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Honda’s first entry into the pickup market turning heads

By Bruce W. Smith / Editorial Services
Special to GCN

Honda has established a rock-solid reputation for building fuel-efficient, well-built cars that create a strong brand loyalty among owners. So when American Honda brings out something new in the car market, there’s little hesitation with new car buyers wanting to take a ride.

Such brand loyalty is literally what the company—and its dealers—are banking on with the debut of the 2006 Ridgeline pickup scheduled to go on sale at dealers nationwide the first week of March.

Ridgeline, the company’s first entry into the ultra-competitive and ever-expanding world of four-door pickups, is going to be a very stiff competitor against the likes of the Ford Explorer Sport Trac, GM Colorado/Canyon, Dodge Dakota, and Toyota Tacoma.

According to Honda studies, there are 3.4 million households that own Honda ATVs or motorcycles and a Honda car or SUV. One out of five of those households also own a pickup—and to this point that has been some other manufacturer’s vehicle. No more.

“The number one reason the Ridgeline is going to be such a success for dealers is our customers will find it very easy to move into a Honda pickup instead of going to a different manufacturer to meet those same needs,” says Reggie Centers, new car sales manager for Treadwell Honda in Mobile.

“Up until now pickup buyers going to other brands is where we’ve lost a lot of customers. When our first ten Ridgelines arrive the first week of March, that will all change.”

A close look at the four-door mid-size reveals Honda has done their homework well. The Ridgeline is more than capable. It can carry more than a ˝-ton in the bed,  and unlike it’s competitors, Honda says it’s rated t tow 5,000 pound without need of weight-distribution hitches or other special towing accessories.    

 Save for the engine, transmission, and all-wheel drive system that is carryover from the renowned Acura MDX sport-utility, the rest of the Ridgeline is all-new. The four-wheel independent suspension should provide a smooth, stable ride even over the roughest of roads, and the all-wheel-drive traction and control in the worst driving conditions.

Honda execs say the Ridgeline body and interior is also all-new. (Contrary to rumors, the Ridgeline is not a modified Honda Pilot or Odyssey van.

When it comes to real-world use, the Ridgeline might surprise a lot of buyers looking for a new pickup. The door openings are big, with a low step-in height. Leg and headroom is abundant both front and rear, while the seatback angle of the split rear seat looks inviting for a long drive.

The rear seats flip up flat against the rear cab wall to provide a big storage area, and when they are down you can slide cargo under them much like an airline seat.

But it’s in back where Honda makes a statement and changes the way we’ll be looking at pickups from now on.

Beneath the cargo bed is a huge locking trunk accessed by swinging open the dual-opening position tailgate (it can be either dropped down like a conventional pickup tailgate or swung open like a door) and lifting the rear half of the bed floor.

The bed trunk is waterproof and is large enough to carry three golf bags or a 72-quart insulated cooler.

The 5-foot steel-reinforced composite bed is stout, too. It’s rated to handle 1,100 pounds of cargo, while the tailgate is load rated for more than 300 pounds, making it the strongest in the pickup market and ideal for loading/carrying today’s 600-pound ATVs that are so popular among hunters and recreational riders.

Ridgelines will be offered in three trim levels: RT, RTS, and RTL. All three come with the 255hp V6 and five-speed automatic, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, front and side curtain air bags, three-point seat belts at all seating positions, and child seat anchor system

The entry-level Ridgeline RT is equipped with cruise control, power sliding rear window, power door locks and windows, air conditioning, lights in the bed, pre-wired trailer connection, and CD sound system.

Mid-level RTS Ridgelines get a six-disc in-dash CD sound system, power driver’s seat, anti-theft security, tinted windows, and audio controls on the steering wheel.

The premium-level RTL adds heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control, XM Satellite Radio, and a navigation system.

Honda executives and sales folks such as Centers feel the innovations in the all-wheel-drive pickup could turn around truck buyers to the point it might even sway potential Ford F-150 and Chevy Avalanche buyers into Ridgelines.

Centers says the 2006 Ridgeline will be priced “less than $28,000 for the nicely appointed base model and low-$30Ks for those with up-level trim.” 

Honda Ridgelines will be at dealers the first week of March. But don’t be surprised if the first arrivals are already spoken for because many dealers already have waiting lists.  

FAST FACTS

Vehicle:            2006 HONDA RIDGELINE
MSRP:             $27,735 (RT);  $29,750 (RTS); $31,735 (RTL)
Major options (est. cost): Moonroof ($1,000), Navigation system ($2,000)
Body:               4-door Pickup
Seating capacity:           5
Drivetrain:         All-wheel-drive
Engine: 255hp 3.5L V6
Transmission:    5spd Automatic
Suspension:      Four-wheel Independent
Bed length:       5 ft. (tailgate up)
Fuel capacity:   22 gals.
EPA estimated numbers:           16 city / 21 highway
Towing capacity:           5,000 lbs
NHTSA Roll Stability: 4 star (no tip up)
Crash protection rating: 5-star
Air bags: Side curtain and front standard
Federal emissions classification: ULEV-2 / 50 State

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