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A Pickup Line With Potential

2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page G01

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- There are many pickup trucks in this little town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are Chevrolets, Fords, Dodge trucks -- and an occasional model from Nissan or Toyota. The theme is clear: This is American pickup-truck country.

But Asheville and similar towns are where Honda Motor Co., Ltd., hopes to revolutionize conventional notions about pickup trucks in America. The Japanese vehicle manufacturer has introduced the 2006 Honda Ridgeline, which some industry pundits are already calling the "anti-pickup pickup."

2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL
2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL
2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL. (Honda)

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: The high-walled, very short cargo bed in the Ridgeline seems to have little appeal for traditional pickup-truck buyers, who generally ridicule it as being gimmicky and inadequate. But, the Ridgeline is not aimed at them anyway.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Traditional truck buyers find it soft in ride and handling. No one complained about its acceleration, especially in highway lane changes. Non-traditional pickup-truck buyers absolutely loved everything about the Ridgeline in these three categories -- especially the truck's sedan-like handling, afforded by a four-wheel independent suspension system.

Head-turning quotient: The women absolutely loved it! That is an extremely important marketing advantage for Honda. According to U.S. auto industry marketing surveys, women influence an estimated 85 percent of all new-vehicle sales in this country. That means if the woman of the house doesn't want it, the man in the house probably won't buy it.

Body style/layout: The tested Ridgeline RTL S/R is a front-engine, four-door, four-wheel-drive, full-size pickup truck with a short cargo bed and lockable in-bed trunk.

Engine/transmission: The Ridgeline has a standard 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 engine that develops 255 horsepower at 5,750 revolutions per minute and 252 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 revolutions per minute. The engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The Ridgeline has seating for five people. Maximum payload, the weight of what it can carry onboard, is 1,554 pounds. Maximum towing capacity, what it can pull, is 5,000 pounds. Lockable in-bed trunk capacity is nine cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 22 gallons of regular unleaded fuel.

Mileage: I averaged 17 miles per gallon in city and highway driving.

Safety: Standard side air bags; head-curtain air bags with rollover sensor; four-wheel antilock brakes; tire-pressure monitoring system; lower anchors and tethers in rear cabin for child-safety seats.

Price: The initial suggested base price for the 2006 Ridgeline RTL S/R 4WD is $32,640. Estimated dealer invoice on that model is $29,000. Price as tested is $33,155, including a $515 destination charge. These initial prices will change. Expect little bargaining room on this one in early sales. Consumer demand is expected to be high. Prices sourced from Honda and www.edmunds.com.

Purse-strings note: This one will sell, especially to non-traditional pickup-truck buyers. Compare with anything in the standard pickup-truck category.

The aptly named Ridgeline -- the RTL S/R 4WD version tested for this week's column -- is pretty inside and out. It has a two-tone leather-covered interior; the comfort and seating space of a luxury sedan designed for five people; an array of cleverly located storage bins, nooks and crannies, reminiscent of a well-executed minivan or station wagon; and, of course, it has Honda's legendary high-quality fit and finish.

But the ultimate "wow" factor of the Ridgeline has little to do with its pleasant passenger cabin, or with traditional pickup-truck values such as the ability to haul heavy loads, pull stumps or kick up dust and mud on off-road trails. Instead, it is a relatively simple thing -- so simple, you wonder why Honda's rivals did not think of it ages ago. It's a deep-dish, lockable, in-cargo bed trunk capable of carrying nine cubic feet of luggage -- easily accommodating two large soft-pack travel bags, or several bags of groceries.

That lockable trunk has easy access, thanks to the Ridgeline's tailgate, which swings both ways -- up and down for traditional pickup-bed loading; and side-to-side in the manner of a door to a house or apartment.

The Ridgeline's cargo bed itself is short -- barely five feet long, enough to accommodate dirt bikes and other recreational equipment; or, using tie-down latches, that bed is perfect for carrying baby carriages and other family-support items normally hauled in minivans and wagons.

There is a visual and tactile softness about the Ridgeline that runs contrary to the conventional American pickup-truck image -- rough, tough, capable and willing to take on the world. Indeed, those are the characteristics of the Chevy and Ford trucks, and the Dodge Ram and Dakota models that are so popular here.

If pickup trucks were a religion, most of the owners of those vehicles in Asheville would be fundamentalists. Beauty here is a pickup truck that is dented, scratched, banged and dinged -- proof that it can take a beating, roll with the suffering and, as some of the local lingo puts it, "keep on keepin' on."

That is why the traditional manufacturers of standard pickup trucks -- Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp. and the Dodge Truck Group of DaimlerChrysler Corp. -- routinely use aggressive male images and words to promote their wares. Ford's pickups are "Ford Tough." GM's models are built "like a rock." Dodge is "Ram tough." Both Toyota Motor Co. and Nissan have gotten into the hard-as-nails act with models from Toyota called Tacoma and Tundra; and with the new, can't-miss-the-message, full-sized Titan from Nissan.

By comparison, the Ridgeline in both name and demeanor is deliberately ambiguous -- bordering on the edge of something that defies definition, that is neither pickup nor sedan; that is both soft and tough; something that pays homage to long-held ideas of manhood, but simultaneously says strongly and loudly that men would be nothing without women.

The target buyers for the Ridgeline are what could be called "new-age universalists" -- women and men who are non-traditional truck buyers, people who desire some of the utility of a pickup truck but who want something considerably more.

The men in this congregation never objected much to driving or owning minivans and wagons. The women wanted something that served their individual and family needs without defining them as "soccer moms" or desperate housewives. They both should fit nicely into the Ridgeline. Honda believes they are in the majority, even in places such as Asheville, where the majority often has a reputation for being silent.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company