The Good Terrific ride and handling, industry's first lockable trunk
The Bad No V-8 option, controversial styling
The Bottom Line At last, a pickup truck that drives like a car
Think of it as the city truck. The 2006 Honda Ridgeline is a full-blown pickup, but one designed for those of us who hang out at Home Depot (HD ) instead of construction sites; who commute on roads, not off; who want a refined ride and all the safety stuff rather than the biggest payload and towing capacity.
Honda has been hinting at building a pickup truck for years. Most of us figured it would be a chopped-off sport-utility vehicle with a cargo bed on the rear. Instead, Honda (HMC ) built a real four-door, all-wheel-drive truck, but did it unconventionally. The body is one piece, like that of a passenger car, but with a stiff bottom frame. Other pickups start with the frame and mount a cab and bed on top. You can even see the gap.
The payoff: This is the best-riding, best-handling truck I've ever driven. It also has independent suspensions on the rear, unlike the solid rear axle on all other midsize trucks, such as the Chevy Colorado or Toyota Tacoma. That and the unibody construction mean that there's none of the bouncing and shaking you associate with pickups, or that out-of-control feeling as the rear skitters around in quick turns. It's almost like driving a Honda Accord.
The cargo area is equally ingenious. First off, the Ridgeline is the only pickup with a trunk. Raise the lockable rear of the cargo bed and you'll find a well big enough for three golf bags or a 72-quart cooler. You can use it as an ice chest -- there's a drain plug -- perfect for tailgate parties. Speaking of which, the tailgate has a trick of its own. It folds down the usual way, to load sheets of drywall (or to get the party going). Or you can swing it open like a car door, for easier unloading or hosing out your mess.
The cabin is huge, and it has the best backseat in the business. The seat backs are angled, not bolt upright like the rear seats in most pickups, and there's enough leg room for a six-footer like me. The seat bottom can flip up to make room for, say, a bicycle. All safety features -- including antilock brakes, traction and stability systems, and side air bags and curtains -- come standard on the $28,215 base model. The sticker tops out at $35,155, including leather seats, moonroof, and navigation system.
Here's what you can't get: a two-door cab, a longer bed, a stick shift -- which Honda's rivals offer. Nor is there a V-8 engine. But I didn't miss it in around-town driving. (I also didn't test it at its advertised max, with a half-ton of cargo or towing a 5,000-pound trailer.) But for most of us, it's all the truck we need.
By Larry Armstrong