by Ian Wright
Since 2017, the second-generation Honda Ridgeline has been quietly going about being the pickup America needs but has had trouble convincing enough people it's the truck they want. The user base for Honda's midsize truck is strong, but sales could be stronger. Honda knows it has a great product, but its perception based on looks and the truck's SUV-based unibody construction just isn't doing it for the American market. Hence, 2021 is an update year, and along with some small but important updates, the Ridgeline has become a more authoritative-looking truck - which should win over a few more fans who might've otherwise considered a Ford Ranger or Toyota Tacoma.
Honda's truck still rides on a strong monocoque chassis, and the excellent 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque is still present. The smooth nine-speed automatic transmission also carries over, but all-wheel-drive is now standard.
Honda has made a range of updates to the Ridgeline for the 2021 model year. It all starts with refreshed styling, including a squared-off nose, a new hood with a distinct power bulge, new LED headlights, new wheels, and numerous other small updates. The cabin, already one of the most comfortable in this segment, now benefits from a physical volume knob along with wireless charging, a smattering of new trim accents, and updated contrast stitching on the seats.
Together with Honda Performance Development, a new HPD Package has been released. It adds an HPD emblem, unique body graphics, black fender flares, and more. The Utility, Function, and Function+ packages are also new. Finally, all-wheel drive now comes as standard.
See trim levels and configurations:
The Honda Ridgeline always came across as one of the softer-looking trucks in the segment since its introduction for the 2017 model year, although this generation was a far cry better than the original from 2006. Still, the Japanese marque has tried to imbue the 2021 model with a more rugged appearance. When the likes of the Jeep Gladiator and GMC Canyon count as your direct competition, this is no surprise. The redesign encompasses changes ahead of the front roof pillars like a hood with a new power bulge, a squared-off face, and reshaped LED projector headlights. A grille crossbar is finished in gloss black on the Sport and Black Edition, while the RTL and RTL-E have a chrome finish. All models have dual exhaust outlets, a dual-action tailgate, LED taillights, and LED foglights. 18-inch alloy wheels in varying finishes are standard, while the aggressive HPD Package adds a bronze finish to the wheels, a special grille, and black fender flares.
The Honda is wider but slightly shorter than the Ford Ranger. Unlike several other trucks on the market, the Honda comes with just one body style and bed size. Key dimensions for the Ridgeline include a length of 210.2 inches, a height of 70.8 inches, and a width of 78.6 inches. All Ridgelines have 7.64 inches of ground clearance, some way off the Ranger which offers up to 9.7 inches of clearance. The approach/breakover/departure angles for the Honda work out to 20.4/19.6/19.6 degrees, again falling short of some key rivals.
With the tailgate up, the bed length measures 64 inches, increasing to 83 inches with the tailgate down. At the wheel wells, the Honda's bed width is 50 inches exactly, increasing to 60 inches when measured at the bed walls. The base Sport has a curb weight of 4,436 pounds, increasing to 4,475 for the RTL. Both the RTL-E and Black Edition weigh the most at 4,510 lbs.
A new Radiant Red metallic color has been added to the Ridgeline's color palette for 2021. This color carries a $395 premium along with Platinum White Pearl on the base model. However, other colors like Lunar Silver metallic and Crystal Black Pearl won't cost anything extra. Moving up to the RTL adds Modern Steel metallic, Obsidian Blue Pearl, and Pacific Pewter metallic ($395). The RTL-E shares the RTL's color palette, but the Black Edition can only be specified in Crystal Black Pearl or Platinum White Pearl ($395). The HPD package avails eye-catching bronze wheels.
The Honda Ridgeline pickup has retained the smooth and responsive 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. This year, though, the previously optional all-wheel-drive system is standard, whereas the 2020 version used FWD by default. Paired with a smooth nine-speed automatic transmission, the Ridgeline will get from 0-60 mph in not much more than seven seconds. Some other trucks are quicker, but the Ridgeline does not feel underpowered. In fact, throttle response is notably crisp and the powertrain always remains smooth, forming a key part of the Honda's car-like appeal. In terms of towing capacity, the Ridgeline can only tow 5,000 lbs. The Ford Ranger can tow 2,500 lbs more, and the Jeep Gladiator even more than that. Together with its less impressive off-road chops, the Ridgeline isn't the most capable truck in its segment, but it's the one you'll want for on-road use.
The 3.5-liter direct-injected VTEC V6 engine may lack turbocharging, but it blends brilliantly with the nine-speed automatic gearbox. Maximum outputs are 280 hp and 262 lb-ft, which is enough for smooth, punchy getaways around town and adequate passing power. There are no qualms with the slick and smooth nine-speed auto in the Ridgeline, either. The shift-by-wire transmission includes paddle shifters as standard across the lineup, although the relaxed Ridgeline feels in its element when shifting through the gears itself.
At lower speeds on tight trails, the engine and transmission handle themselves remarkably well with plenty of torque and a well-rounded electronic traction system. It's easy to forget the Ridgeline has paddle shifters as they're not needed but add to the fun of negotiating back roads with reasonably swift gear changes on command.
On the road, the Ridgeline has the ride quality of one of Honda's more comfortable crossovers, but we should be quick to point out it isn't just a crossover with a truck bed. The Ridgeline is a strong truck with all the capability that most mid-size pickup owners need, plus extra ride comfort created by an excellent chassis design and independent rear suspension. Steering is smooth and direct, and the chassis well balanced for hustling back roads. Rolling onto a dirt track, that smoothness translates well, and the Ridgeline is happy to build pace without rattling any of the occupant's teeth. Most noticeably, the independent rear suspension means there's little to no chatter from the back as it rolls over uneven surfaces.
The Ridgeline is billed as more of a lifestyle and adventure truck than an off-road truck, so we took advantage of long local trails into the mountains for days out during our ten days with the truck. At times we found ourselves wishing for a little more ground clearance at the front, but we were able to reach high up camping and hiking spots in comfort and with few challenges on easier trails. It wasn't until Honda invited us to its proving grounds in the Mojave desert that we got to give the Ridgeline a more intensive workout off the tarmac. We discovered how well Sand Mode deals with softer and deeper surfaces, how composed the Ridgeline is off-road at higher speeds, and that it will deal with rougher trails than we dared hit at home given the ground clearance.
Going out to the Mojave desert and back also gave us plenty of time to contemplate the truck on the freeway. The final thought was that the Ridgeline is more than competent as a daily driver as well as a road trip machine. It's also worth noting that our test model was a base Ridgeline Sport model with the aesthetic HPD package.
By dropping the front-wheel-drive version from the lineup, the base Ridgeline's fuel economy is marginally less impressive than before, but it's still good for a V6-powered AWD truck. According to the EPA, the Ridgeline will return 18/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined. Those numbers are better than the Chevrolet Colorado's 17/24/19 mpg when the Chevy is equipped with 4x4 and a V6 engine, although the Colorado can be had with a more efficient turbodiesel. The Honda nearly matches the Ford Ranger's 20/24/22 mpg when the latter is equipped with 4WD. All Ridgelines are equipped with a 19.5-gallon gas tank, so a combined cruising range of almost 410 miles will be achievable. In fact, we achieved almost 410 miles from a tank after covering a lot of freeway miles as well as local trips out on mountain roads.
Our Honda Ridgeline interior review leaves little to complain about. Honda hasn't made any dramatic changes in the cabin, but this wasn't necessary as the Ridgeline is blessed with one of the nicest interiors in this segment. The combination of a low step-in height, comfortable seats, and premium materials creates a strong impression. There are some small but welcome improvements this year such as the addition of a physical volume knob and new stitching on the seats, but for the most part, it's a reassuringly familiar environment. All models enjoy conveniences like push-button ignition and tri-zone automatic climate control, while higher-spec derivatives enjoy heated front seats, leather upholstery, and a power-adjustable driver's seat.
The Honda Ridgeline has an accommodating interior, even with five people packed inside. Kids and adults alike will appreciate the back with its 36.7 inches of legroom and 38.8 inches of headroom compared to the front's 40.9 inches and 40.1 inches, respectively. The base cloth-covered Sport trim's seats are comfortable and supportive over long stints and rough ground. Forward and side visibility is excellent, but the camera comes in useful for reversing. Topping off the convenience, a low step-in height makes the Ridgeline easy to slip in and out of, and the rear doors have been updated to open wider.
The Ridgeline Sport comes only with black cloth upholstery, so unless you're happy with that, you'll have to look at one of the other trims for more variety. Spending extra on the RTL introduces a leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather upholstery in either Black, Grey, or Beige. The grey and beige color schemes are also applied to the lower dashboard and the door panels for a much airier ambiance. However, your choice of exterior color will influence the availability of the interior color; for instance, the beige cabin can only be chosen in combination with Platinum White Pearl exterior paint. The RTL-E is given a lift with blue ambient LED lighting in the cabin, while the Black Edition gets the same lighting but in red. Uniquely, the Honda Ridgeline Black Edition comes with Black/Red leather upholstery.
As we found in our 2020 Ridgeline review, a single bed size limits the Honda's appeal, so you'll need to be happy with the standard bed's capacity of 33.9 cubic feet. With the bigger of its two available bed sizes, the Chevy Colorado provides nearly 50 cubes of space, highlighting the gulf between it and the Ridgeline truck in this area. However, the Honda does offer a competitive payload capacity of up to 1,583 lbs. All Honda Ridgeline models offer a handy 7.3 cubes of lockable in-bed storage. There are numerous other useful features like a dual-action tailgate that can open either downwards or to the side, eight truck bed tie-down cleats, and truck bed lights - these lights are LEDs on the top two trims. On these higher-spec versions, a 400-watt truck-bed power outlet is fitted.
Honda has put just as much thought into the cabin. There are 60/40-split rear seats that can be flipped up for more utility space, along with front/rear cupholders, seatback pockets, a dedicated holder for your sunglasses, and a multi-function center console.
If you can make peace with the entry-level version's limited color palette, you'll find that this is otherwise a generously equipped truck. The Sport enjoys push-button start, two 12-volt power outlets, tri-zone automatic climate control, remote entry, and smart entry with a walk-away auto-locking function. It also comes with a bevy of driver aids like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, collision mitigation braking, a multi-angle rearview camera, and lane departure warning.
The RTL adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat with two memory settings, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated front seats, a power sliding rear window, and a one-touch power moonroof. Higher up in the lineup, the RTL-E adds front/rear parking sensors, truck bed power outlets, illuminated front beverage holders, a heated steering wheel, and auto high beams. The Black Edition has sportier trim but largely shares the RTL-E's specification.
Alas, the infotainment system lags behind the rest of the truck, despite the addition of a physical volume knob. The eight-inch screen is clear enough, but it's not as responsive as it could be, and Honda's infotainment system isn't the most user-friendly on the market. That said, all the necessary modern features are there, including Bluetooth, SMS text messaging functionality, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a seven-speaker sound system with sub-woofer, and a USB charging port in the center console as standard. Moving up the trims to RTL-E and Black Edition adds HD Radio, Sirius XM radio, Honda's satellite navigation with voice command system, and an eight-speaker premium sound system. The top two trims also include a truck bed audio system that vibrates the bed panels for outdoor sound.
According to J.D. Power, the Honda Ridgeline has one of the highest overall ratings for trucks, although at the time of writing, the 2021 version hadn't yet been rated. Last year's model attained a score of 81 out of 100, below only the Ford Ranger's 82/100. According to the NHTSA, the 2021 Ridgeline remains recall-free so far, but last year's model was recalled once for the possibility of the tonneau cover panel detaching from the truck. The 2019 model suffered five recalls for issues like a crack in the fuel pump feed port and timing belt teeth that could separate.
Like other Hondas, the Ridgeline comes with a three-year/36,000-mile limited warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, 24 hours of roadside assistance for three years/36,000 miles, and five years of protection against corrosion.
In its new Ridgeline crashworthiness review, the NHTSA awarded the Honda its maximum five-star overall safety rating, although the rollover rating just missed out on a perfect score with four stars. The IIHS named the Ridgeline as a Top Safety Pick in 2019, but in 2020, the same agency rated the truck as only Acceptable for the passenger-side small overlap front crash test. All other crashworthiness scores were Good.
Honda has done well to ensure that every Ridgeline is well-stocked with all the essential passive and active safety systems. From the base Sport and up, you'll get a suite of six airbags, including side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor. Along with this, the truck comes with tire-pressure monitoring, a rearview camera with multiple angles and dynamic guidelines, vehicle stability assist, and traction control.
Under the banner of Honda Sensing Technologies are advanced features like collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. The RTL adds blind-spot monitoring and a cross-traffic monitor, while the top two trims also have auto high beams and front/rear parking sensors.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again: For the majority of buyers, the Honda Ridgeline is the best mid-size truck in America. The idea that a unibody truck isn't a real truck is outdated and stops a lot of people from buying the right truck for their lifestyle. The Ridgeline offers a level of ride quality and on- and off-road composure that its competitors simply don't match. It's comfortable as a family vehicle, and its load bed is versatile and will cover most people's needs, whether that's trips to the hardware store or longer trips into the outdoors for adventure. Its towing capacity is less than most, but most people won't challenge the Ridgeline's 5,000 lbs hauling capacity.
The Ridgeline's capacious and comfortable interior matches its ride quality as best in class, and much as we want Honda to up its infotainment game, the Ridgeline's system is far from a dealbreaker. We rank the Ridgeline as one of Honda's best vehicles and hope to see a proper off-road package in the future to bring to an even wider market.
Among other pickups for sale in the USA, the Honda has a generally higher starting price. This is because most other truck brands offer much more basic, workhorse variants, whereas the Honda starts off at quite a high level. For 2021, the Honda Ridgeline truck has a high starting price of $36,490 for the Sport, although it's worth noting that all versions now have an AWD system as standard. Following this is the RTL with an MSRP of $39,470 and the RTL-E at $42,420. Finally, the Black Edition tops the lineup at $43,920. These prices exclude a destination and handling fee of $1,175. The Honda Ridgeline will cost over $50,000 when fully optioned.
The new Honda Ridgeline is offered in a choice of four trims: Sport, RTL, RTL-E, and Black Edition. All versions are powered by a naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V6 engine with 280 horsepower paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Honda's Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) all-wheel-drive system is standard.
The base Sport comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, a dual-action tailgate, LED taillights, and a Class III trailer hitch with a seven-pin connector. Inside, there is black cloth upholstery along with tri-zone climate control, a multi-angle rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, and an eight-inch touchscreen interface.
By spending extra on the RTL, you'll get a power sliding rear window and a one-touch power moonroof. This model also comes with leather upholstery, heated front seats, power-adjustable front seats, and SiriusXM.
The RTL-E ups the ante with front/rear parking sensors, power outlets in the truck bed, wireless phone charging, a truck bed sound system, an eight-speaker premium audio system inside the cabin, HD Radio, and rear USB charging ports.
Finally, the Honda Ridgeline Black Edition shares most of the RTL-E's premium features but adds blacked-out exterior accents, 18-inch black alloy wheels, black/red leather upholstery, and red interior ambient lighting.
A number of packages can be equipped to improve the Ridgeline's appearance and versatility. On the Sport, the new HPD Package equips 18-inch bronze alloy wheels, fender flares, a sportier grille, HPD emblems, and body graphics for $2,800. At $1,465, the Utility Package includes crossbars, roof rails, and running boards. At $1,315, the aptly named Function+ Package includes in-bed trunk dividers, a hard cargo area cover, a truck bed cargo net, and more. Several accessory packages are on offer such as the $4,211 Adventure Package with its 18-inch black wheels, fender flares, sporty grille, black roof rails, and crossbars. The three other trims share the same package choices at the same prices.
An automaker will rarely deliver us a base model to review, but Honda is, justifiably, that confident in its product. It has everything it needs that nobody should feel they made do with the Sport trim. We would be tempted to opt for the RTL trim if we knew we would be putting significant miles on the Ridgeline to benefit from leather upholstery, power and heated seats, and the moonroof. The RTL-E starts looking a bit pricey, but the value of wireless charging, a premium sound system, and a truck bed sound system will undoubtedly appeal to many.
The Black Edition is purely a matter of style and taste, as is the HPD Package. When it comes to packages, that's also a matter of choice as Honda covers a lot of bases depending on the owner's lifestyle.
While the Ridgeline is an ideal truck for day-to-day chores and the odd tough job, the Toyota Tacoma is a better prospect for adventurers. The Honda's fully independent suspension endows it with a far smoother ride, but the Toyota can tow almost 2,000 lbs more, offers both 2WD and 4WD, and has more ground clearance as well as superior approach/departure angles. However, the Tacoma has a disappointing base four-cylinder motor and even with its optional V6, it's not as fast as the Ridgeline. Inside, the Honda is a much nicer place to watch the world go by as materials are plusher than in the Toyota. It's easy to see why the rugged Tacoma sells well, but for most customers, the Ridgeline is a more polished and enjoyable vehicle.
The Ford Ranger strikes a decent middle ground between the tough-as-nails Toyota Tacoma and the more luxurious Ridgeline. The Ford's 270-hp turbocharged engine is a decent power plant that enables the Ranger to accelerate faster and tow more than the Honda. However, the Ridgeline's smoother V6 has its own appeal and nearly matches the Ford's gas mileage when the Ranger is equipped with 4WD. While the Ridgeline has a smoother ride, the Ranger is far better for off-roading, especially if you go for the available Tremor Off-Road package with its lifted suspension. We prefer the Honda's bigger, more sophisticated cabin, but the Ranger claws back points by offering more than one box size. The Honda is unrivaled as a road-biased truck, but the Ranger is a better workhorse and a more capable off-road partner.
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