2012 Honda Ridgeline

GOLDSBORO, N.C. — The utility of a pickup truck and the comfort of a car make the aging Honda Ridgeline unibody crew cab a still-solid choice for the weekend Home Depot warrior. Or the family who desires a vehicle that can tow the jet skis, haul several duffels or roller-boards in a secure compartment, carry camping supplies in the five-foot-long dent-resistant bed, and tote five passengers for the weekend beach getaway.

The Ridgeline, introduced in 2005 as a 2006 model, has a lot going for it, enough to make it a good choice for people whose chores don't involve heavy-duty hauling, but who need the security of full-time all-wheel drive.

Unfortunately, the Ridgeline has suffered in recent years from low sales as it faced serious competition. More than 50,000 Ridgelines were sold in 2006, its first full year on the market. Sales in 2011 had slumped to less than 10,000. Through the first four months of 2012, sales were up slightly, running at an annual rate of about 15,000.   

Just last fall rumors were flying that Honda was going to terminate the Ridgeline. Honda squelched that rumor, and true to its word, the 2012 edition is now in showrooms. What about 2013? We'll have to simply wait on that, but in the meantime, the Ridgeline still has a lot to offer.

For 2012, Honda has added a Sport trim line that for just $745 over the base RT model adds exclusive black 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, exclusive black honeycomb grille, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, fog lights and black headlight and brake light housings.

The most noticeable change is a new grille design that we like — especially the honeycomb design on the Sport trim. Also, the Ridgeline gets aerodynamic improvements, and friction reduction measures in the engine, which adds one mpg in the highway rating.

But there is the mileage bugaboo in this age of once again increasing gas prices. The Ridgeline is expected to achieve 15 mpg in city driving and 21 on the highway using regular gas. That's just one better city/highway than a full-sized Chevrolet Silverado crew cab with a 5.3-liter V-8 engine.

What we like most after a week and 200 miles behind the wheel is the composed, civilized ride that the Ridgeline offers. The truck soaks up road imperfections with aplomb — no bouncy truck reactions over pot holes and railroad track crossings — and together with decent on-center feel gives the Honda hauler a confident stance in highway driving. 

The other notable thing that came into play during our test week was the unique in-bed trunk where virtually anything can be stored out of the weather. The trunk is located  just forward of the tailgate. Within easy reach, it will accommodate a large 72-quart cooler or three sets of golf clubs or a couple of suitcases and duffel bags. It also has a drain plug which means it can be loaded with ice and drinks for a tailgate party. And it can be hosed out. Even after seven years, the competition doesn't have anything to match it.

The trunk is easily accessible by a tailgate that can be opened from the side in addition to the traditional fold-down configuration. We used the storage area to transport several watermelons from our favorite road-side fruit stand.

The Ridgeline has been powered through the years by a 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V-6 that provides 247 pound-feet of torque. Nothing has changed. Mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, it has the ability to tow up to 5,000 pounds and can complete a 0-to-60 run when unloaded in about nine seconds.

This translates into decent no-aggravation acceleration in all highway situations. But we can't help thinking that if Honda would spring for a six-speed transmission, both acceleration times and gas mileage would be improved.

The Ridgeline RT starts at $30,180 for the RT trim. Our test truck, the new Sport edition, carried a bottom line of $30,925. If you want everything the Ridgeline offers, the loaded RTL with navigation and leather seating tops out at $38,110. Edmunds.com says that current True Market Value is running between $2,000 and $2,500 under sticker.

— Jim Meachen