The 2020 Honda Ridgeline might be the most versatile pickup on the market and, while overlooked and scoffed at by traditional truck buyers, it does offer a slew of features these traditional truck buyers would love to have.
Before we get to the features, however, let’s first start with what the Honda Ridgeline is these days. Back in 2005, Honda decided to enter the truck market with a full-size pickup with, what basically amounted to be, midsize truck capability ending this truck’s production in 2014.
The new style Ridgeline came out in 2016 with a more midsize size based off sharing a global platform with the Honda Pilot. It is essentially a Honda Pilot with a bed, still utilizing a unibody construction.
For the 2020 model year, it receives a new 9-speed automatic transmission, standard Honda Sensing safety and driver-assistive technologies, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto standard, a remote-locking tailgate and wider-opening rear doors.
The four-door pickup is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 (280 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque) mated to a 9-speed transmission and can return up to 26 mpg on the highway with 19 mpg in the city. Plus, it can tow 5,000 pounds in an all-wheel-drive variant (3,500 with FWD) and has 1,470 pounds of payload. These towing numbers are similar to other mid-size pickups, yet these other features are not.
So, here’s our top five features you’re overlooking on this truck.
Ridgeline’s dual-mode tailgate
One of the most overlooked features has to be the dual-mode tailgate. Basically, this tailgate works like a traditional tailgate dropping flat while also having the ability to swing open. This allows for many things like access to the in-bed storage/cooler (see below) as well as a great side benefit.
Kerry McClure, chief engineer at Honda R&D, chimed in on a Facebook post extolling the virtues of the bed and tailgate.
“With the dual-mode tailgate, composite construction, it can handle the abuse of rocks, gravel, mulch, lumber or motorcycles,” McClure said. “We even designed the gap between the bed and tailgate to intentionally clean itself…if you sweep gravel across the gap and then try to close the tailgate, the gravel will fall out.”
Try sweeping out gravel with another tailgate and you are in for a good fight getting all the rocks out while trying to get the tailgate to close. Anyone who has every hauled gravel, mulch or dirt knows exactly what that is like, and this is a slick operation.
One thing we have to wonder is why no one has copied this design.
During our week of driving the Ridgeline, we had the chance to take it camping. While at first glance, we didn’t think everything would fit, the in-bed storage turned out to be our savior.
With the tailgate swung open, there is a latch on the bed which opens up a rather large weather-sealed storage bin with a drain plug to double as a cooler — albeit non-insulated one.
We filled this bin with food, water and “other camping drinking needs” and dumped ice in the bin. While we had to add more ice each day of our three-day trip thanks to the 100-degree temps and the non-insulated nature of the bin, it really did perform well. The drain quickly emptied the left-over water, and filling it up was a breeze.
In fact, running to the store for ice was much simpler than dragging the cooler with you or rushing back to camp for more ice. Just park, buy the ice, dump it in the in-bed storage and move on. We can’t tell you how less stressful this was.
What’s more, McClure said the in-bed storage is also large enough for a set of golf clubs. This lockable storage bin hides the contents from passersby, doesn’t hang so low to have concerns about bottoming out and frankly is a great feature for campers, tailgaters, etc.
The only downside we found was in packing. Basically, we had to empty the bed of our camping gear before we could put the beer — er, other camping drinking needs — in the storage bin. With practice, we would probably learn to pack these “essentials” first.
Oh, and before we forget, there is a 115-volt plug in the bed as well as in-bed speaker for jamming out tunes at the lake or worksite. Yeah, really, an in-bed speaker!
Unibody with a frame
One of the largest criticisms from traditional truck fans is the fact the 2020 Honda Ridgeline has a unibody construction. It is seen as weak, and this thought goes back to the 1960s when Ford tried to build one and quickly abandoned it. However, Honda found a unique way to engineer around the problems Ford faced.
Before we get to this engineering, let’s first discuss the difference between a unibody truck and a body-on-frame truck. In short, a unibody truck has the cabin connected to the bed and the whole truck is one piece a la one-body or unibody.
A body-on-frame truck, such as a Ford F150, has the cabin and bed separated with these items bolted to a frame.
The unibody has some pros/cons in that when loading down the bed with heavy items or driving over very uneven terrain, the unibody doesn’t have the same give or ability to twist like a body-on-frame does. Imagine trying to bend a Lego brick versus having two Lego bricks working independently of each other.
Now, a unibody construction is found throughout the automotive world with cars and most SUVs using this construction. However, a truck is different, right?
Not so fast.
Honda engineers knew customers were going to add a lot of additional weight in the bed and/or off-road with this pickup. These needs were different and lead them to add a frame to this pickup as well as add a reinforced piece of steel behind the rear of the cabin.
This frame has a wishbone design under the engine to add additional support, then transforms into a single bar under the bed. Per Honda engineering practices, this frame then bolts to the bumpers. However, in the case of the Ridgeline, Honda engineers pushed the rear bumper outward to give it a traditional bumper design.
By engineering the truck in this way, they were able to get rid of the “buttress” supports found on the first-gen Ridgeline and offer “greater torsional rigidity than any of its mid-size pickup truck competitors,” according to Honda.
Unique safety feature
A feature most people don’t know about on the Honda Ridgeline is hidden behind the body panels, and it just might save your life. What are we talking about? There is a steel plate under the window running down and outward to the sides of the bed.
This steel plate reinforces the unibody structure at this critical spot as well as helped engineers do away with those buttress supports. While improving the look of the truck is one thing, engineers discovered another benefit.
While conducting crash testing, they discovered the steel plate helped prevent objects in the bed from flying into the cabin. Think about hauling bricks or pavers home from the home improvement store, and then having those items fly into the cabin. Probably not a great idea, right?
This is a European safety test according to McClure and as such isn’t on our government’s list of things to test. However, you can bet it will be in the future, and this feature — along with all the other standard features — makes the Ridgeline a top safety pick.
Finally, remember how we discussed the unibody construction with the frame? Yes, this has another benefit — ride quality.
Simply put, the 2020 Honda Ridgeline ride quality is superior to other midsize trucks especially on washboard-plagued dirt roads. Don’t take our word for it, take one spin around town in this pickup, and you can feel the difference.
It’s that dramatic.
Yet let’s be realistic on what the pickup can do.
“While it’s not equipped with an off-road package, it can hold its own off pavement (within reason) and is a better choice for wet or snowy roads with its AWD system and torque vectoring rear differential,” McClure said.
He goes on to call the 2020 Honda Ridgeline the “Swiss Army Knife/Leatherman tool” of the truck world. While we find it hard to argue with this statement, this pickup still has some convincing to do among truck fans — starting with the front-end.
Fix the “got hit by an Odyssey minivan” look — which Honda says it is working on. At that point, Ridgeline might make an interesting case for being one of the best pickups on the market. Well, for certain customers — perhaps not the ‘Murica truck guys and gals.