A Family Friendly Pickup

Nov. 30, 2005 — -- My family and I seem to live at the local home improvement store. Whether we're buying paint to touch up the walls from an unfortunate incident involving kids and permanent markers, or picking up a couple of trees here and there to try and give our new home 'old' character, we're always hauling bulky supplies.

This used to work just fine when we had one child. We would borrow my father-in-law's pickup truck, buckle the child safety seat in the middle, my husband and I would sit on either side with a full load of bricks, or two-by-fours in back.

This came to a quick halt with the birth of baby number two. Some might say it's because we're simply too busy now for home improvement projects. My husband claims we're just going to let our house go to heck until the kids leave for college (only another 15 years or so). I think it's because we can't fit our whole family in a regular pickup truck.

Enter the Honda Ridgeline. With all the functionality of a pickup truck, along with the modern day conveniences of a big SUV, the Ridgeline is the answer for do-it-yourselfers with families.

Believe it or not, the Ridgeline's rear seat comes equipped with three sets of latch connectors, allowing three child safety seats to be installed snugly -- in theory anyway. The lower latch connector bars are wedged into the seat so tightly (at least on my test vehicle that comes equipped with leather seats), that I cannot use them. I resort to using the seatbelt to install the seat.

The high placement of the door handle on the outside of the vehicle, and the absence of running boards on my test car makes it quite difficult for my kids to get in without my help, much to the dismay of my little one who is fiercely independent and insists on doing everything herself (even if it means going to school with her clothes on backwards and her shoes on the wrong feet). Factory installed running boards are available for an additional cost.

The interior of the Ridgeline is an obsessive organizer's dream, with a maze of storage compartments and super-secret squirrel hidey-holes. The center console has a sliding armrest, a hidden CD holder, a coin holder plus enough space left over to store a small child (please don't try this -- it's just and expression).

The leather seats, sunroof, seat heat, and steering wheel mounted audio controls make this truck seem more like an SUV. However, the sliding rear window that's prevalent on all pickup trucks is a constant reminder that despite its nice trim, it's still just a truck.

Rear Visibility a Big Concern for Moms With Little Ones

Because of the large truckbed, and big rear head-rests, visibility in the 2006 Honda Ridgeline is simply awful. Backing out of my driveway I'm unable to see the sidewalk, the street, or even the sidewalk on the other side of the street.

Consumer Reports measures the blind zone of the '06 Honda Ridgeline as 18 feet to 28 feet (for drivers that are 5'8" and 5'1" respectively). This is a huge concern with young children around. According to Janette Fennell of KidsandCars.org, there have been 98 children backed-over by vehicles so far this year. Depending upon the trim level, audio and/or video back-up sensors are available on the Ridgeline as a dealer-installed option.

That said, take a look at the thoroughly impressive crash test ratings given to the 2006 Ridgeline by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration: Five stars out of five across the board (with the exception of a 4 star rollover resistance rating). This is better that most minivans out there!

Returning the Honda Ridgeline at the end of my week-long test drive has me wishing that I could keep it just a little bit longer. Not because I can't live without it, but because Christmas is just around the corner. I'd much rather throw the Christmas tree in the back of the Ridgeline than struggle to tie it to the roof of a MINI Cooper, which Murphy's Law will surely have me driving just in time for the holiday.

* The full archive of "Car Mom" Kristin Varela's Mother Proof reviews can be found at www.MotherProof.com.

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