The four-door Honda Ridgeline pickup, introduced in 2005, has been enough of a success that its next generation is already far along in development, with a number of refinements expected. Chief among them is improved fuel efficiency.
“The original Ridgeline was a new day for trucks,” said Dave Marek, chief designer and senior manager of the automotive styling group at Honda Research and Development, Americas. “It’s still unique -- the idea of the unibody and utilizing space intelligently.”
Aside from its exclusive monocoque construction, the Ridgeline features an independent coil-over rear suspension that provides enough space in the cargo box load floor for an 8.5-cubic-foot in-bed trunk.
At 4,500 pounds, though, the midsize, V-6-powered, all-wheel-drive Ridgeline weighs only about 650 pounds less than a full-size, V-8-powered, two-wheel-drive Chevrolet Silverado crew cab. The XFE version of that half-ton Silverado also scores better on the gas-mileage front (15/21 mpg city/highway) than the smaller Ridgeline (15/20 mpg city/highway).
“The (current) Ridgeline was the right thing to do at the time,” Marek said. “But now that the truck market is a moving target, our opportunity is to make it more fuel-efficient -- aerodynamic and lighter -- but still retain the core value it has, which is the inside space and usage in the back.”
Marek says that means sticking to Honda’s design and manufacturing credo of “maximum man, minimum machine.” Get everything as small as possible without compromising utility and safety, which in the case of the Ridgeline means maintaining its 5,000-pound towing capacity, 5-foot-long cargo box and seating for five.
“Being a crew cab is core,” Marek said. “It was designed for a fireman and his family, and I don’t think we’re ever going to change that. You could have other (cab configurations) based off it, but that would be diluting it. You can’t shorten the bed either. These are core values for the truck.”
Honda could make the truck lighter by using different materials, like aluminum, to save weight. The manufacturer is also considering how much feature content, like a navigation system, the Ridgeline needs.
“Content is weight,” he said. “Lower models could have a little less content.”
Some of the weight savings could also offer the benefit of improved usability. Marek wouldn’t say how Honda intends to make it easier for a person to reach over the Ridgeline’s tall, buttressed sides into the cargo box, but we think the next Ridgeline could come with a built-in side-step carved into the side of the truck. That’s different from the new 2009 Ford F-150’s box-side steps bolted underneath the truck, which fold down with the touch of a button.
To make it more aerodynamic, Marek said the windshield could be more steeply raked and underbody airflow could be smoothed out.
Marek stressed that even after efficiency changes, the Ridgeline still has to be a truck -- just not a traditional one.