Forget for a moment the Ridgeline is a 4,500-pound unibody truck based on a front-wheel-drive chassis. While you're invoking amnesia, forget also that the 2017 Ridgeline is longer and wider than a standard-bed Chevy Silverado circa 1985. Despite all that, it also feels (and looks) more like the archetypal Japanese compact pickup of the 1980s than any Nissan Frontier or Toyota Tacoma we've driven in a decade.
Let's start in the back - this is a truck, after all, and the Ridgeline has some cool features that will appeal to occasional users vs. landscape contractors. For one thing, the bed is shallow - it's only about 17 inches from the top of the bed to the floor. While it does limit the height of objects you can carry, it also raises the bed floor almost to the tops of the wheelwells, mostly eliminating the humps - there's a full 4 feet of width too, so drywall and plywood fit, though only 5 feet of length, so the tailgate will need to be down or it'll have to stick up at the back.
That shallow floor also facilitates one of the Ridgeline's killer apps: The huge, lockable trunk under the bed floor in the rear. It's even got a removable drain plug so you can use it for tailgating, or just stash the blowaway stuff you bought at Home Depot down there while you put your lumber up top. It's fully weather stripped, so it'll even keep your groceries dry.
There's also the dual-action tailgate that can drop like a normal pickup gate or swing open to the side. Curiously, though, the tailgate is both heavy and undamped, so if you open it in the traditional way, it crashes down against its stops - make sure no one is in the way when it drops.
Inside, the Ridgeline is pretty much straight Honda Pilot, except the Pilot's confusing pushbutton shifter is a proper stalk/handle in the Ridgeline. It's nothing fancy, but it's well-laid-out and very comfortable, plus quiet for a "pickup truck." Rear seat legroom isn't going to impress anyone coming out of an F-150 Crew Cab, but it's enough for regular use by children, and full-size adults won't complain as long as you're not heading cross-country.
Front-seat passengers won't complain no matter where you're going: The Ridgeline is all Honda from behind the wheel with a smooth, powerful V6, imperceptible shifting and good outward visibility, coupled with a relatively comfortable ride. We also managed better than 22 mpg in mixed driving. Maybe the most striking difference between this and, say, a Chevy Colorado - a traditional midsize pickup - is in the steering. The Honda is sharp, quick and carlike, while the Chevy's requires plenty of cranking and feels less connected to the wheel.
If there's any place the Ridgeline falls flat for us it's styling; vastly improved over the former iteration, the front end looks kind of dumpy, particularly for the scrappy truck segment. Also note that we’re not generally a 22-inch wheel/35-series tire lovers - even 18-inch wheels look comically small in the wheelwells, again contributing to a sort of wussy truck look.
In the end it probably won't matter, and we are not even sure it would matter to us. The 2017 Ridgeline is a very compelling package for the driver who wants occasional truck utility without dealing with body-on-frame fuel economy and ride/handling compromises. Nicely equipped for under $35K, we predict Honda's going to be happy they kept this thing around for a second generation, as will the steady stream of buyers they should expect.