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We dare to compare Toyota Tacoma to Honda Ridgeline

In the North American pickup truck segment, most die-hard pickup truck owners dismiss Honda Ridgeline as some sort of Pilot SUV derivative. To them, Ridgeline is not a truck. Today, I’ll risk comparing Toyota Tacoma to Honda Ridgeline.

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Granted, Honda Ridgeline will perform truck duty, and roam off road a piece while towing the jet skis down to the lake, but Ridgeline is no Toyota Tacoma. And Tacoma, while comfortable enough, does not claim to be as cab-comfortable as Ridgeline. Yet, I find great value in both.

I could shorten this article a tad by proclaiming Toyota Tacoma the winner of the trailer hauling competition in this rundown. And Honda Ridgeline the superior of the two in highway ride quality and overall cab-comfort.

Yet there’s much more To “trucking” and what consumers require from their pickup trucks today than the aforementioned. In today’s economy, for most new truck owners, their truck of choice must also serve as a daily commuter, date night ride, and kid hauler. Today’s pickup truck must be capable, good looking, mechanical bulletproof, safety oriented, well connected, and multiple task resilient.

Toyota Tacoma’s been on the truck scene since 1995

Built in Freemont, California, or San Antonio, Texas since 1995, Toyota Tacoma is as American as apple pie. In 2016, 191,631 Tacoma’s sold in the U.S.., Honda Ridgeline, not so many. It was the first year back in production for Ridgeline after a 2-year redesign hiatus. Ridgeline came late to the game in 2016, we’ll look to 2017 sales numbers for some real market indicators.

Sitting at the top of the midsize pickup segment is the decades tested Toyota Tacoma. Some Toyota truck fans argue that current Toyota Tacoma was ruined over time by the over refinement of interior and ride dynamic -- that the current generation Tacoma is too soft by “real” pickup truck standards. And, although Toyota’s time proven 3.5 L V6 is mechanically sound, in it’s stock specification, it’s a bit under powered and darn fuel thirsty. If you fall into this category of old-school Toyota Trucksters, move on. There’s nothing in this article for you.

In late October, I spent a week behind the wheel of a well equipped Toyota Tacoma full cab, long bed. We have 3 Toyota Tacoma’s at various stages of modification within the extended family. So, at first, I hesitated in taking delivery of the dead stock, yet visually impressive, fully loaded, Tacoma TRD Off Road -- I’d driven plenty of Tacoma's -- however, this one still smelled and looked new, begging for some road time.

Sporting an out the door MSRP of $42,672. I was a bit blown away by the price point. But then again, my son’s Dodge Ram hit the road at $58,000. I guess price is relative. Toyota Tacoma remains the best selling midsize pickup truck in North America, bar none. So, there had to be something beyond brand recognition and dealer incentives driving the sales numbers, right?

Where I come from as a truck guy

As a decades long owner of multiple brand compact, midsize, and heavy duty pickup trucks, both gasoline and diesel engine powered, 2 and 4 wheel drive, I find the current Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road 4x4 to be truck enough. In-fact, it takes me back to my early days of pickup truck ownership, when the only standard safety feature found was a seat belt, and the occasional ABS disk brake.

Of course Toyota Tacoma, decades in the making, presents a heavy duty body mounted on frame construction, descent engine power, ease of operation, and a handful of passive and active safety features. I like the overall look and ruggedness presented by Toyota Tacoma, yet remain a bit puzzled by some of the old-school, last decade features (still) present in Toyota’s latest midsize truck offering.

For me, In a pickup truck priced north of $40 K, I require a power adjusted driver’s seat, that’s just me, Toyota Tacoma TRD doesn’t feature one. However, there is a moon roof, powdered activated rear cab window, a near intuitive, descent resolution color touch monitor, smart steering wheel controls, a better than average driver’s seat feel, and a pretty darn civilized, controlled-float drive and ride dynamic -- the sound system is also exceptional enough.

Due to TRD off road suspension tuning and plus+mild off road tread wheel and tire sizing, Tacoma’s general road to steering wheel feedback was a bit spongy. And, although the cab environment is comfortable enough, due to a rather “chopped” roofline, for this tall driver, head to head liner clearance is iffy, making seeing the light at a stop challenging. I also found the cab to be painfully road noisy at times, dependant on paved road surfaces.

The later could easily be mitigated through electronic active noise cancellation, Toyota choses not to spend the dime. Sitting in the second row is best reserved for the family pet, the kids, or that inlaw that you’d just assume not come along for the ride. It’s a bit tight back there for the full-sized among us, but is dooable in a pinch.

I like the rear seat area for construction tools, mountain bikes, and groceries. Although our test mule was with a roll-top truck bed tonneau cover with locks. I also discovered a nifty stash space or two, along with an inverted 110 AC plugin for power tools, sound equipment, etc.

I do appreciate Tacoma’s engine to transmission pairing, as well as the ease of 2 or 4 wheel drive (hi and low) drive selection. Our TRD 4x4 features a limited slip differential, on-the fly 4W demand selection, crawl control, and hill-keep assist, to name a few features. I didn’t have occasion to use much of it, although I did engage 4WD high in the dirt, it works well! If I was allowed to change one factory equipped aspect of Toyota Tacoma it would be the fuel economy, or lack of it. Although our Tacoma loaner claimed a combined 20 MPG, the best I experienced under real world driving road and weather conditions was 17.9 MPG - pitiful by today’s midsize truck fuel economy standards. I’d love to defend Toyota on this issue, but I can’t. With today’s available engine and drive-line technology, there’s no excuse for low fuel efficiency -- I’m sure they’re working on it.

After driving Tacoma V6 for a day or two, I called my #1 son, and complained a bit as to what I perceived as an unseasonably underpowered pickup truck. Jake turned my on to what’s essential Toyota’s drive mode selection toggle, the re-mapped V6 gained some attitude, it was quick enough, in a midsize truck sort of way.

Like I said, Toyota Tacoma is the “truckier” of the two, when comparing Tacoma to Ridgeline. However, I’d gladly trade some quiet and cab comfort for payload capacity in my daily pickup truck commute, this is where Ridgeline takes the lead. Yet, despite what you may hear or read from Honda Ridgeline haters, Ridgeline is far more than a Honda Pilot with a bed -- and and is “truck-tough-enough, when it comes to taking on work and play duty.

3,000 miles behind the wheel of Honda Ridgeline Black Edition

Let’s get past the “looks” controversy first: The 2nd generation Honda Ridgeline does not look like a conventional midsize pickup truck. As hard as Honda engineering and design attempts to mainstream Ridgeline, this unibody truck-like offering is like no other in America’s favorite vehicle segment -- nor does it profess to be -- there is only one Ridgeline. The first time I encountered Honda Ridgeline was back in 2005. At that time Honda’s unibody-car-platform-sharing truck was quite an oddity -- the closest cousin to Honda Ridgeline at that time was built by General Motors, it didn’t sell in huge volume.

Yet, anytime I’d meet a Ridgeline owner on or off road, they loved their truck. Ridgeline, at that time, as it is today, was a do-anything, relatively fuel efficient real time AWD. Honda’ only North America truck offering pulled, hauled, and performed tasks well beyond its specifications.

Today, it’s not uncommon for Torque News to read from Ridgeline owners reporting 200,000 trouble-free miles from their trucks. Honda tells us that Ridgeline is the truck for part-time truck driving weekend warriors, the consumer that already owns Honda, that itt is.

Honda Ridgeline presents a car-like drive and ride experience exclusive to Ridgeline

The second generation Honda Ridgeline makes ownership seamlessly easy, automated safe, and segment leading fuel efficient. No other maker comes close to matching Ridgelines comfortable, quiet and roomy cabin accommodations. Ridgeline rightfully claims the roomiest full 4-door cab in the ever growing midsize truck segment. In the case of Ridgeline, you can comfortably seat 5 adults, while hauling weather sensitive cargo, luggage, etc, in Ridgeline's unique lockable below the truck bed multiple purpose trunk. Inside Ridgeline you discover a well appointed, power seat adjusted interior environment more akin to a midsize premium sedan than a rugged utilitarian pickup truck -- Ridgeline surprises, and it’s quiet!

Featuring beefed up suspension components, composite truck bed, and frame rigidity like no other truck offering in the midsize segment today, Honda Ridgeline is surprisingly durable, and truck-dutty capable. Torque News hits the open road in Ridgeline Black Edition.

Experiencing the reinvented Honda Ridgeline in San Antonio, Texas was a bit of an eye-opener for this truck owner. Ridgeline is much tougher than one might think, featuring driveline and suspension components 50% larger than platform sharing Pilot SUV. Furthermore, as demonstrated by a drive event tool box and rock drop test, the Ridgeline plastic composite rust proof truck bed construction is dent, and scratch resistant, trucktough.

As to ride dynamic: When driven off road, due to a superior unibody frame rigidity, we experienced virtually No frame flex or roll in Ridgeline. On the highway, Ridgeline rides like a Honda Accord, but with a bit more conviction. Ridgeline, while not as “truck-like” as Toyota Tacoma, will hall 1580 lbs in the bed, and tow a reported 4500 lbs with little effort. It’s fuel injected 3.5 Liter V6 is time proven, and fuel efficient thanks to superior engine cylinder management, and favorable automatic transmission pairing. Like Tacoma, Ridgeline is no off-the-light- sprint all star, but it does get the job done, while outshining Toyota Tacoma in overall ride quality, and fuel efficiency.

Apples, as to Oranges

At the end of this comparison I come to the conclusion that while Honda Ridgeline is unquestionably more civilized than Toyota Tacoma, the pickup truck loyal turn to Tacoma because Toyota's best selling midsize truck is historically correct, infinitely customizable, and holds unprecedented used car sale residual value -- it’s also very cool looking in a tough-truck sort of way. We’ll call Tacoma the apple in this comparison, It is however long overdue for a fuel efficiency upgrade.

As to Ridgeline: Ridgeline’s body design is anything but mainstream. In-fact, many first generation Ridgeline owners, including Chef Eric King of Santa Cruz, prefer the boxy Ridgeline design of the past, and stop short of praising the present Pilot look alike. That’s cool, to each his own. The uniqueness that is Ridgeline may be its eventual downfall. To date, 30,000 Honda Ridgelines have sold in North America for model year 2017 -- the trucking public as a whole doesn’t appreciate Honda’s approach to the American icon -- I believe that they’re missing out on a revolutionary, evolutionary truck-driving opportunity -- it’s that good -- Honda fan or no. In conclusion, personal preference will drive the buying tipping point in this comparison. Both trucks bring something unique to the midsize pickup truck segment -- it’s good to have a choice.

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Josh (not verified)    October 13, 2018 - 11:39AM

I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the new body style Ridgeline but was horribly disappointed. I'm all about Honda and was in the need for a midsized truck. I love the Tacoma but waited to see how the Ridgeline was going to compare. It didn't compare at all. To me, it's ugly. If they'd have just made it not look like a Pilot with a bed, I'd have been more inclined to buy one. I bought a Tacoma TRD Off Road. Looks cool and tows up to 6400 lbs.

Alex (not verified)    July 20, 2019 - 10:37PM

In reply to by Josh (not verified)

Hi Josh, I disagree. Exterior design wise Ridgeline looks much more modern and cooler than any other midsize truck (that inherits its design from 1940's if not earlier). And the ride comfort in Ridgeline is just outstanding - feels on par with 2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited that I have. And it's almost as nimble in turns as 2015 Honda Accord Sport that I also have. Tacoma is way jumpier on the uneven road. I have no problem taking Honda to 5+ hour trips, while in Tacoma I can barely survive for more than 2 hours of driving.

Alex (not verified)    July 23, 2019 - 11:38AM

I know that people underappreciate Ridgeline and sales numbers just reflect that. Ridgeline's superior aerodynamics and engine timing management proves itself in the best in class fuel economy. And the suspension handling uneven roads... is just luxurious, it is pretty much what you get in Acura MDX.

Alex (not verified)    July 23, 2019 - 12:38PM

In reply to by Alex (not verified)

In addition to that, I just found a video by Edmunds on Youtube. It is called "2017 Honda Ridgeline: Edmunds Death Valley Shock Test". Ridgeline's suspension even outlasted Nissan's and Toyota's (TRD) offroad packages. Quite interesting.

Joshua (not verified)    July 23, 2019 - 2:39PM

Where do I start? I guess I'll point out the obvious situation that is your "offroad" comparison is on a gravel road. The story starts out by saying how Honda intentionally included those specific shocks to withstand that specific situation. It's not surprising that the car with a pickup bed (Ridgeline) with its independent rear suspension including coil overs and situationally specific shocks road nicer on the rough road it was on. I tried without success to find a true OFF ROAD video in which Ridgeline even came close to Tacoma. I guess if you want to have a nice ride on a rough road while hauling mulch back to the suburbs and drive an ugly vehicle while doing so, Ridgeline is your car. What I find quite interesting is that there's even anyone who is trying to compare a car to a truck. I'm not even going to bother trying to explain anything further. Anyone who knows anything about suspensions knows without a doubt that Tacoma (and several other vehicles) is the champ undoubtedly over Ridgeline in the off road arena.

Alex (not verified)    July 23, 2019 - 4:10PM

In reply to by Joshua (not verified)

Josh, you are right about my use of Ridgeline. I live in suburbs around NYC working with software at work. And I like going out with my family away from NY metro area to do things like camping and fishing. Occasionally I need to carry mulch or a piece of heavy equipment from Home Depot to do work around my house. So yes, Ridgeline gives my family a very nice ride on all roads, can go off road, can carry stuff from Home Depot and aven can tow a boat. I just don't understand what other things people may want from a small truck. And please don't call Ridgeline an ugly, it looks slick just like a modern SUV - are they ugly? The modern big trucks that haul trailers on highways also look quite like Ridgeline btw, all for the sake of aerodynamics - are these ugly too? If 95% of small truck buyers like the looks of a small truck from 1930's - I respect their opinion and don't call that design ugly. It's just not good for aerodynamics and fuel economy.

Alex (not verified)    July 23, 2019 - 4:29PM

In reply to by Joshua (not verified)

Regarding the question of whether gravel road is a true off road... I guess anything that is not a paved road must be considered an off road. I may agree with you that it's not a true OFF ROAD test since we didn't see trucks going through the mud, sand, snow and rock climbing. So I agree with you that it's not a true off road test, but it is the best reality check for real life use of the suspension. How often 99.9% of the people go into real mud/sand/rocky mountain roads? Probably never. How ofther 100% of people drive on uneven roads across bumps and potholes? Probably all the time. So this test gives a good idea for the suspension repair cost in REAL LIFE.

Joshua (not verified)    July 23, 2019 - 7:54PM

I think we might be arguing different points. My perspective was from that of an over lander and adventurer who wants to also be able to comfortably drive his truck everyday. I've seen a couple of the buttress Ridgelines on the trail but they're not serious trail riders and those who drive them know that. That being said, I've yet to see the new Pilot Ridgeline because it's just a Pilot with a truck bed. I have a tacoma because I can select the locking rear differential in 4 low and it climbs like a goat. I refuse to give any credence to the argument that the new Ridgeline is more than just a Pilot with a truck bed because that's all it is. As I was eluding to in my prior post, if you simply want a nice, comfortable vehicle you can haul things in, I can get behind that. If you want a real truck that's really capable off road, Tacoma is a great option. Does it ride like a Pilot? No. That's because it's a truck and not a Pilot with a truck bed.

Alex (not verified)    July 24, 2019 - 12:45AM

In reply to by Joshua (not verified)

Josh, I agree that we are arguing here about the personal preferences. And yes, Ridgeline borrows a lot from Pilot. But the whole car, and especially body and suspension went through the complete overhaul in order to turn an SUV into a truck. Here we have to define "truck". I'd say it is an automobile that can carry and tow heavy loads. Not all trucks are as off road capable as a buggy and Toyota Tacoma. So, Ridgeline is a truck that shares a lot with Pilot SUV, not as capable off road as Tacoma, but better than Tacoma in ride quality and fuel economy. And we can discuss the long list of properties where one or the other truck is better, it just doesn't make sense :-) Everyone who is thinking about getting a truck should watch YouTube videos, read reviews and articles, test drive, talk to the sales people and decide for themselves what they prefer.

Joshua (not verified)    July 24, 2019 - 2:33PM

I agree with that assessment entirely. I'm riding in the passenger seat of my 2011 Honda Pilot as I write this reply. In my opinion, Honda has it figured out. I've kept up on the maintenance and a few suspension parts here and there and this, in my opinion, is one of the very best vehicles made. I assume the newest generation in that family is nothing but more of the same quality, or better. This article attempted to compare apples to oranges. Both trucks are awesome - just in different ways. I'm sure it goes without saying that I'm not a fan of the body style but, to each their own.