by Jay Traugott
The Honda Ridgeline isn't like typical pickup trucks. Instead of utilizing a body-on-frame chassis, it rides on a unibody platform, the very same one underpinning the Honda Pilot. That means the Ridgeline is front-wheel-drive-based, not rear-wheel like a conventional truck. But this doesn't mean the Ridgeline isn't tough as nails, and for 2021 it now looks the part.
Presenting the refreshed 2021 Honda Ridgeline. Although it still rides on the same platform and retains the same engine as last year, the exterior styling has acquired a much more truck-like look. Honda designers and engineers were also keenly aware of where the Ridgeline's strengths lie and further improved them as well. Not all mid-size truck buyers want to contend with a bumpier ride and other truck characteristics, and this is where the Ridgeline comes into play. It offers the best of both worlds by combining car-like driving characteristics on the road and the required truck features to enable it to get the job done.
If there was one category where the 2020 Ridgeline often scored lower marks, it was exterior styling. But that was last year. The 2021 Ridgeline boasts all-new sheet metal from the front roof pillars forward. A new hood featuring a power bulge along with new front fenders are instantly noticeable. From head-on, the Ridgeline is now much more macho with a more upright grille and boxier nose. A set of LED headlights are on each side while the crossbar connecting them above the grille can be had in gloss black or chrome, depending on trim.
There's also a new front bumper that not only has tougher looks but also has side vents that route air through the bumper and around the front wheels for improved aerodynamics. The new skit plates also provide a more truck-like appearance. At the back you'll find a restyled bumper and twin exhaust outlets. A set of 18-inch wheels come standard. What's nice is that they feature reduced backspacing, meaning the Ridgeline's track width increases by 0.6 inches.
A new styling package from Honda Performance Development tacks on a unique grille, black fender flares, and bronze-colored wheels.
The general design of the 2021 Ridgeline's cabin and dashboard is very similar to last year, though there are some vital upgrades. There's now an upgraded infotainment system with enhanced graphics, new touchscreen icons, and, likely due to customer influence, a physical volume knob instead of a digital touch method.
Three trims levels are available: Sport, RTL, and RTL-E. Sport models have new cloth seat inserts while all trims receive contrast seat stitching. All three trims also come with accents in the dash, steering wheel, and center console. Like before, there's a foldaway 60/40-split rear seat to create a flat floor for more cargo storage options.
Drivers will enjoy a number of standard safety and driver-assist systems with the Honda Sensing suite. Forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control are all included.
Under the hood lies the same 3.5-liter V6 as last year, producing 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. A nine-speed automatic is standard. Front-wheel-drive is also standard on Sport and RTL. An all-wheel drive system with torque vectoring that sends up to 70 percent of the V6's torque to the rear wheels while still distributing up to 100 percent of torque between the left and rear wheels is optional, but standard on RTL-E. One major AWD benefit is best-in-class payload capacity of 1,580 pounds and a maximum 5,000-pound towing capacity.
Thanks to a wider stance, it's the only truck in its class capable of flat-carrying 4-foot wide cargo, like plywood, between the wheel wells. A washable and lockable hidden trunk under the bed, which also doubles as an icebox, remains standard. The Dual-Action Tailgate makes loading and unloading relatively easy because it can be folded down or to the side. The tailgate alone can handle a load of up to 300 pounds. The bed also includes eight tie-down cleats designed to secure cargo, each rated at 350 pounds each. For entertainment purposes, there's an optional integrated audio system that turns the bed into a speaker, ideal for tailgating.
Official pricing has not yet been announced, but we don't expect it to differ much from last year's starting price of $33,900. This information should become available closer to the 2021 Ridgeline's on-sale date early next year.
The mid-size truck segment has become far more competitive in recent years. For some time, the Toyota Tacoma mostly dominated but the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon twins proved to be worthy rivals. And then the Ford Ranger returned to the market which forced Toyota and GM to update their offerings. The Nissan Frontier, due for a complete redesign next year, is no longer competitive. Those who desire a more rugged appearance and temperament, there's the Jeep Gladiator. It should be noted that all of the above competitors utilize a body-on-frame chassis instead of the Ridgeline's unibody setup.