I am not a guy who tailgates. The redesigned 2017 Honda Ridgeline, however, might change all that.

Despite winning a pair of major awards when it debuted in 2005, the Ridgeline’s sales peaked at 50,193 the following year before sinking to a mere 13,389 units in 2014. Comparatively, Toyota sold 75,149 Tacomas that year.

“The styling wasn’t for everybody,” said Kerry McClure, chief engineer for the 2017 Ridgeline. “It was a little bit polarizing, a little bit odd.”

No kidding.

Its eccentric appearance affected sales, causing Honda to hesitate before deciding to approve a second-generation Ridgeline. But it was given a green light, and not a moment too soon. U.S. demand for midsize pickups grew 16 percent through April of this year, outpacing a market sales increase of 3.3 percent.

Nevertheless, the 2017 Ridgeline should erase any memories of its nonconformist predecessor, with a conventional appearance anchored by a front fascia that recalls the Honda Pilot. Its new duds trade the overwrought machismo of its competition for a refined, upscale allure that casts it as a thinking person’s truck.

After all, it shares its platform – and about 50 percent of its parts – with the redesigned Pilot crossover, although the Ridgeline’s parts are beefed up for its more demanding role. Even so, its ride and handling are every bit as carlike and comfortable, while its roomy cabin boasts generous room for five.

But it’s the back of the truck that will change my pregame habits, namely a new 400-watt power inverter and an in-bed audio system.

The first can power a flat-screen TV or other device, and is available on upper trim levels in place of what is otherwise an in-bed storage compartment on lower trim levels. The second is a bit more unique.

Each of the Ridgeline’s three sidewalls has exciters mounted behind it, much as a speaker magnet is affixed to a speaker cone. These transform the sidewalls into audio speakers. And yes, the system is waterproof.

Best of all, the dual action tailgate and 7.3 cubic-foot in-bed trunk returns with a newly flat floor and drain plug, so it can hold even more of your favorite chilled beverages.

Clearly, this is easily the ultimate tailgating pickup. Ridgeline? They should have called it the Partyline. And wait till you drive it. More merrymaking looms.

Base price $50,075 ($58,845 as tested,) the Ridgeline returns with all-wheel drive, although front-wheel drive is available for the first time. A 3.5-liter single-overhead-cam V-6 engine that generates 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission powers all seven trim levels.

Opting for front-wheel drive limits towing to 3,500 pounds, but returns fuel economy of 19 mpg with city driving and 26 mpg on the highway.

All-wheel drive models can tow 5,000 pounds, although fuel economy falls 1 mpg. All Ridgelines are equipped with a standard transmission cooler, high capacity radiator fans, and a trailer hitch with 7-pin coupler, so there’s no optional trailer-towing package to buy.

If these numbers seem low, guess again. Company research shows that 95 percent of midsize trucks are used for on-road commuting. Fewer than 3 percent of midsize truck buyers tow, and of those buyers, fewer than six percent haul more than 5,000 pounds.

Leaving the most extreme buyers to other automakers allows Honda free to produce the industry’s most refined and fun-to-drive midsize pickup. The engine and transmission respond smoothly and speedily, but remain unassuming – like a good servant. You can drive it aggressively without the suspension histrionics typical of pickup trucks.

The ride remains calmly absorbent yet taut. Credit for being able to pilot this pickup like Richard Petty goes to the platform’s redesigned independent suspension as well as its increased rigidity. Their effect becomes apparent once tromping off-road.

Of course, if you’re just hauling stuff home from a big box store, you’ll appreciate the rear seat’s ability to hold a flat screen TV or a bicycle.

Out back, its 64-inch bed is longer than the crew-cab Toyota Tacoma or short-bed Chevrolet Colorado. Better yet, 4-by-8 sheets of drywall or plywood fit between the Ridgeline’s wheel wells.

Finally, you’ll be happy to know that the new Ridgeline has the usual blizzard of technology, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, USB plugs and Honda Sensing.

But unless you need more towing capacity or an extreme boulder basher, there’s no reason to ignore the 2017 Honda Ridgeline. It has all of the benefits of a midsize pickup with none of the compromises. And its price seems reasonable given its competition.

It makes for a really sweet tailgating partner. This summer, you’ll know where to find me.


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