If ever there was a truck in desperate need of performance and styling updating it's the Honda Ridgeline. Essentially using the same chassis and powertrain strategy since its 2005 introduction (as a 2006 model), the Ridgeline is built off a modified version of the Acura MDX and Honda Odyssey platforms.
So far Honda has been tight-lipped about what types of changes could be coming for a next-generation Ridgeline — that is if Honda decides to stick with the vehicle at all. Some reports we've heard have the Ridgeline taking a year or two off from production to give Honda engineers time to make the pickup trucklet a better midsize competitor and/or a better player against full-size competitors.
We recently had the chance to catch up some key Honda engineers during the introduction of the all-new 2014 Acura MDX. Although they never directly made comments about the next-gen Ridgeline, we were able to read between the lines. Sure, the MDX and Ridgeline are two very different vehicles with very different capabilities and customer profiles, but there are likely to be several clues in the new MDX that could impact a future Ridgeline — mostly because they will continue to be produced at the same Lincoln, Ala., plant where the Ridgline's siblings — the Pilot, Odyssey and MDX — will continue production. Just as the last-gen MDX structure had similarities to the current Ridgeline, the new MDX could be a preview of a new Ridgeline strategy.
Jim Keller is the large project leader for the new MDX, which means he manages the engineers (engine, body, electrical, etc.), many of whom are also working on other platforms in Alabama. Based on the last-generation MDX, Pilot and Ridgeline, we can expect a new, lighter and stronger substructure (now with plenty of high-strength steel) will make it into all similar vehicles, with each of the rear suspensions getting a unique design and tune.
The MDX has departed from its previous trailering arm/link strategy in favor of a new stiffer and less complicated three-link setup. With that said, the current Ridgeline did not exactly use the previous-gen MDX's rear suspension; instead it used a highly modified and reinforced setup over the rear axle for handling heavier loads and towing.
To be competitive, a new Ridgeline will have to get lighter, stronger, offer better fuel economy (possibly another powertrain choice), be more versatile and deliver additional, unique (we like the bed trunk) storage solutions. If Honda wants to increase the appeal of the Ridgeline, it's going to have to make it attractive to traditional pickup buyers who understand what trucks are designed for and can do.
From what we've heard from those who considered purchasing a Ridgeline (and we know how passionate Ridgeline owners are), the vehicle needs to get a little more traditional to capture the attention of prospective buyers. We'd also suggest stuffing more clever storage compartments inside and outside the truck. Of course, a little fuel-saving technology couldn't hurt either.