New Car Review: 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport

Black 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport front 3/4 view parked
The 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport.
When I first started professionally TireKicking (reviewing automobiles) 15 years ago, things were pretty predictable. Most of the major manufacturers made sure one of every model they sold wound up available at least once a year. Sometimes more often. If a model was long in the tooth and about to be replaced, it might skip a year. But by and large, you could pretty much count on yearly refreshers.

As the economy got more challenging, manufacturers got a bit more selective...sometimes only putting vehicles into the press fleet that were all-new, significantly refreshed or that had added some bit of standard or optional equipment that had not previously been available.

And then there's the Honda Ridgeline. I first drove one seven years ago...the summer it was introduced. It was also the last time I drove one. That's right...somehow, the Ridgeline has sat out six years worth of local press fleet duty...until now.

2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport
The 2012 Honda Ridgeline Sport rear and side view.
Honda has pretty much left the Ridgeline alone all this time. The differences between the 2006 and 2012 models are largely cosmetic and even those are extremely subtle. The Ridgeline was a bit of an odd duck in the summer of '05 (it was an early '06 model...introduced in March)...a smaller-scale Chevy Avalanche with a carlike demeanor, one medium-powered V6 engine and decent fuel economy.

Today? Well, the world has caught up with the Ridgeline in a lot of respects. It now seems an infinitely more sensible vehicle than the Avalanche...in the same way that the Pilot now is more in tune with the times than the Tahoe.

Price certainly works in the Ridgeline's favor. The new for 2012 Sport model was the one Honda sent our way for a week, and its MSRP is $29,995. That is also (save for an $810 delivery charge) where the price sticker ends. Ours came with zero options. The Sport model includes black 18-inch alloy wheels, a black honeycomb grille with black surround, black headlight housings and black taillight housings (pass on the Sport model and the RT costs only a bit less, at $29,350).

The 3.5 liter six makes 250 horsepower and is paired to a five-speed automatic. EPA estimate is 15 city/21 highway. There's a heavy duty automatic transmission cooler, four-wheel drive, four-wheel disc brakes, four-wheel independent suspension and a heavy duty power steering cooler.

It accelerates briskly, handles well, rides nicely. And the storage space below the bed is a major plus. If it were being introduced today, we might be using terms like "re-thinking the modern pickup truck".

The 2012 Honda Ridgeline interior
The 2012 Honda Ridgeline interior.
It's behind the wheel where you find that while the world has caught up with the Ridgeline in some ways, it's blown right past it in others. The dash design and textures are clearly from last decade. The column-shift automatic too easily lands in "2" when you want "D"...which you discover a minute or so later when you see that 55 miles per hour is getting you 4,000 RPM on the tach.

And no matter how much money you spend, you can't buy connectivity in the RT, Sport or RTS model. A USB connection? Not available in any Ridgeline. Bluetooth? Only if you go all the way to the top-of-the-line RTL with navigation...which starts at $37,280.

If you want any other Ridgeline, you can play your iPod/iPhone's music through the perfectly adequate 6-speaker AM/FM/CD unit (SiriusXM is also reserved for the RTL), but you can't charge it via USB and you're stuck with aftermarket solutions for hands-free phone calls. Not a big deal for some folks...but a very big deal for others. And with hands-free becoming a legal requirement in many states, I tend to view Bluetooth as a must. The number of cars I've tested in the past year that don't have it I could count on one hand.  If the Ridgeline is going to soldier on (rumors of a new one for 2016 abound), then it's time to make the relatively small investment behind the dash to add Bluetooth and USB capability.