When more than a 100 outdoor writers — most in the hunting and firearms segments of the industry — get together for an annual conference, truck makers are always in attendance. At the Professional Outdoor Media Association conference earlier this summer, Honda gave this very tough audience a chance to drive the 2017 Honda Ridgeline in some of America’s most extraordinary terrain in Kalispell, MT. This part of Montana is a short drive from both Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest, and is a favorite hunting and fishing area for sportsmen and women.
To help you get your bearings, Flathead is about 45-minutes to an hour from Kalispell, west of the continental divide and just south of the Canadian border. There is abundant wilderness, wildlife and water and breathtaking natural resources. Although it encompasses about 2.4-million acres, I think of it as something of a hidden treasure since most of the traffic drives further for the amazing Glacier National Park with its iconic views. While they may battle for your favor, don’t miss either unless you are planning multiple Montana trips.
Kalispell is not to be missed either. The downtown is a haven of restaurants and micro-breweries, the locals are so welcoming that your will want to make them all Facebook friends by the time you go home, and their pride in the area is beyond impressive. Hotel rates are reasonable enough to make it your base of operations, but you might want to try to reserve a unique cabin at Flathead for at least a night. These use to be fire watch towers for rangers and the views are amazing.
Since conference attendance is always skewed to those journalists who live in the region (and this was no exception), drivers experience all four seasons of the year and transport side-by-sides, snowmobiles and other toys. They tow, haul, bring along a lot of gear and set up camp on a regular basis. While the Ridgeline would never compete head-to- head with half-ton and three-quarter ton pickups, it is a competitive alternative for those who share this lifestyle and want an all-wheel drive ride that fits into a conventional garage and is designed for the part-time outdoors person.
Ridgeline all new for 2017
This is only the second generation for the Ridgeline, and devotees have been waiting for a new vehicle for more than a decade. While it’s not a huge seller for Honda in the US, it remains a foothold in the truck market and it’s owners are hugely loyal. They are likely to have held on to their old trucks or traded them for new or lightly used Ridgeline trucks, but probably haven’t shifted over to other light duty or mid-size trucks that are much more rugged. While I wrote briefly about its introduction, I refused to endorse or not until I had driven it for an extended period.
I can now say that this is a real truck. It has class-leading 1,585-lb. payload, based upon trim level, which Honda describes as best-in-class and will tow up to 5,000-lbs. It is about 3″ longer and roughly the same height as its predecessor, with a wheelbase that is about three inches wider. The size modifications have made it seem more truck-like but will not turn off loyal Ridgeline owners.
2017 Honda Ridgeline
Designed, engineered and manufactured in the US, it is built on Honda’s global truck platform with a uni-body construction for rigidity and aerodynamics and has independent front and rear suspensions A new direct-injected 3.5L i-VTEC V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with wider ration spread and variable torque management all-wheel for highly improved fuel efficiency, better traction and handling and an impressive medium-duty off-road performance. MPG numbers are 19 city/26 highway/22 combined for the 2WD, and 18/25/21 for the all-wheel drive.
Honda says that the unitized construction delivers up to three times the tortional rigidity of competitive body-on-frame competitors. There are independent front and rear suspension system, and I can attest to both the comfort and quiet that is integrated into the vehicle. Ride handling is also great. Even on unpaved national forest roads, the Ridgeline was comfortable and offered a truck experience rather than one that I would have associated with a passenger car.
The Ridgeline features a Class III towing hitch as standard and the AWD version comes with a 7-pin wiring connector. The range of safety, security and infotainment features — some standard, some optional — is generous, and everything about this truck screams American. No surprise since it was designed, engineered and built in the USA.
One of the more-commonly-heard grips about the previous generation Ridgeline was that it was less-than-prime in the quality of materials and interior styling. That has been successfully rectified in the 2017 model. Lighting, displays and soft touch materials have replaced with far better selections. Storage and seating have been optimized and, with the rear seat bottoms folded up, it will accommodate a mountain bike without the wheels being removed or a 55-inch TV. The underseat storage is large enough to accomodate a comfortable amount of outdoor gear, as well as two passengers on the seats themselves.
Versatile truck bed.
The composite bed on the Ridgeline is made from a new UV-stabilized ultra-high strength glass-fiber-reinforced SMC. It is both longer by 3.9″ and wider by 5.5″ than the prior model and, according to Honda, is the only bed in the midsize class that can flat-haul items like drywall or plywood sheets on the load floor between the wheel wells. It was also designed to accommodate Honda’s own side-by-side or a large generator. There is a dual-action tailgate (side or top opening). For power, there is an available 115V in-bed power outlet with up to 400-watt charging with engine running and eight standard 350-lb. tie-down cleats. Also standard is a roomy in-bed trunk with a flat load floor.
Because the bed is composite, it will not rust or dent and — best of all — doesn’t require a bed liner.
Less for the sportsman than the tailgater, there is an optional truck bed audio system for listening to music or sports. It is a first for the industry and, although I think that other optional things like the tent are more relevant, it does make it a good transitional vehicle.
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline takes a giant leap from its predecessor. There is a lot of new technology and features that make this a nice addition to the midsize truck segment. The increased size of the bed and other storage make this a good sports truck, which I might not have said before. Safety and security, as well as infotainment, are handled and driving performance and comfort surpassed my expectations. With entry pricing at $29,475 for the 2-wheel drive and $31,275 for all-wheel drive, it is priced right. As with any vehicle, your choice of accessories and options can drive up the price quickly but this is a whole lot more truck than the previous Ridgeline, even at the base level.
Kalispell/Flathead photos by James A. Nelson