2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport l Review

So check this out dear reader, before this review, I had never driven a Honda Ridgeline! Honda’s midsize truck has been on sale since 2006, yet somehow I’ve managed to miss out on the entire first generation that ran through 2014, and most of the most recent generation that kicked off in 2017. Well, it’s time to rectify that with the 2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport that Honda dropped off for a week. I was able to put it through some legit daily driver, and even long weekend, duties. Let’s see how it faired.

Ridgeline Overview

Regular readers (hey you two!) will know that I like to start out with a little history, so let’s strap on our New Balances and take a quick walk down Ridgeline lane to find out how we got here. Development of the Ridgeline started twenty years ago, with Honda looking to cash in on the Americans pickup truck craze. Instead of going after the full-size crew like Toyota did with the Tundra, Honda wanted to do something different. They built a truck off of a “ladder-like frame” and the OG Ridgeline surprisingly did not share many components with other Hondas. It did use a modified Acura MDX powertrain beefed up to do truck-like things like towing. It had seating for five and a five foot bed, but the real party trick was the industry-first lockable, watertight, and drainable (8.5 cubic feet) in-bed trunk.

That fixes one of my biggest issues with the pickup truck. I call it the “where am I going to put this shit” moment when you come out of a store with a bunch of groceries, plus several offspring and a significant other in tow. Back in the day, my dad would just toss the stuff in the bed, but that’s not very practical depending on how far you have to drive. In most trucks, it’s either that or everyone gets to hold some stuff. This trick in-bed trunk solves that, I’ll get to how I used it in the new Ridgeline in a bit.

The second generation of the Ridgeline rides Honda’s “global light truck platform” that is shared with the Pilot and just about every large Honda. Apparently it shares 73% of it’s bits with the Pilot. Let’s see what’s what for the 2021 model year.

The 2021 Ridgeline was/is available in four trim levels starting at just under $34,500 for the base Sport, and climbing to close to $44,000 for the Black Edition. From there Honda added the HPD package for $2,800 to our loaner.

What I like about this package, besides the cool off-road themed style, is that you can literally add it to any trim level. Honda easily could have made this it’s own trim level ala TRD/TRD PRO over at Toyota. Kudos to the bold bronze wheel choice, I talked to people who absolutely hated it, and others (me included) who love it. You also get butch fenders, a unique grille, HPD emblem, and the all-important stickers. Unfortunately the HPD is basically an appearance package, but for those looking to make their Ridgeline look a bit livelier, it’s a great option.

And, well, that’s it. Our test car only had the HPD package and $395 for Platinum White paint (which looks great with the bronze wheels). All-in you’re looking at under forty grand before destination and handling.

Lest you worry that a base Ridgeline is going to be a little sparse, fear not. There’s a lot going on.

Performance

  • 280 horsepower V6 Engine
  • i-VTM4 All-Wheel-Drive System
  • Intelligent Traction Management w/Snow, Sand & Mud Modes
  • 9-Speed Automatic Transmission with Shift-By-Wire and Paddle Shifters

Exterior

  • Dual-Action Tailgate
  • Lockable In-Bed Trunk
  • Lay-Flat Truck Bed
  • LED Low-Beam Headlights
  • Integrated Class III Trailer Hitch
  • Unibody Construction

Interior

  • Cloth Seats
  • 7-Speaker, 200-Watt Audio System
  • Tri-Zone Automatic Climate Control
  • Lift-Up Rear Seat w/Under seat Storage

Technology

  • Apple CarPlay Integration
  • Android Auto Integration
  • Bluetooth Streaming Audio
  • Front and Center Console USB Ports
  • Remote Engine Start
  • 8-Inch Display Audio Touch-Screen
  • Push Button Start

Safety & Alerts

  • Collision Mitigation Braking System
  • Road Departure Mitigation System
  • Multi-Angle Rearview Camera
  • Adaptive Cruise Control*

That’s some impressive kit for the price, I’ll get more into what it was like to live with for a week. Spoiler alert, it was super easy.

Exterior

While the original Ridgeline was a little…awkward looking, the second generation looks sleek and well sorted from a design perspective. Gone is the odd bed to cab angle and it has been replaced with what looks like a Honda Pilot with a truck bed, and that’s a good thing. The proportions are just “right” for some reason and the Ridgeline manages to look large, yet manageable at the same time.

The HPD package has a very JDM look to it with the cool bronze 18s, black and bronze stickers, all which look right at home over white paint. This seems like a truck you might see at Radwood 2040, or whatever it’ll be called then. Fleekwood maybe. Maybe I should trademark that just in case.

Interior

If the exterior befits a truck that will cost around $40,000, the interior is even better. Honda’s mix of materials, finishes, and ergonomics is spot on. It makes you forget you’re driving a truck.

Overall the interior is super comfortable and the simple, easy to use design meant that I could easily reach everything. Though perhaps that’s one of the benefits of a smaller truck. The seats are great, giving me the right amount of cushion and support on a three hour trip to the beach. Heck, even the audio is good, and that’s not something I even notice much these days because even a basic compact car has a decent audio system. At least compared to what I was used to back in the 1990s. The steering wheel controls are laid out very well and everything just fell to hand very naturally.

2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport

The only criticism is that there is not a raised center console, but the Ridgeline has armrests. The left side armrest along the door was well placed and it’s even got a cup holder and a tray for your stuff. The midsize Honda even had big sun visors, which is sometimes rare in the gram-saving world of modern car design.

The Ridgeline’s party piece is still the lockable trunk under the bed. I used it on a grocery run, but it’s real value was made clear on a Friday night. My youngest had a hockey game and then we had to book it down to Bethany Beach for a family get-together about three hours away. Since we didn’t get done until around 7pm we didn’t have time for him to shower, change, and stow his gear at the house. I was not looking forward to being in the car with the stinky gear, but that didn’t matter. I popped open the bed trunk and it fit perfectly. The drain meant that we could drain all the sweat out after we got where we were going (just kidding).

2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport

Driving

Well, it drives like a Pilot, or any crossover of this size. It’s ability to turn in a smooth, compliant, ride makes it’s spot in the midsize truck world even more important. Pick any other “truckier” midsize, they all have a worse ride in my experience. Not saying they are bad necessarily, but the Ridgeline is better. It’s ride height is spot on as well, giving you a better-than-average view of traffic with good visibility all around.

Out on the road, acceleration from the 280 horsepower is adequate, giving me whatever I needed to merge onto the highway or pass slow moving traffic. Don’t bother with Sport Mode, it recalibrates the revs and just bumps them up a bit. It didn’t make the driving experience any better, just louder.

Summary

So I close with a question, what makes a truck a truck? Trucks are inherently masculine, which is unfortunate. Trucks should be about capability, as they are generally just a tool to do a job. They have been corrupted into a showpiece, with a bigger-is-better mentality that likely puts a lot of people off. It’s likely why I have never owned a truck, that and I don’t really have the utilitarian need for one.

Which brings me to the Ridgeline. It’s not nearly as large and beefy as the American full-sizers, which means it’s less of a truck to some. That’s just wrong, as the average truck buyer would easily make due with the size of the Ridgeline, both inside and out. It can haul five people, and you can toss 1,500 pounds of crap into the bed. It’s towing capacity of 5,000 pounds isn’t amazing, so that’s really one of the biggest hurdles a potential truck buyer looking to haul a larger RV, boat, or car trailer. Still, if that is enough, you should 100% check out the Ridgeline, it may be my new favorite midsize truck.

8 Comments

  1. What’s with this ugly fender flare bandwagon among car makers? First the Outback and now this?

    I do like those rims, though.

  2. One interesting thing about the Ridgeline is that the tailgate has a 300 pound dynamic load rating. It is designed to carry an atv or motorcycle on the dropped tailgate. My understanding is that most trucks are not rated for that.

      1. Yeah, but I would think they would need to know what their customers want to haul and accommodate them. A long bed or traditional short bed are probably fine for motorcycles and ATVs, but the common 4 door with a ~5.5 ft bed probably won’t. Of course, ford GM & Ram will happily sell you a longer bed. Honda doesn’t have that option.

  3. I assume as well as the ride that the roadholding/grip should be better than normal pickups, and that would be the key appeal for me

    1. Yeah, I’m surprised this isn’t marketed as a ute instead of a pickup. It shares its basic platform with the Odyssey minivan, making it more of a car than truck.

  4. Space saver spare, which requires the bed/tray to be unloaded… Not the most intelligent design. But the rest looks good, especially those wheels!

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