Photo: Honda

Among reasons to build a front-wheel drive, unibody pickup is fuel economy, so you’d expect the new Honda Ridgeline to conquer its truck competition without breaking a sweat. But now the Pilot-based truck’s fuel economy numbers are in, and they further highlight the trouble with the mid-size truck segment.

The Honda Ridgeline, which I think looks like a promising little truck, is also perhaps the least “truck-y” pickup on the market in large part because of its unibody, front-wheel drive-based architecture. But you’d think those bones and that powertrain would offer less mass, fewer parasitic drivetrain losses, better aerodynamics and thus better gas mileage, right?

And while it’s true that the Ridgeline’s architecture does offer significant packaging benefits, and that it is at the top of the pack in fuel economy compared to the other rear-drive based, body-on-frame mid-size trucks, the differences aren’t stark.

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Here’s how the Ridgeline, which comes with a version of the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 from the Honda Pilot, compares to the automatic V6 Tacoma and Colorado:

We’ll start with the two-wheel drive models:

Mid-Size Truck Fuel Economy (2WD)

-CityHighwayCombined
Honda Ridgeline192622
Toyota Tacoma192421
Chevrolet Colorado182621

Here’s a comparison of four-wheel drive variants:

Mid-Size Truck Fuel Economy (4WD)

-CityHighwayCombined
Honda Ridgeline182521
Toyota Tacoma182320
Chevrolet Colorado172420

So the Ridgeline ekes out an extra MPG combined compared to the others. Though in engineering terms, one MPG is a huge deal (and as a percentage, 5% better fuel economy is significant), I think consumer might have expected a bigger gap between the crossover-based truck and the other “truckier” trucks.

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But how does the new truck compare to bigger full-size trucks with similar naturally aspirated V6s? Well, it doesn’t exactly crush them. Here are the Ram, Silverado and F150 rear-wheel drive models:

Full-Size Truck Fuel Economy (2WD)

-CityHighwayCombined
Ram 1500 HFE 2WD182521
Chevrolet Silverado 2wd182420
Ford F150172420

And four-wheel drive models:

Full-Size Truck Fuel Economy (4WD)

-CityHighwayCombined
Ram 1500 162319
Chevrolet Silverado 172219
Ford F150172319

So the unibody, mid-size, front-wheel drive Honda Ridgeline scores only 1 MPG better than a body-on-frame, rear-wheel drive full-size Ram 1500, and the all-wheel drive model scores only 2 MPG higher than the four-wheel drive full-sizers.

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To many consumers, this small difference is surprising, but to anyone who’s been following the mid-size truck segment, this is old news; small pickup trucks have struggled in the marketplace thanks to pricing and fuel economy too similar to those of full-size trucks.

Part of the fuel economy issue has to do with the shape of a pickup truck, which is inherently not quite as aerodynamic as something with a roof that extends backwards (the Pilot crossover gets slightly better fuel economy than the Ridgeline). And part of it has to do with manufacturers’ unwillingness to sacrifice interior volume, thus yielding similarly large frontal areas (which contribute to high vehicle drag) and 4,000-plus pound curb weights.

If a front-drive unibody Honda can’t put down impressive fuel economy figures, I’m just not sure this segment of trucks is going to catch on.