The large pickup truck market is dominated by the American “Big Three” automakers: the F-Series from Ford, the Chevrolet Silverado from General Motors and the Ram from Chrysler.
The high profits found in this market keep attracting Japanese competitors, generally with limited success. While Toyota tries to offer the same half-ton experience as the American makes, Honda and Nissan have rolled out models that seek to carve out more specialized – though very different – niches in the market.
On the one hand, the new 2016 Nissan Titan XD splits the difference between a half-ton and quarter-ton pickups. It’s bigger and has higher capabilities than, say, a Ford F-150, while not going quite as far as the next biggest Ford, the F-250. Massive dimensions and an available diesel V8 also set the XD apart from the standard Titan half-ton, itself just now launching as a redesigned 2017.
On the opposite extreme of the toughness scale is the 2017 Honda Ridgeline. Where Nissan tried to be bigger and stronger than the Americans, Honda focused on mild-mannered comfort, luxury and light-duty versatility. Like the first-generation Ridgeline, which appeared in 2006, the new model is essentially a pickup version of the Pilot crossover with a bed instead of a third-row seat and covered cargo area.
These pickups don’t compete with each other, but the Ridgeline is more successful in its niche than the Titan XD. The first-generation Ridgeline had impressive driving dynamics, a spacious interior and numerous clever features, but it suffered from odd styling, mediocre interior quality and unimpressive fuel economy. The redesigned model builds on the early Ridgeline strengths while largely eliminating those major flaws.
Honda calls the Ridgeline a competitor to the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. But while it’s sized and priced close to these vehicles, they’re a different animal – tougher, but comparatively cramped and crude.
Rather, the Ridgeline is well suited to the suburban pickup buyer who is looking for the roomy, quiet cabin of a full-size truck but doesn’t need the brute strength of an F-150 or Silverado. The Ridgeline has a 5-foot bed with a 7-cubic-foot trunk hidden under the floor, and promises a payload of 1,500 pounds and the ability to tow a 5,000-pound trailer. The towing weight in particular lags far behind today’s half-ton pickups, but if you don’t have a huge trailer, the Ridgeline shouldn’t struggle too mightily.
The Ridgeline is priced from $30,375 and has EPA ratings in mixed driving of 22 miles per gallon with front-wheel-drive and 21 mpg with all-wheel-drive. The former is several thousand dollars less than comparably-equipped large pickups, and the gas mileage beats out even most smaller pickups. Do note that the Ridgeline is still a relatively bulky vehicle and has a cumbersome, purely truck-like 44-foot turning circle.
Meanwhile, Nissan had an interesting idea with the Titan XD – to thread the needle between half-ton and three-quarter-ton large pickups – but the execution came out a little flawed. Perhaps the vehicle’s main issue is its weight: nearly 7,400 pounds, well over 500 pounds more than three-quarter-ton competitors and nearly 1,500 pounds more than the half-ton Titan.
That weight dulls the Titan XD’s acceleration and handling, and also cuts into the amount of engine strength left over for payload and towing. A payload of about 1,600 pounds trails several of today’s half-ton pickups – whose capabilities now typically exceed that name – and its towing capacity of 11,660 pounds is also merely competitive rather than stellar.
The Titan does stand out for offering a confidently rumbling Cummins diesel V8 starting from the relatively low price of $38,335 (or $5,000 less for a gasoline V8). But the tested model, a crew cab with leather seats and other luxury features, has a whopping sticker price of $56,530. At that price in particular, it’s hard to accept a package that includes gargantuan driveway-filling dimensions with minimal extra capability.