Honda’s 2017 Ridgeline recipe includes nontraditional ingredients. Competition in truck world is harsh and Honda is, after all, more known for their fuel sipping sedans. Can they compete in a market dominated by the likes of General Motors and Toyota?
In a surging midsize truck market, will anybody take Honda seriously?
I spent the entire month of May in San Antonio, Texas, working on Honda’s massive training program for the 2017 Ridgeline. I was one of the vehicle coaches, demonstrating the capabilities of the 2017 Ridgeline to Honda reps from around the country. I come from the traditional truck world where a certain recipe stands: body-on-frame, solid rear axles, and four-wheel drive. Trucks following this formula are capable and tough with solid sales.
Recently, the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, and GMC Canyon underwent significant redesigns. The 2017 Honda Ridgeline is completely redesigned too but with a slight (or perhaps drastic) variation – being these traditional truck elements are not found on the 2017 Honda Ridgeline.
When I first drove it, I was impressed. It’s quiet, fuel efficient, and powerful. I took it through an off-road course and towing exercises with nearly 4,000 lbs. behind me. Each time, I walked away feeling like I experienced something special. Something different.
While the list of engineering and design concepts is practically endless, here are the elements I observed firsthand that provided the most value. Each of them cater to either fuel efficiency, safety, or overall performance. Many of these specific attributes are absent in the midsized truck segment, if not for the 2017 Honda Ridgeline.
Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) modeling helped Honda achieve a better coefficient drag for the 2017 Ridgeline. CFD examines how air moves over the truck with design modifications tweaked for the best aerodynamic outcome. CFD testing was conducted in a 40-percent-scale wind tunnel at Honda R&D Americas, Inc., located in Raymond, Ohio.
The front end sweeps air around the truck, while additional “guides” send air through the bumper and grille to the condenser and radiator. Strakes, sometimes used in aviation to increase aerodynamics, are located ahead of the rear tires. These protruding ridges direct airflow around the tires for better aerodynamics.
A curb weight reduction by as much as 70 plus pounds increases fuel mileage. Despite the weight drop, the new Ridgeline has 28-percent greater torsional rigidity – in other words, it’s less susceptible to bending and twisting on rough terrains, during towing, or when hauling payloads.
The more a truck bends and twists, the less effective it becomes in terms of overall performance and safety.
ACE In The Hole
Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) is a shining star. ACE uses high tensile strength steel to disperse crash energy away from occupants. It also reduces misalignment (under ride/over ride) with vehicles of other sizes and shapes during a frontal collision. ACE differs from traditional designs in that it directs impact energy to both upper and lower structural elements.
A “3-Bone” structure moves crash energy around and away from occupants. The structure creates three different load pathways, or “backbones,” that channel collision energy. One channel sends collision forces from the front of the truck directly underneath the passenger cabin; the other two direct collision forces under the vehicle’s left and right side frames.
Combing the body structure with supplemental restraints and available Honda Sensing, the 2017 Ridgeline receives a 5-star Overall Vehicle Score in the NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program, and a TOP SAFETY PICK+ rating from the IIHS. This includes a GOOD rating on the small overlap frontal collision test.
Ride & Handling
While ACE contributes to ride quality, Honda has an additional trick up their sleeve. The 2017 Ridgeline features a fully independent front and rear suspension with Amplitude Reactive Dampers. Driving the 2017 Ridgeline, the stark contrast here compared to other midsize trucks is apparent.
Ridgeline’s rear suspension, for example, actually tracks into corners. Amplitude Reactive Dampers then use two separate hydraulic circuits to enhance ride and reduce body roll. The main piston absorbs relatively small road irregularities and imperfections. The second piston activates during larger, more dynamic steering and braking inputs consistent with rougher roads or more aggressive driving.
Intelligent Traction Management (iVTM4) offers 4 different modes for all-wheel drive Ridgelines: Normal, Snow, Mud, and Sand (Normal and Snow for 2WD versions). The technology adjusts the drive-by-wire throttle map, transmission shift points, Vehicle Stability Assist engagement, and torque bias/distribution depending on the mode selected.
Honda’s iVTM4 is a torque vectoring system that balances power between the front and rear axles but can distribute it between the left and right rear wheels too. The technology can overdrive the outside rear wheel by 2.7 percent to create a yaw moment that improves cornering.
When iVTM4 is paired with the independent rear suspension, the 2017 Ridgeline becomes quite poised and balanced. Furthermore, Agile Handling Assist selectively uses the brakes to improve the truck’s cornering ability. The technology utilizes brake vectoring, applying the brakes to the inside wheels during intense cornering. The subsequent yaw moment generates more turning force, but with less understeer for better control. Even during mild off-roading, the 2017 Ridgeline is less susceptible to fish tailing when compared to other trucks.
Engine & Transmission
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline sports a new 3.5-liter SOHC i-VTEC direct injected V6, with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) and wide ratio 6-speed automatic transmission. The engine creates 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Its 60-degree V-angle and die-cast aluminum cylinder block provide a smooth feel.
i-VTEC & 2-Stage Variable Cylinder Management
The 2017 Ridgeline combines VCM with Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (i-VTEC), altering the lift profile, timing, and lift duration of the intake valves. i-VTEC changes valve operation with a switching mechanism, based on the driving situation at hand, for the best combination of power and fuel economy. At low rpm, intake valve timing and lift are optimized (low lift, short duration) for increased torque, which allows a wide range of 3-cylinder operation. As the rpm needle passes 5,350, the transition to a high-lift, long-duration intake cam profile provides better high-rpm engine power.
During moderate cruising and other situations with light power demands, the 2017 Ridgeline operates on just the front bank of three cylinders. The rear bank is inactive until additional power is required, like during startup, under heavy acceleration, or climbing steep hills. During those situations, the engine seamlessly turns on the remaining three cylinders. When the rear bank is inactive, the ECU cuts fuel to those cylinders. The spark plugs, however, still fire in the dormant cylinders to minimize plug temperature loss.
Intake and exhaust valves of the inactive cylinders are closed so pumping losses are eliminated, thereby enhancing fuel efficiency.
Honda’s technology changes engine displacement to match the driving requirements at any given moment. Throttle position, vehicle speed, engine speed, and transmission gear selection are considered when determining the correct cylinder activation pattern for the best balance of performance and gas mileage.
The switching between cylinders is not noticeable but the benefits are.
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline features a unique radiator with dual high-power fans to increase cooling, especially when towing. Engineers conducted a number of heavy towing tests on the 2017 Ridgeline, like hauling a large boat up a 14-degree launch ramp, over a half a mile, in 100 degree heat. Other tests included canvassing mountain grades pulling the maximum trailer weight of 5,000 lbs. (AWD models).
The 2017 Honda Ridgeline requires no scheduled maintenance for 100,000 miles, other than routine inspections and normal fluid and filter replacements. The first tune-up includes a water pump inspection, valve adjustment, replacement of the camshaft timing belt, and new spark plugs.
Pricing & Availability
At dealerships now with a starting price of $29,475 for the RT 2WD and $31,275 for an RT AWD. The 2017 Ridgeline is built at Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln, Alabama.
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan.