2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport Review: Introduction
After dominating the car, crossover and minivan segments over the years, Honda took a shot at the pickup truck market in 2006 with the Honda Ridgeline. Six years later, this unconventional sport utility truck is far from a sales success, but the 2012 Honda Ridgeline does provide a unique blend of a car-like ride with the practicality and versatility expected from a pickup to make a perfect family vehicle that is fully capable of towing a boat, hauling motorcycles or just making runs to the home improvement store. New for 2012, Honda added a new Sport trim level to give its aging truck a little more visual flash, and we recently had the chance to drive the 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport for this weeklong review to get a sense of where the Ridgeline stands in regards to the modern pickup truck landscape.
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in Lincoln, Ala., the 2012 Honda Ridgeline is available in four trim levels (RT, Sport, RTS and RTL) with a starting MSRP of $29,250. Stepping up to the new-for-2012 Ridgeline Sport will only set you back an additional $745 while delivering an even more distinctive look. Acting as an appearance package for the base RT trim level, the Ridgeline Sport doesn't offer any additional options, so our test vehicle had an as-tested price of $30,805 including the $810 destination charge. Compared to other crew cab, four-wheel drive full-size pickup trucks on the market, this price is still around $3,000 to $5,000 less than most of its rivals and not too much more expensive than smaller, comparably equipped mid-size trucks.
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Competition
While Japanese rivals Toyota and Nissan came out with more conventional body-on-frame pickup trucks, the Honda Ridgeline features a unibody construction (derived from the Honda Accord) and a unique integrated cargo bed design that puts it head-to-head with the Chevrolet Avalanche although not too long ago, Subaru, Hummer and Ford also dabbled in this niche sport utility truck segment. The growing economy might be good news for other pickups on the market, but the Honda Ridgeline has been on a steady sales decline over the years. In 2011, Ridgeline sales were down almost 40 percent with only 9,579 units sold making it the worst-selling Honda models for 2011, but Honda keeps saying it is committed to the Ridgeline despite killing off better selling models like the Honda S2000 and Honda Element over the last couple years. There is still no definite word as to where the Ridgeline's future lies, but in its sixth year on sale, its unique styling still makes it one of the most distinctive-looking pickups currently offered.
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Exterior
Other than a slight design update in 2010, little has changed visually for the Honda Ridgeline, but the big news for the 2012 Honda Ridgeline is addition of a stylish new Sport trim level. The 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport attempts to bring an even more exclusive styling to this already-distinctive pickup by coming in only three exterior colors (Alabaster Silver, Crystal Black and White) and adding blacked-out accents to the headlights, taillights and grille; all 2012 Ridgeline models get a revised front grille, but the Sport stands out with its identifiable honeycomb grille and "sport" badge. The Ridgeline Sport also comes with unique 18-inch, five-spoke wheels that also carry over the black accents, and the package is finished off with standard fog lights and rear privacy glass. In total, the extra $745 for the Sport package is well worth the money if you're looking for a truck that doesn't blend in.
The rest of the Ridgeline stays the same as previous years marked by its one-piece cab and bed design featuring horizontal creases in the doors and beveled and angled edges surrounding the cargo bed. This cargo bed is constructed with a steel-reinforced composite material for a tough and rugged surface, which is a good thing since a conventional bed liner isn't made for this truck. In fact, the biggest downfall of the Ridgeline's design is that normal truck accessories such as tonneau covers or truck toppers are generally harder (although not impossible) to find. Still, one of the most innovative features of this truck that is the in-bed cargo area that adds an extra 8.5 cubic feet of water-proof storage space. Even better, this cargo space locks and unlocks automatically with the doors, and its two-way tailgate either folds down like a conventional pickup truck or swings out to allow easy access to the deep storage compartment.
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Interior
On the outside, the 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport is easy to spot with its black accents, but inside, the key changes are limited to a leather-wrapped steering wheel with stereo controls, an auxiliary audio input built into the instrument cluster and carpeted, all-weather floor mats. Fans of mid-'90s trucks should love the inside of the 2012 Ridgeline with its five-passenger seating capacity, straightforward interior design, fixed center console and even a column-mounted gear selector. In terms of cabin space, the Ridgeline is positioned squarely in the middle of mid-size and full-size pickups with a five-passenger seating configuration that offers more headroom and legroom than a Toyota Tacoma Double Cab and slightly less room than a Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Crew Cab. There is plenty of storage space in the Honda Ridgeline, too, with a decent-sized shelf above the glovebox, an expandable and reconfigurable center console with a deep hidden storage area and a space under the rear seat that is large enough to fit a golf bag or an optional ($149) under seat storage system (which our test vehicle did not have).
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
The 2012 Honda Ridgeline offers many options except when it comes to the powertrain. All 2012 Ridgeline models start with a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 250 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, and then add in a five-speed automatic and Honda's Variable Torque Management (VTM) four-wheel drive system. This standard configuration gives the 2012 Ridgeline EPA fuel economy estimates of 15 miles per gallon in the city, 21 mpg on the highway and a rating of 17 mpg in combined driving. Thanks to aerodynamic improvements and lower friction engine components, the 2012 Ridgeline gains 1 mpg on the highway over its 2011 counterpart. Unlike the closely related Odyssey and Pilot, the Ridgeline does not offer Variable Cylinder Management which probably accounts for some the lower fuel economy ratings (Odyssey and Pilot are rated at 25 mpg and 28 mpg on the highway, respectively), but this Ridgeline's powertrain setup does allow it to provide a 5,000-pound towing capacity and a payload capacity of more than 1,500 pounds. If VCM and a front-wheel drive version were offered, we could definitely see the Ridgeline being far more fuel efficient, but Honda definitely set this truck up to create as few sacrifices as possible for truck buyers.
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Driving Impressions
Thanks to its unibody construction, the 2012 Honda Ridgeline exhibits the smoothest ride of any pickup truck currently on the market, and the V-6 delivers plenty of get up and go. While it is highly unlikely that Ridgeline drivers will ever exclaim "VTEC just kicked in, yo," this unique variable engine timing system does help get the 4,504-pound Ridgeline up to speed pretty quickly without too much fuss. The Ridgeline uses a front-wheel biased four-wheel drive system that automatically distributes engine power to all four wheels based on driving and traction conditions, but with the transmission in first or second gear and at vehicle speeds under 18 mph, the "VTM-4 Lock" can be engaged to hold power at the rear wheels for optimal traction. We drove the Ridgeline Sport along the beach with fine, loose sand and in some moderate off-road terrain, and the system performed flawlessly in both automatic and VTM-4 Lock modes. Off-roading is aided by the fact that the Ridgeline offers a decent 8.2 inches of ground clearance in addition to approach and departure angles that should meet the needs of the casual off-road driver at 24.5 degrees and 22 degrees, respectively.
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Safety
When it comes to safety, the 2012 Honda Ridgeline really starts to stand out from the competition. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named it one of only three pickups as a 2012 Top Safety Pick, although it has yet to be tested by the stricter 2010+ crash safety standards of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Still, all 2012 Honda Ridgeline models have a long list of standard safety features that include six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with traction control, daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Final Thoughts
Although the 2012 Honda Ridgeline is the alternative to a rough-riding body-on-frame pickup, it is still highly competitive when it comes to towing, hauling cargo, hauling passengers and even off-road driving, and now the all-new Sport package adds a unique appearance as well. Yes, as the "Honda of pickup trucks," better fuel economy could be expected, but it is an excellent choice for casual truck buyers who only need a brute towing machine occasionally. For these buyers, the spacious cabin and innovative in-bed cargo area will make it a great family vehicle, but the unique unibody chassis is what really sets this truck apart from other trucks with a smooth ride expected from a family-friendly crossover while still delivering the practicality of a cargo-friendly pickup truck.
2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport: Pros and Cons
- innovative in-bed storage area
- improved highway fuel economy for 2012
- the smoothest-riding pickup on the market
- poor rear visibility
- fuel economy is the same as more conventional body-on-frame pickups
- truck accessories (i.e., tonneau covers, truck toppers, etc.) are less common
Honda provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross