Honda gets dunked on for the Ridgeline’s styling frequently, but it’s not hard to see why. The first-generation truck had bizarre flying buttresses that offered rigidity and some added cargo volume, but created an ungainly, blocky profile. Then, when the second gen rolled up for 2017, designers went too far in the other direction, giving the comfortable and efficient pickup a drooping nose that looked more at home on the Odyssey and Pilot.
Chasing that balance between styling and substance, the 2021 Honda Ridgeline went in for some cosmetic surgery, emerging from the outpatient clinic with just-right pickup proportions. New bodywork from the A-pillar forward and some minor alterations to the rear bumper give the Ridgeline a whole new attitude, looking tougher than its immediate predecessor while still maintaining its smooth ride, spacious interior, and clever storage solutions. As we’ve said in the past, the Ridgeline is the logical choice for most truck buyers, and finally, they won’t have to apologize for its appearance to any truck bros talking smack.
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Truck marketing is dominated by, well, domination, so we have to applaud Honda for taking a measured approach to the Ridgeline’s redesigned front clip. A higher hood, more vertical grille, larger headlamps, and square front bumper appeal to the traditional truck consumer a bit more than the old pickup’s Pilot-inspired schnoz. Around back, a new rear bumper with twin integrated exhaust tips adds just a little flashy muscle. Revised wheel offsets widen the track ever so slightly, and Honda collaborated with Firestone to give the otherwise-carryover Destination LE all-season tires a squarer shoulder design.
The redesign is commendable, since any more visual aggression would look like a stuffed shirt on this unibody pickup. But all such restraint goes right out the window when the Ridgeline is equipped with the $2,800 HPD Package, which includes some of the most outsized and misshapen body cladding since the Pontiac Aztek. Made to give the round wheel arches a squarer and more aggressive appearance, the fender flares actually do the opposite, dwarfing the otherwise adequately sized tires for that odd roller-skate look. They’re also poorly matched for the body, with the front door shutlines abruptly cutting through the flares.
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The package also includes some admittedly attractive bronze-finished wheels and a sport grille, as well as some HPD badging on the tailgate and a decal on the bed sides. However, with no real functional upgrades, it all smacks of overcompensation, like an accountant dressing exclusively in motorcycle leathers following a midlife crisis. Some taller tires or a roof rack would do wonders to make the HPD Package’s cost seem worthwhile.
Do yourself a favor and check out the non-HPD–equipped truck in our gallery; sans flares, the Ridgeline looks much better, its tires visually filling the profile view much more effectively. So equipped, the refreshed styling is clean and handsome, well-suited to the Ridgeline’s mission as an approachable, family-friendly pickup.
For 2021, the changes are mostly skin-deep, but that’s just fine by us. The Ridgeline’s calling card has always been excellent on-road handling and a comfortable ride, a function of the unibody Honda Light Truck platform. A 3.5-liter V6 making 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet sends power through a nine-speed automatic transmission, and it’s just enough grunt to help the 4,436-pound pickup keep up with traffic. That said, adrenaline junkies will be much happier with the 2022 Nissan Frontier’s V6 with 310 hp and 281 lb-ft or the Ford Ranger’s turbo four with 275 hp and 310 lb-ft.
The Ridgeline’s relative lack of torque isn’t the only problem here. The nine-speed automatic also takes some blame, offering slow downshifts when the driver summons full passing power. Thumbing off Eco mode helps liven up the powertrain significantly, but climbing long freeway grades with a full host of passengers and cargo is an exercise in patience. As before, the Ridgeline can tow 5,000 pounds and haul 1,583 pounds thanks to a standard transmission oil cooler and strategic chassis reinforcements, but we think performance might be somewhat sluggish at those rated maximums.
For 2021, all-wheel drive is standard. The Ridgeline uses a sophisticated clutch pack in the rear differential to vector torque side to side, and the system works very well in the dirt, which Honda showed off on a trip to its proving grounds in the Mojave Desert. Normal, Snow, Mud, and Sand terrain modes allow increasing levels of slip to help the Ridgeline preserve forward momentum off-road, where wheelspin can be a good thing. The Sand setting even allows a little drift angle before stepping in, the tires slinging dirt in four thick roostertails. It’s good fun, and it doesn’t sacrifice any on-road stability to get there.
Hardcore off-roaders will likely be disappointed by the Ridgeline’s 7.6-inch ground clearance, as well as approach, departure, and breakover angles of 20.4, 19.6, and 19.6 degrees, respectively. Almost every midsize pickup does better – the similarly priced Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road trounces the Ridgeline Sport with 9.4 inches of ground clearance and off-road geometry measuring 29.0, 23.5, and 21.0 degrees. Honda knows this, targeting an active outdoor enthusiast – not an off-roader – for the Ridgeline, someone who takes rough fire roads to get to the trailhead before a weekend of primitive camping or riding dirt bikes.
Helping in that mission is a comfortable interior, wide cargo bed, and clever storage solutions that make the most of the Ridgeline’s space-saving unibody chassis. An underfloor, in-bed trunk offers 7.3 cubic feet of lockable, weather-proof storage in addition to the truck bed’s 33.9 cubes. The cargo box’s width between the wheel housings is 50 inches and the bed floor measures 64 inches long, expanding to 83 inches with the tailgate down. For comparison, the Tacoma’s bed is 60.5 inches long by 40.5 inches wide. And the Ridgeline’s rear gate swings down or to the side, which is useful when loading pallets of sod or soil with a forklift.
The cabin, ripped seemingly intact from the Pilot, is one of the best midsize pickup interiors on the market today. A dated infotainment systeml is the only complaint we can levy against the Ridgeline, but even then, Honda gets credit for giving every one of its pickups an 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a decently clear audio system. Honda Sensing driver-assist and safety technology also comes standard, bringing forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keep assistance, and adaptive cruise control.
The cabin, ripped seemingly intact from the Pilot, is one of the best midsize pickup interiors on the market today.
The midsize pickup’s front seats are among the most supportive chairs in the entire auto industry, and its spacious rear bench is mounted higher for a panoramic view of the road ahead. The front row gets 40.1 inches of headroom and 40.9 inches of legroom, while the back gets 38.8 and 36.7 inches, respectively. The Tacoma offers more front legroom, at 42.9 inches, but in every other metric, it trails the Ridgeline: 39.7 inches of front headroom, 38.3 inches of rear headroom, and a leg-pinching 32.6 inches of rear legroom. The cabin of the Ridgeline is also about 3 inches wider than the Taco, yielding plenty of space for five passengers.
A wide, deep center console storage cubby features a rolling, rigid cover that becomes a convenient spot for a small bag, face masks, pens, or keys. The front door armrests feature integrated bottle holders and a storage slot, as well as a wider map pocket lower on the door panel. A folding rear center armrest with cupholders is perfectly placed for outboard passengers’ elbows, with door pockets in back too. Front passengers will have to deal with HVAC tubing in the footwell, but otherwise, the 2021 Honda Ridgeline has plenty of space for everyone.
Dollars To Donuts
For 2021, the Honda Ridgeline starts at $36,490, which is up from $33,900 for the 2020 truck – the new one has standard all-wheel drive, remember. Compared to a similar spec, the 2021 Ridgeline costs $350 more to start, a small price to pay for its more traditionally handsome styling. Our base-model Sport wore a $395 coat of Platinum White paint and included the aforementioned $2,800 HPD Package. A $1,175 destination charge brought the total price to $40,860. The Sport includes comfortable cloth seating, automatic climate control, LED headlights, and active noise cancellation, as well as lineup-standard Honda Sensing and all-wheel drive.
That price might be on the high end for a midsize pickup, but the Ridgeline scores points by being more efficient in EPA testing than most of its four-wheel-drive competitors, achieving 18 city, 24 highway, and 21 combined mpg. At 22 combined, only the Ford Ranger’s turbocharged four-banger is thriftier. Among V6 4x4s, the Chevrolet Colorado and outgoing Nissan Frontier earn 19 mpg and the Tacoma gets 20 mpg.
What’s more, none of the other midsize trucks on the market can match the Honda pickup’s penchant for passenger comfort and cargo flexibility. That’s why we frequently recommend the Ridgeline to our friends and family who want some rough-road chops and the ability to haul muddy, dirty gear in the bed, but who don’t necessarily need to haul huge trailers or tackle Moab or the Rubicon Trail. With some pleasant cosmetic improvements for 2021 – at least when avoiding the options sheet – we see no reason why that recommendation should change.
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Gallery: 2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport First Drive Review
2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport AWD