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They hated it as much for what it was as for what it represented. It was assumed to be soft, a mommy truck; and to their eyes, it was ugly as sin. "Real" truckers would not accept the independent rear suspension, yet seemed ignorant about the fact that our military has been using IRS on severe-duty trucks for years. If IRS is good enough for the combat conditions, using it on a light-duty civilian pickup truck should be a piece of cake, no?
I think there's also another issue at play here: classism. I suspect that many truckers didn't like those who were buying these trucks. Ridgeline buyers tend to be college-educated, suburban, and earn enough to have a decent if not better-than-average lifestyle. Many were schoolteachers, accountants, doctors, and lawyers – professionals. In short they weren't blue-collar, hard working, struggling-to-make-a-living truck guys. That didn't sit well with many. It was like their "space" was being invaded, maybe even their lifestyle was being threatened. I can't tell you how many derogatory comments I've read from traditional truckers over the last decade directed against Ridgeline owners. Many centered around a lack of masculinity of Ridgeline owners, or that that they were bought by people who didn't "need" a truck, that a minivan would have been a better choice. Many were owners of big diesel pickups who felt compelled to compare their heavy-duty trucks to this smaller mid-size truck. You get the picture.
So here we are with the gen-two Ridgeline. Has Honda rectified its image as a truck maker? Yes and no.
Yes in that the truck has shed its polarizing looks. In fact I think it's quite handsome, and will have a vastly broader appeal as such. Yes in the fact that it's been brought up to date mechanically, and the technology is vastly superior to the old model. Yes in fact that it should prove to be more economical than the old truck. Yes in the fact that it's more powerful, and that the AWD is vastly superior to what was offered before. Yes in the fact that it should function better, both as a truck and as a family vehicle.
No in the fact that it will still be viewed as a "girlie truck" by many. No in the fact that there is no "macho" trim level available. No in the fact that it's still engineered only for medium-duty off-road work. No in the fact that towing is still limited to 5,000 pounds, many mid-size trucks are rated for substantially more.
Honda has a real opportunity here – should it choose to use it. There's no question that Honda has to secure and expand its customer base first. This truck does that. That said Honda is in a position unlike that of any other truck maker here in the United States. Unlike Ford, Chevy, GMC, Nissan, and Toyota, Honda does not have a larger full-size truck that creates a "ceiling" for its smaller mid-size entries.
None of the above-mentioned brands will offer a mid-size truck here that will step on the toes of their bigger full-size trucks in terms of capability. That means no heavy-duty mid-size trucks will be sold here. They're offered in other markets, where their full-size models are not sold, but not here.
Honda does not have that problem. It could easily offer a heavy-duty version of the Ridgeline, should it decide to. I'm thinking of a truck with a metric-ton payload (~2,200 pounds, or roughly 600 pounds more than the current Ridgeline payload), a two-speed transfer case, a standard full-size spare tire, tow hooks, and underbody protection. Offer it in both crew cab and regular cab with an eight-foot bed. I think there's a market for such a truck, and we have more than enough conventional gargantuan heavy-duty trucks. It's time for some new (and smarter) thinking here.
...And, voilà! instant street cred!