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:
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.
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.
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.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Honda Ridgeline: