2008 Ridgeline New Car Test Drive
The Toyota Camry has been America's best-selling car for past few years. That's an important title for auto manufacturers, so Toyota is quite pleased that the Camry has outsold the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus, its arch-rivals among mid-size sedans. Now comes a completely redesigned Camry for 2002, making this the fifth generation.
This year's Camry is a slightly larger car. Yet performance and fuel economy have been maintained. Styling is all new, designed to add sensuality to what has been a bland design.
Better yet, prices have dropped slightly over last year's models. Given Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability, the new Camry will once again prove to be the ideal car for about 400,000 new-car buyers a year who don't want to worry or even think about their car. The Toyota Camry is one of the best-selling sedans in America. The coupe and convertible versions of this car carry the Solara badge and unique styling. But while the Camry moved onto a new-generation platform for the 2002 model year, the Solara carries over on the previous platform.
However, the Solara coupe and convertible do get a facelift for 2002, with a new grille, front bumper, headlamps and tail lamps. A new four-cylinder engine for 2002 delivers significantly more power over last year without sacrificing fuel economy or emissions.
Overall, the Solara is smooth and quiet. Its optional V6 delivers strong torque for good acceleration performance. It's comfortable, with terrific seats, and the top is easy to operate. Sometimes beauty is more than skin deep. It's true of people more often than we like to admit. It's even more often true of machines. Experienced engineers will tell you that when it looks right, it works right.
That brings us to the current Toyota Celica, with its racy, razor-edge lines, looking like the very embodiment of high-technology performance. And guess what: Its looks aren't lying.
Celica is light on its feet and tenacious in turns. Its energetic engine loves to rev, and you can keep the mill spinning with a six-speed gearbox. One of our contributors compared the GT-S version to a motorcycle on four wheels, the automotive equivalent of a screaming, hyper-horsepower super-bike.
True, perhaps, except that Celica is no exotic. It's a straightforward little machine that's heavy on fun and light on the wallet.
Celica was redesigned for 2000, and has not changed significantly since then. The mid-size Honda Ridgeline vies for the title of most innovative pickup. Honda's best attributes are here in a pickup truck: refinement, fit-and-finish and innovation the Honda way. The Ridgeline features an easy-to-reach, locking storage box under its bed that no other pickup can match.
The differences between Ridgeline and more conventional pickups go all the way to the core. Ridgeline is the first mainstream pickup with fully independent rear suspension, which improves ride quality considerably. Other pickup trucks have traditionally been built with a separate nose section, cab section, and cargo bed, bolted to a separate ladder frame. Honda's pickup uses both a one-piece unibody and a steel ladder frame, welded together. Its cab and bed are built as one piece, with separate subframes for the engine, front suspension and rear suspension. Honda claims Ridgeline is 20 times more resistant to twisting than any other pickup truck, and 3.5 times more resistant to bending.
We've found the Ridgeline to be one of the nicest pickups to drive when measured by comfort and ease of use. It's smooth, quiet and very maneuverable, with a load of useful features.
Ridgeline cannot do the work of a full-size pickup, but its 1550-pound payload and 5000-pound towing capacity are enough for many buyers.
Ridgeline has changed little since its 2006 introduction. For 2007, Honda added the value-priced RTX model, which provided popular equipment such as alloy wheels and a trailer package, for a relatively small price increase over the base RT. At the same time, the top-of-the-line Ridgeline RTL added a power moonroof and XM Satellite Radio as standard equipment, and traded its two-tone leather for a single-tone look. For 2008, a new machined-look wheel design appears on the RTS and RTL, and the fabric interiors on the Ridgeline RT, RTX and RTS also change from dual-tone to single tone.
The Honda Ridgeline doesn't look or act like any other pickup truck we've driven, and it shouldn't cost an arm and a leg to own or operate. It makes pleasant, comfortable daily transportation, and it's as much pickup as many drivers will ever need.
Trim levels are nearly the same as last year: LE 5-speed manual ($18,970); LE 4-speed automatic ($19,800); SE 5-speed manual ($20,310); SE 4-speed automatic ($21,140); XLE 4-speed automatic ($22,295) LE V6 4-speed automatic ($22,260); SE V6 4-speed automatic ($23,700); XLE V6 4-speed automatic ($25,405). (Gone is the low-priced CE.)
LE was always the most popular model. This year, it comes with a lot more standard equipment, including air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, cruise control, 60/40 split rear seat and vanity mirrors.
However, Toyota hopes that more people will be interested in the luxuriously appointed XLE as it is not such a jump up in price from the LE as before. XLE adds luxury appointments such as wood grain trim, power driver and passenger seats, automatic air conditioning, alarm system, keyless entry, cargo net, and rear-window sunshade.
SE is a new model, a sportier version of the LE with added equipment such as fog lights, stiffer suspension, bigger wheels and tires, rear spoiler and sportier trim inside and out.
Each of the three models can be had with a newly redesigned four-cylinder or V6 engine. Manual transmission is only available on the LE and SE four-cylinder models.
The list of option packages is quite long, enabling buyers to order a Camry to suit taste and budget. Side airbags are available as an option on the LE and SE, but are standard on the XLE.
(Note: The 2002 Camry Solara coupe/convertible is still based on the old Camry platform even though it has a few small cosmetic changes to make it look more like the new Camry sedan.). The Solara comes in hardtop coupe and convertible body styles. It's available with four-cylinder or V6 engines and manual or automatic transmissions.
The four-cylinder coupe is available only in the SE trim level, $19,365 with a five-speed manual transmission and $20,165 with a four-speed automatic. Standard equipment includes an all-new 157-horsepower 2.4-liter engine, air conditioning, front disc brakes, cruise control, fog lights, an AM/FM radio with a cassette player, 15-inch wheels and tires, cloth seating and front airbags.
The V6 coupe is available in SE and SLE trim levels. SE V6 with five-speed manual retails for $21,685; SE with automatic transmission retails for $22,485; SLE, which is only available with automatic, lists for $24,675. Both are powered by a 200-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 and have four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The SLE adds leather seating surfaces, automatic climate controls, heated rearview mirrors, a JBL premium audio system with a CD player, front bucket seats with eight-way power on the driver's side, a rear spoiler, 16-inch alloy wheels and 205/60R16 tires.
The convertible is available as a four-cylinder SE ($24,495), or a V6 SE ($28,045) or V6 SLE ($30,525). All convertibles come with automatic transmissions. The convertible top raises and lowers under its own power and features a heated glass rear window. GT-S leads the Celica lineup with distinctive styling, nice handling and an impressive 180-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine developed with assistance from Yamaha. The GT-S retails for $21,555.
Most buyers will opt for the more affordable 140-horsepower Celica GT, which retails for $17,085.
Both models are powered by an all-aluminum four-cylinder engine displacing 1.8 liters. Both feature Toyota's VVTL-i variable valve timing, lift and duration, a feature previously exclusive to the up-market Lexus division. Variable valve timing allows the previously difficult combination of high horsepower with lots of flexible torque around town.
But it's not the same engine: Each Celica model has its own block, and different dimensions in bore and stroke. With 10.0:1 compression, the base GT engine makes a respectable 140 horsepower at 6400 rpm, and 125 foot-pounds of torque at a useful 4200 rpm.
The Celica GT comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission. The GT-S gets a six-speed. Either model can be ordered with a four-speed electronically controlled automatic that adds $800 to the GT, and $700 to the GT-S. But only the GT-S automatic features the E-Shift semi-automatic shift program from the hot Lexus GS sport sedan, which allows the transmission to be shifted manually via buttons on the steering wheel spokes.
Naturally, GT and GT-S also differ in the standard equipment they offer. The GT gets a six-speaker stereo with both cassette and CD, power windows, power mirrors and air conditioning. The GT-S adds two more speakers and amplified power, fog lamps, drilled aluminum sport pedals, power locks, leather steering wheel and shift knob, cruise control and alloy wheels with wider tires. Additionally, the GT-S we drove had nearly all the options, including a sunroof, leather seats, a rear spoiler and 16-inch alloy wheels with lower-profile speed-rated tires. The 2008 Ridgeline is sold in four different trim levels, with each model adding more standard equipment. There are no exterior badges to distinguish models.
All Ridgelines are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine, generating 247 horsepower, with a five-speed automatic transmission and Honda's VTM-4 all-wheel-drive system. This full-time all-wheel-drive normally proportions 60 percent of the power to the front wheels, but if conditions indicate it will automatically send as much as 70 percent of the engine torque to the rear wheels. Ridgeline also incorporates a limited-slip differential with lock feature.
The Ridgeline RT ($28,000) is the base model. It comes standard with black door handles; steel wheels; manually adjusted front seats, air conditioning; power windows and locks; cruise control; and a 100-watt, six-speaker, XM-ready stereo with CD.
The RTX ($28,500) adds gray-finish alloy wheels, body-color door handles, a unique Sport grille, and a towing package.
The RTS ($30,425) adds power front seats with manual lumbar support; a160-watt, seven-speaker stereo with six-CD changer and steering-wheel mounted controls; dual-zone automatic climate control; outside temperature gauge; a security system; and new machine-finish alloy wheels. It does not come with the tow package, and reverts to the standard grille.
The RTL ($33,090) adds still more standard features, including leather upholstery, heated front seats, power lumbar support for the driver, power moonroof, compass and HomeLink remote integrated into the rear-view mirror, heated side mirrors, and all the hardware for XM Satellite Radio.
The RTL can be equipped with Ridgeline's only factory installed option: Honda's DVD-based navigation system with voice recognition ($2,000). It also offers a dealer-installed DVD entertainment system. But there are dozens of dealer-installed accessories available for all Ridgeline models, including roof rails, the tow package, and even the RTX model's neater-looking grille.
Safety equipment is comprehensive. It includes multi-stage front airbags and side-impact airbags for front passengers, front and rear side curtain airbags for head protection and LATCH child-seat anchors for the three rear seats. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, vehicle stability assist and a tire-pressure monitoring system are also standard.