2021 Honda Ridgeline: The Reasonable Person's Midsized Pickup
Honda shows that a midsized truck should be as practical as it is usable on any surface.
If you want a midsized pickup truck, your first thought is not usually a Honda Ridgeline. More often than not, people gravitate toward the Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger. Some may assume Honda isn't particularly great pitching a truck to many truck people, but that's not fair.
A good truck doesn't have to look overly rugged, tow as much as a train, nor possess massive proportions that can't fit into a normal parking space. Sometimes people simply want a reliable daily driver that carries enough stuff and can go on a camping trip without breaking the backs of its occupants along the way while not looking like another offensive Bro Dozer driven buy a guy that gets his wardrobe from 5.11 Tactical.
Since 2006, early generations of the Ridgeline were targeted at repeat Honda owners who wanted a hint more functionality than a Pilot or Acura MDX, but didn't ask too much from a truck. Not as attractive on paper or in person, the Ridgeline wasn't stealing away much market share from its competition. Knowing it needed to bring a stronger offering to the plate, Honda got more serious with this 2021 model, featuring a big stack of updates to give the Ridgeline a few advantages over its competition. Can it actually steer some midsized truck buyers its way?
Going Over The Specs
The 2021 Honda Ridgeline got a facelift with a more impactful look up front and a new rear bumper that exposes its exhaust tips. Under its hood, Honda's midsized truck packs a 3.5-liter V6 with 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft (355 Nm) of torque. With i-VTM4 all-wheel-drive now standard on all trim levels, the Ridgeline has a 9-speed automatic with an intelligent traction management system that sports four selectable drive modes for various terrains, and has mechanical torque vectoring to improve cornering.
Competing with the Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger (which I reviewed last year), Nissan Frontier, and GM's Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, the Ridgeline is actually Honda's highest conquest vehicle. Offering four trim levels, the base Sport model is still well-equipped, and Honda thinks this is the model that will get more buyers to switch over to the Ridgeline.
Now with a HPD appearance package option, the Ridgeline gets a more rugged look with some cool gold 18-inch wheels, meatier tires, and fender flares, but it doesn't add any hardcore hardware. Starting price for the 2021 Honda Ridgeline is $37,665, and can bump up to $43,920 for the top Black Edition trim. My Radiant Red tester was the Sport model with the $2,800 HPD package, and had an MSRP of $40,860.
Daily Practicality You Expect From Honda
Built on a unique ACE body structure, the Ridgeline is different than its predecessors which utilized a chassis that was shared with the Honda Pilot and Acura MDX SUVs. Honda claims this new platform makes the Ridgeline more competent at truck duties off-road while being more civil during your typical on-road driving, and that was immediately apparent during my city driving.
Ride quality is smooth without feeling disconnected from the pavement, and the Ridgeline doesn't get the typical truck-like clunkiness on normal roads. Torque vectoring kicks in nicely if you try to whip the Ridgeline around a fun corner, without too much disruption or body roll, and way more confidence than you expect from a midsized pickup.
A more tame V6 under the hood isn't punchy, but it offers a smooth power band that's going to please most drivers. I loved the torquey 2.3-liter four-cylinder in the Ford Ranger I reviewed last year, but think the Honda engine is more refined. Honda updated the Ridgeline's 1st gear with a tighter ratio in 2020 to give it quicker acceleration off the line. Gearshifts are smooth, and the all-wheel-drive system is seamless in any situation. Variable cylinder management helps improve fuel economy, with 18/24/21 EPA MPG estimates.
Inside the Ridgeline, everything is nicely placed and designed, offering levels of quality you don't expect in an affordable truck. Interior appointments are typical Honda stuff, which is a good thing. Even the base cloth interior is nice to the touch, and the seats are supportive and comfortable. If you want leather, you won't have to spend much to bump up a trim level. Like all Honda models currently offered, the Ridgeline gets the Honda Sensing suite of safety features that gives you all the systems to help keep you out of trouble at no extra charge.
There are plenty of spots to tuck away anything you carry around, and the massive center console has a nice sliding cover. Cabin space is cavernous in the four-door Ridgeline, and back seat occupants are treated to four more inches of legroom than the roomiest Toyota Tacoma. If no one is in the back seat, and you need some extra inside storage space, the rear seats fold up 60/40 with the flick of a handle.
Will It Haul Stuff Like A Truck Should?
Old school truck buyers may not give a Honda the nod on the work site, but the Ridgeline is good enough at getting tasks done. Be reminded that this isn't a ranch hand. It's a city slicker. Honda's truck may not tow as much as a comparably-equipped Tacoma, but the Ridgeline can still pull 5,000 pounds. That's enough to hook up a trailer with your 4-person side-by-side, a reasonably-sized boat, or a 5-person travel trailer.
Midsized trucks often have beds that are barely usable for bigger items, but the Ridgeline is the only truck in its class to haul 4-foot-wide building materials, with 50 inches of width--8 more than a Tacoma--between its wheel wells. The Ridgeline offers 1,583 pounds payload capacity, which is the most among 4WD midsized pickups. Sporting a standard reinforced sheet-molding compound bed, the Ridgeline eliminates the need for a bedliner, so you can throw rugged cargo inside. Storage versatility is where the Ridgeline shines. Honda's dual-action remote-locking tailgate allows it to open like a typical tailgate or like a door, making it easier to load objects into the bed.
Offering a standard lockable in-bed trunk, the Ridgeline gives you a ton of flexibility, with space to secure a small generator and a toolbox. The trunk also can double as a cooler, with a rubbery coating and a drain at the bottom. If you need more storage functionality and security, the Ridgeline's $1,315 optional Function+ Package adds a hard tonneau cover, bed cargo net, trunk cargo net, trunk cargo dividers, and a first-aid kit.
Will It Play Off-Road?
You don't need hardcore four-wheel-drive, big locking differentials, and reduction gearboxes to have a good time off-road, and the Ridgeline will have plenty of fun when you wander off the pavement. Press the button next to the gear selection to enable either of the four drive modes perfectly suited to different terrains.
During my week with the Ridgeline, I took it on a wide variety of surfaces, including recently rain-soaked fields, moderately muddy paths, and all over a work site that had a mix of rocks, gravel, and mud. In all of them, the midsized Honda did just fine getting around.
More aggressive all-terrain rubber than the set of Firestone Destination tires might do the Ridgeline a favor at tackling more complicated surfaces, but normal people who aren't taking massive treks across seriously rugged terrain will be in good shape in the Ridgeline.
The Highlight Reel
The word practicality keeps coming to mind with the Ridgeline. The size is just right inside and out, and the refreshed appearance finally makes this Honda pickup look the part. I also love the gold wheels included in the HPD package that look good against any color offered, but they're especially attractive with the Radiant Red exterior.
Far too often, trucks are getting cheap switchgear and touchpoint to give a rugged appearance, but really they're cutting corners to save costs (ahem, Toyota). Honda thankfully gave the Ridgeline a nicely trimmed cabin, with intuitively placed controls that feel like ones you expect in any Honda. For 2021, the Ridgeline saw the return of the physical volume knob, and the top two trim levels get wireless mobile charging capability.
Not Great Bits
The Ridgeline's HPD Package is more dress up than function, but that's not a terrible thing for most midsized truck drivers. The added fender flares give your truck a bit more protection and a more rugged appearance. Sadly the wheel and tire package stays the same size with the HPD upgrade, so they don't fill out the wheel well. If you want to add to the look of a more adventurous truck, tick the $1,465 option box to add the Utility Package that includes running boards, roof rails, and crossbars. I do wish the HPD package gave the Ridgeline a bit more kit for true off-road duties, even as dealer-installed options, but most drivers will be happy with its capabilities.
Under the hood, I want a stronger engine in the Ridgeline. Honda may think its core buyer is going to be happy with just 280 horsepower, but the enthusiast driver in me wants more. Same goes for the exhaust note, which is just as mundane as the Pilot and MDX. Trucks need to sound a little meaner when you give it the beans. My gripe inside Honda models of late is in the infotainment department, and the Ridgeline gets the same dated system. Thankfully Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, so you can use better apps on the touchscreen, which could also be slightly bigger in this truck.
A Good Truck For Real People
The Ridgeline is a pickup designed for being a daily driver that occasionally needs to put in some work, and has no intent of being hardcore. I think Honda nailed its target with the Ridgeline, offering a balanced package that is smart-sized, well-equipped, and more than competent for most challenges normal buyers will throw at it.
If you want a tougher truck that can take on plenty of work and haul way more stuff, you're going to have to step up to a full-size pickup that's going to cost a lot more cash. Versus its competition, the Ridgeline is far nicer inside and out for nearly the same money, which gives it a massive advantage. If you're in the market for a midsized truck, after you test drive the Toyota Tacoma and Ford Ranger, you'd be smart to swing by your local Honda dealer.