It's not enough to be a one trick pony anymore.
The pick-up truck has been the backbone of our society for as long as we can remember. The humble workhorse has moved farmers and families forgenerations, yet for most of its life there was little evolution to the simplerecipe. After all, if it wasn’t broken,why fix it? The pick-up most certainly wasn’t broken – but now we live in an era where evolution is a must in order to survive, and the pick-up sits on the edge of a precipice – one where it needs to move with the times in order to remain relevant in a SUV-loving world.
We’veentered an era now where we’ve seen Mercedes-Benz produce a mid-sizedpick-up. It’s a peculiar thought, onemany never thought would ever see fruition, and yet here it is. Well, not here, as the X-Class isn’t comingto the US, at least not for the foreseeable future. It’s just one of several mid-size pick-upswe’re not getting, but it signals the dawn of a new era, andthe end of another along with the changing of public perception towards thepick-up. Of the current crop, regardless of size, pick-ups tend to focus on practicality and a hard-working nature.
Form truly follows function, and indeed the rest of the package does too – including comfort. But when carrying heavy loads over poor terrain is your priority there are bound to be certain compromises, comfort being the biggest of all. The currentbatch of pick-ups have technically advanced through the years to try andprovide some modicum of comfort, but body-on-frame pick-ups are traditionallyuncomfortable – they lack the body control and resolve of unibody constructedvehicles, with an inherent ‘shuffle’ to the way they ride, the bodycontinually squeaking and shifting on rubber bushings connecting it to theframe. Just about every single pick-up on the market suffers this ailment.
Sub-par ride comfort and poor handling are other sacrifices made for the sake of practicality. They’re all one-trick ponies – focusing wholeheartedly on practical aspects – and why shouldn’t they? They’re the unassuming, humble working class of society. But in muchthe same way that purist sports cars no longer sell in vast numbers, thetraditional pick-up may be heading the same way. There are those that value the honest nature,those that love the single-minded focus and attention to detail of theparticular task at hand, but for the most part, the average buyer wantsmore. They want a vehicle for alloccasions. It’s why the Porsche 911 hasevolved into the all-round sports car, capable of daily commutes and weekendcanyon-carving.
Evolutionis needed if pick-ups are to remain relevant to the mass buying public, and theinspiration for such evolution comes from a most surprising source. Honda’s Ridgeline may well have surprised themarket when it launched as a mid-sized pickup of front wheel driveorigins. Now in its second generation, the Ridgeline has developed into the pick-up fora new generation – setting the standard for what other pick-ups will need to doin order to succeed in the future.
I’m not suggesting Chevrolet release a front-wheel drive Colorado – nothing of the sorts, as it still baffles me that the Ridgeline is underpinned by what is essentially a family MPV. But in an era where Mercedes market the X-Class as the world’s first premium SUV, it’s the Ridgeline that provides all the aspects that truly define premium, in a segment that doesn’t really understand what premium actually is. If themodern pick-up is to succeed, it’s going to need to learn a lesson from theRidgeline – it’s going to need to become the jack of all trades with theability to appeal as much to urbanites as it does to those who use it for itsoriginal purpose. The modern pick-up canno longer afford to be a one trick pony.
Front wheeldrive is still a conundrum, but the Ridgeline handles many other aspects of thepick-up in a way that benefits the segment.The unibody design, for example, sets a standard that others would bewise to follow. The primary reason forthis being control and refinement. Byremoving the rubber bushings that link a body to a ladder frame chassis, and bylinking the two directly, other pick-up manufacturers can vastly improve thebody control, with responses to steering inputs being immediate rather thandelayed by virtue of the various connective tissues found in regularpick-ups.
The unibody design of the Ridgeline also ensures there’s less noise permeating through the chassis – less squeaking and rattling from the framework underneath. The use of a unibody design also aligns better with the current trend of platform sharing. At present, pick-ups can only share underpinnings with large SUVs of similar purpose – but they suffer the same handling and refinement issues. However by moving to unibody designs, manufacturers could utilize the same platform for multiple SUVs, crossovers, MPVs, and pick-ups – reducing production and development costs.
While theforeign market Nissan Frontier (Navara) has been hailed for its coil-springrear suspension, it was actually the Ridgeline that offered this first. In doing so, the Ridgeline actually set thestandard for ride comfort – playing to the needs of those who use pick-ups morefor recreational purposes than hardcore working purposes. While we’re unlikely to get the X-Class andnew Frontier anytime soon, other manufacturers would be wise to follow theRidgeline’s example in equipping coil springs all round. Imagine a Toyota Tacoma equipped with coil springs– or a GMC Canyon, or Chevrolet Colorado – proven nameplates equipped withcomfort never before seen.
Mechanically, all these improvements would vastly improve the pick-up – particularly the mid-sized one – but there are other facets to the Ridgeline that need to be emulated too – as to only focus on mechanics would be to not move forward at all – which is part of the reason pick-ups remain one trick ponies.
While theRidgeline’s underpinnings have been the cause for much of the attention it’sgarnered, what has made it a success has been the versatility and refinement itpossesses as a commuter vehicle. Frombehind the wheel of the Ridgeline, you’d be hard pressed to tell that youweren’t driving an MPV or SUV – not just because of the way it drives butbecause of the interior refinements. Gone arethe days when utility was all that mattered – ergonomics and comfort are nowequally as important as outright capability.Car-like appointments, soft touch materials, leathers, and the likes areall elements that ensure the Ridgeline is top of its class.
The Ridgeline isn’t just dressed up nicely though, it’s equipped to match all the finishings, both inside and out. It may seemgimmicky, but the Ridgeline’s truck bed speaker setup is immensely clever –turning the load bed into a giant speaker that furthers its appeal among themasses. It combines this with additionalunder-bed load space and the option to equip a power outlet in the truck bed,with an inverter, that’s strong enough to power more than just smallappliances. TheRidgeline is more than just a simple work-horse; it’s fully capable as one, butwhat it really is, is a modern means of transportation that caters to everyfamily need, 5 days a work week.
It also doubles as a recreational vehicle the two days a week when adventure and utility matter most. What the Ridgeline signifies is a true changing of the guard – negating the need for compromise in the pick-up segment and adding duality of purpose. If the restof the pick-up world is to succeed, to truly move forward with the times, theyneed to emulate the Ridgeline’s duality of character and purpose. It’s no longer enough to be a dedicated workhorse– one must become the master of all things utility and of all things luxury,all in one cohesive pick-up shaped package.