If there's a single truism in the automotive industry (and maybe life), it's that if you refuse to learn from your mistakes, more bad things are sure to follow. Our first look at the next-generation Honda Ridgeline is less than a year and a half away, and although it sounds like there won't be any 2015 Ridgelines (Honda said it's taking a "pause" to get ready for the all-new replacement), Honda could be poised to do well when the new pickup truck enters the market.
Many pickup enthusiasts approach the Ridgeline with disdain or a kind of quirky sympathy. To say the least, the vehicle is polarizing. Many folks are quite rigid, suggesting that if you like pickups you should not like the Ridgeline (and indeed we've heard hard-core "car guys" say of all the trucks out there, they like the Ridgeline the best), while others profess that the Ridgeline's greatest strength is that it doesn't have the deficiencies a typical pickup owner must tolerate.
Regardless of your position, you have admire Honda's dedication to its style of pickup. Some industry experts are predicting more Ridgeline-like offerings — lighter, smaller and more unibody- or carlike vehicles — are on the way, especially if fuel prices rise and governmental regulations become more strict. It wasn't that long ago (all right, maybe it was a while ago) that we had vehicles like the Subaru Baja, Jeep Comanche, Ford Ranchero, Chevy El Camino and others that blurred the lines between pickups and cars. And, of course, our compatriots in Australia love their utes. Honda seems to be going it alone in the U.S., but we're thankful it's decided to freshen up the truck and come to the market with something that looks to be a little more traditional in shape. But we've always wondered about the timing.
From the way we understand it, this "new" Ridgeline was originally scheduled to make its debut midyear in 2012. That was indefinitely postponed when all truck sales took a huge hit as the recession crushed the market in late 2007. It's been suggested that an either/or decision had to be made about allowing the new Ridgeline to come to market in the middle of a horrible economy or hold off on the pickup and fast-track a new Acura model to keep luxury dealers happy. The end result was a pretty strong push to get the Acura ZDX and its sibling the Honda Crosstour into dealerships and leave the Ridgeline on the back burner.
This was probably one of the worst decisions Honda has ever made, in my humble opinion. The ZDX and Crosstour were the two ugliest vehicles sold in the U.S. in a long time, certainly the ugliest Hondas. In the four years the ZDX was on sale, it sold just about 5,600 units — a horrible failure (the Crosstour averaged about 20,000 units per year over the same period, also not so good). Part of the problem with these vehicles was they were not really a crossover, an SUV, a wagon or a sedan — they offered all the liabilities of each, but none of their assets. This period in Honda history serves as a reminder that even methodical, experienced designers and engineers can make mistakes. To Honda's credit, it killed the platform relatively quickly and moved on.
With all that said, there are still issues we hope Honda will address with the coming Ridgeline. We're pretty confident that Honda will give the exterior of the new Ridgeline a more interesting, even stylish, look. That's evident from the sketched outline we've seen. There is much about the shape and look of the current truck that never quite felt proportional or rugged enough. We would expect that to be the first thing changed, but certainly the outdated interior will be redesigned as well. As to mechanicals, we have our fingers crossed for some clever powertrain and fuel-economy technology, and we wouldn't mind some beefed-up suspension components as well, but we've heard nothing about those kinds of changes.
So although the next-gen Ridgeline has been delayed, it's quite possible Honda could still come out the winner here. Had it released the new Ridgeline under the previous timing, the company would have taken a huge sales hit on a vehicle that's already a small seller. However, now that the all-new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon are set to double the number of available midsize trucks, we're guessing the extra attention and spotlight on the segment could setup the new Honda Ridgeline for a dramatic debut.
We should get a better look at the new Ridgeline in "concept" dress at some point in 2015, well after Detroit's North American International Auto Show in January and most likely closer to the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show in November. As to timing, if Honda's past introduction sequences are applicable, the next Honda Pilot SUV will debut first. That should give us a look at some of the possible chassis technology and interior changes in store for the next Ridgeline. More to come.