New sporty Honda Ridgeline debuts at Detroit auto show

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

American Honda Motor Co. Inc. has transformed the Honda Ridgeline pickup into an everyday lifestyle midsize pickup, taking the most popular features of the first-generation truck and combining them with stylish new looks and functionality truck buyers seek.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline, available in the first half of this year, was globally revealed Monday, the first press day at the Detroit auto show.

The truck’s sporty design is more refined and mainstream, but the truck keeps its popular dual-action tailgate that opens on the side and from the top, and in-bed trunk. It joins a growing segment that includes newly designed GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado trucks, which went on sale in fall 2014, and a redesigned 2016 Toyota Tacoma.

“They’ve done a really nice job of sort of getting it in line visually with what that segment expects,” said Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst with IHS Automotive. “The (old) Ridgeline had terrific new features and flexibility that, at the time it launched, small pickups didn’t really have. But its looks were just a little bit strange and didn’t really resonate with people who were considering pickup trucks.”

Honda introduced the Ridgeline at the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Ridgeline went on sale as a 2006 model in 2005 and was produced through mid-2014. Sales hit a high of about 51,000 in 2006, but dwindled after 2008.

The 2017 Ridgeline features what Honda boasts as the segment’s “best handling, ride quality, cabin quietness and all-weather traction capabilities” thanks to its unibody platform and independent front and rear suspension.

The Honda Ridgeline and Honda Ridgeline Black Edition are introduced Monday at the Detroit auto show.

“We think we’ve got a better idea, a truck that uses its unibody construction and Honda packaging magic to deliver more of the things that many of today’s truck customers want and need with none of the things they don’t,” John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., said in a statement.

With its unibody construction, the Ridgeline offers a roomier interior than body-on-frame trucks, said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for AutoPacific Inc.

“It’s something FCA has been mulling over for years and Ridgeline is going to be the first to deliver a unibody pickup truck that looks like a pickup truck,” he said.

Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager of the Honda Division, said buyers of the first-generation Ridgeline loved the truck, but wanted better fuel economy. Those who didn’t buy the Ridgeline, said their biggest issue was styling, he said.

“They said, ‘you know … I want an innovative truck but I can’t get by the styling.’ So we changed that. And we said, ‘hey the pickup truck segment likes a traditional look,’ so we gave this a traditional look,” Conrad said.

“We think the front end is a gorgeous look, we think that sets the tone for the whole truck. And we have improved fuel economy. We aren’t releasing numbers now, but it’s going to be great numbers.”

The Ridgeline will be offered with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine and automatic transmission. The first generation Ridgeline got a combined 17 miles per gallon in the city/highway but was sold only as a four-wheel drive model.

Honda says it is targeting best-in-class acceleration, fuel economy and safety ratings. Ridgeline will be available for the first time in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive variants.

The crew cab Ridgeline’s bed grows from the previous generation to 5-foot, 4 inches long and is 5 feet wide, including 4 feet between the rear wheel arches, the widest in the segment. Payload will approach 1,600 pounds. Honda says it offers the most interior room of any four-door midsize truck. It also has what is believed to be the industry’s first in-bed audio system for tailgating. It also will offer a slew of safety features.

Inside, the truck is roomy and features a clean-looking center stack with an eight-inch screen that will feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. It has a push-button start and ample storage, including the ability to store a set of golf clubs under the rear seats. A new, black edition will top trim lines for the Ridgeline.

Conrad said Honda isn’t providing any sales expectations other than to exceed previous sales numbers. But he thinks the truck will attract new buyers and retain Honda owners who otherwise may have left the brand to buy a pickup.

IHS Automotive predicts Ridgeline sales will grow to about 50,000 in the U.S. in 2017. LMC Automotive’s sales forecast is a bit less robust; the firm expects Ridgeline may reach 25,000 to 30,000 sales annually.

The midsize truck segment is expected to grow to about 385,000 to 390,000 sales in 2016 and 2017, LMC Automotive predicts, up from 250,000 in 2014 and about more than 356,000 last year.

“There’s definitely a boost with the Ridgeline coming back in,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for LMC Automotive.

That growth should continue to as high as half a million sales by 2020 to 2022 with expected addition of a Ford Ranger pickup coming in early 2019 and a Jeep Wrangler pickup expected in mid 2018, Schuster said.

Ridgeline pricing has not been released, but ranged from $29,575 to $37,505 with the first generation. Ridgeline will be built in Lincoln, Alabama.

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