Honda entered the "lifestyle pickup" market in 2005 with its car-based Ridgeline pickup truck. It was designed to appeal to a growing segment of the population that had tired of minivans and confining crossovers and wanted something that blended the family-friendly comfort of a crossover-SUV with the carrying flexibility of a pickup. Production of the first-generation vehicle ended in mid-2014, but after a brief hiatus the Ridgeline is back following its debut at NAIAS 2016. New Atlas gets behind the wheel.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline is all-new, with Honda having nearly two years to design this second-generation version. What hasn't changed for Ridgeline fans is what attracted people to the original: useful features, good comfort, and road-readiness. What has changed is size, capability, fuel economy, and a more upscale interior.

A traditional pickup truck has a body-on-frame construction and solid rear axle. From the small Tacoma to the biggest Ram 3500, that's the norm. With the Ridgeline, however, the design is based on unibody construction and four-wheel, independent suspension. Yet compared to other small pickup trucks (Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier), the 2017 Honda Ridgeline has more cargo capacity and a longer bed, which is somewhat surprising given the apparent smaller stature and less bulky design of the Ridgeline.

In fact, the majority of the innovation found in the Honda Ridgeline is behind the passenger cabin. Once the idea of a car-based truck sinks in and the very obvious exterior look and design differences are no longer the main focus, little things in the Ridgeline's design begin to raise eyebrows.

The cargo bed for the Honda can hold 4-ft (1.2-m) wide sheets of plywood or wall board –laid flat. Neither the Frontier nor the Tacoma can boast that. The bed is also longer than the beds on those two competitors and payload is a bit higher as well. Also surprising is the under-bed storage compartment (which is lockable) and its unusual versatility. The tailgate is also innovative, opening either down in the traditional manner or to the side (left, driver's side) as a swing-out. The latter is especially useful when loading or unloading bulky items like furniture that would otherwise require one to reach around the tailgate to maneuver them.

That dent-resistant, textured cargo bed has multiple uses that are far beyond what might be possible in everyday situations with a standard pickup. The lockable under-bed storage compartment, for example, screams "put groceries in here" and can be equally as useful as a small item storage space when making a run to the hardware store or lumber yard. The all-wheel drive option for the Ridgeline comes standard with towing equipment installed and is rated for up to 5,000 lb (2,268 kg), which gives it the ability to haul a moderate trailer.

Inside the 2017 Honda Ridgeline are more cargo and storage options. The rear seats have a huge amount of space beneath them. Nearly on par with what's beneath a full-sized truck's crew cab seating. There's enough space to put a golf bag, checked luggage, and more under there and still have the seat folded down for use. Those seats fold up to allow the full floor to be utilized for larger items as well.

The driver and front passenger are treated to a lot of leg and headroom in the Ridgeline. Instruments are easy to read and the seats are adjustable enough for most anyone to find comfort. The rear seats are meant to carry three across, though three adults would be a bit of a stretch. Two adults seat comfortably and three kids in booster seats are readily accommodated. The rear seating is comfortable enough for longer trips as well.

Where Honda has missed with the 2017 Ridgeline, however, is with the interior's overall experience. It's nicely done in terms of materials quality and ergonomics, but misses in its general appeal. It feels monotone and a bit cheap, though there isn't anything specific to point to for that impression. The overall feel is just lower-scale than the cars and crossovers against against which the Ridgeline might be considered to compete. Against pickup trucks in the midsize class, though, the Ridgeline is about par with its spartan appeal and may even be considered a bit more upscale thanks to better materials use.

With the upgraded infotainment option, the 2017 Ridgeline has a good amount of technology on offer. Smartphone pairing is a snap – likely one of the easiest in the business – and those familiar with Honda's infotainment setups will immediately be at home in the Ridgeline. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, as is hands-free voice control. All of these work well.

Navigation is a bit iffy, though, with a weird interface that seems to ask for things in reverse order from what is intuitive. Similarly, the audio system's "slider" buttons for tuning and volume control are difficult to use when the vehicle is moving and become distracting. Simple knobs would have been better. There are up to four USB ports, two up front and two at the rear, depending on the trim point.

Powering the 2017 Ridgeline is a 3.5-liter V6 engine that runs through a six-speed automatic transmission. This can be configured as front-wheel or all-wheel drive. We prefer the AWD option for its more versatile all-weather capability, but neither option will mean the Ridgeline is ready for anything more than dirt roads when the pavement ends. For most buyers, that's probably not of much interest anyway, as a big part of the Ridgeline's billing is its car-like comfort and design, not it's all-terrain prowess.

On the road, the Ridgeline handles well and is the most comfortable truck we've ever tried. It handles similarly to the Honda CR-V crossover it shares some underpinnings with. Steering is precise and responsive, as is the Honda way, and acceleration is good when not under heavy load. The V6 punches off the line and then smooths out quickly as RPM increases. Under a cargo load or with a trailer, though, the Ridgeline works harder to get up to and maintain speeds on the highway.

Our overall assessment is that the 2017 Honda Ridgeline is definitely a good truck for those who don't need any serious offroad capability and for whom the daily commute and versatility are paramount. The Ridgeline is comfortable as a family mover, daily driver, and all-around non-pickup and then steps to the plate when hauling and pulling are required of it. Its versatility, suburban good looks, and understated personality are a good combination.

The 2017 Honda Ridgeline begins at US$29,630. The suggested retail for our press loan in the RTL-E trim was $42,270, delivered.

Product Page: 2017 Honda Ridgeline

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