Why the Honda Ridgeline Won Our 2019 Mid-Size Truck Challenge

2019 Honda Ridgeline On Road

Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

By Aaron Bragman

First of all, calm down. Take a deep breath. The 2019 Honda Ridgeline just won our 2019 Mid-Size Truck Challenge, beating the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, 2019 Ford Ranger and 2019 GMC Canyon. We can hear the gnashing of teeth and furious clicking of keys now: "How can an all-wheel-drive, minivan-based, Honda-badged wanna-be truck win versus the industry's latest and greatest real pickup trucks?" Well, the answer is simple: It was the best one there.

2019 Mid-Size Truck Challenge
Results | Winner | How We Tested | Bed Test | Mileage Drive

You'll notice the results and testing components of this test are published on Cars.com, which PickupTrucks.com is a network site of. Our research shows the mid-size truck class is where we're seeing curious SUV and sedan shoppers look for trucks, so we decided to bring the test to Cars.com. We judged these four trucks on a multitude of categories both objective and subjective. We didn't take them off-road as these were the top on-road versions of these trucks. We didn't tow with them, either, since only a fraction of mid-size pickup owners actually tow with their trucks. Instead, we sat in everything, drove them on street loops, measured bed size and bed/tailgate features, and — in usual PickupTrucks.com fashion — loaded them with payload to measure acceleration and braking with a thousand pounds of salt in the bed. We also took them all on a fuel economy loop and tallied safety and driver assist features.

The Honda Ridgeline won the day by squeezing out a mere 18-point victory over the second-place Ford Ranger on a 600-point scale; 18 points isn't a huge win, but it's still a check in the W column. The all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland came in third, followed distantly by the 2019 GMC Canyon Denali, which isn't aging well in comparison to the fresher competitors in this test and struggled mightily with the value equation.

1. 2019 Honda Ridgeline
2. 2019 Ford Ranger
3. 2020 Jeep Gladiator
4. 2019 GMC Canyon

What made the Honda just that little bit better? How did it win over the judges to come out on top?

Driving Comfort

The Ridgeline impressed most of us with just how well it worked — it was the most pleasant cabin environment of any of the trucks, with gobs of passenger space for five people, wide seats, lots of legroom in front or back, and an airy greenhouse that felt a size bigger than the other trucks in the test. It had a massive center console that swallowed far more stuff than any of the other trucks, and the flat floor in the back meant it was a snap loading big items into the cabin that you didn't want to store in the bed. Credit the Honda's construction for that one — yes, it's based on a front-wheel-drive platform (all-wheel drive is optional on most trims and standard on the highest), but for the majority of users who never take their trucks off-road, that's plenty.

That platform (a version of which also sits under the Honda Pilot SUV and Odyssey minivan) is also why it rode so much better than its competitors. It soaked up bumps and didn't have the bouncy quality, empty or loaded, that all of the other trucks exhibited. Its handling characteristics were relaxed and well controlled, if a bit slow on the reflexes, which is good for most daily driver purposes. If you're looking for an urban utility vehicle, it truly excels.

That Trick Cargo Box

2019 Honda RIdgeline Cargo Box With Tailgate Down

The Ridgeline's utility became evident once we had a good look at its cargo box. It does things the other trucks can't and has features the others don't. Let's start with the size of the box: Notice that there aren't any wheel wells protruding into the space. That means you can use the entire width of the bed for cargo and not have to jockey around the lumps protecting the tires (the cargo box's depth is shallower than the other trucks, however). You can also load things into the bed much more easily because the tailgate folds down conventionally, but it also swings to the side like a door, enabling you to walk up and load something without having to slide it over the lowered tailgate.

Plus, there's a lockable trunk under the bed floor that has a drain in it, perfect for either keeping your stream catch fresh or your 30-pack of beer on ice. And finding a better truck for a tailgate barbecue party would be hard given the Ridgeline's truly astonishing bed speaker system, which actually vibrates the composite walls of the truck's bed as speakers with surprising quality, playing music from the multimedia system. No other truck in this test had anywhere near the level of unique, genuinely useful cargo bed features and amenities that the Ridgeline brought to the party. We dive deeper into how the Ridgeline scored in our cargo bed testing article.

The Stellar Value

Not only did the Ridgeline bring those features to the gathering, it did so at the lowest price point. Our feature-packed Ridgeline RTL-E trim (second highest only to the Black Edition appearance package) came in at a tick less than $43,000 with destination fee. The Ridgeline cost less the runner-up Ranger by about $1,300 and a whopping $12,875 less than the pricey Jeep Gladiator. It won't drain you at the pump, either, with its tested fuel efficiency placing second, nearly equal to the top Ranger's, returning a 23.3 mpg average in our test loop compared with the Ranger's 23.7 mpg (which the Ford did on pricier premium fuel it needs for its advertised power ratings, though it can also run on regular). You also get a lot of safety and electronic driver-assistance equipment at the Ridgeline's price, things like automatic distance-keeping cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and blind spot warning with cross-traffic alert. The Ranger and Gladiator matched most of this equipment (the Jeep charged extra for it), but the GMC did not.

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But It Isn't Perfect

While you win on the value equation, you lose when it comes to the multimedia system. It's Honda's old Display Audio system, which means no knobs or buttons, and a user interface that felt clunky, slow and hard to figure out. Honda already has better systems in its latest offerings, so hopefully one will find its way to the Ridgeline sooner rather than later. Most of our judges also didn't care for the interior ergonomics of the Ridgeline's displays, finding them to be a bit dated, busy and in need of updating.

But these were minor blemishes on what was otherwise a stellar performance by Honda's unusual crossover-based pickup. It did all the truck things we threw at it, and did it in the style of a comfortable car-based SUV instead of a body-on-frame traditional truck. For people wanting something that emphasizes comfort, value and utility over style and "truckiness," the Ridgeline is the clear choice.

2019 Mid-Size Truck Challenge Average Scores Chart

Cars.com graphic by Paul Dolan

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