economical for 2017. It’s also capable and rugged enough for most daily needs. So there’s just one question: How rugged is rugged enough?
2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD
What’s all the excitement about? The Ridgeline is back after a two-year hiatus and is more capable, boasts greater power, better fuel economy and a new look.
Powertrain: 3.5-liter V-6 engine produces 280 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
How’s the performance? Smoothest riding pickup on the market, with car-like handling.
What about fuel economy? 21 mpg combined (25 highway, 18 city).