2021 Honda Ridgeline first drive review: This truck deserves to be taken seriously

A more macho face and some new features improve an already great pickup.

Daniel Golson Former social media editor
6 min read
2021 Honda Ridgeline

Honda's Ridgeline pickup is better than ever.


When the first came out in 2005, it was a unique take on the midsize pickup that had many innovative features but wasn't well received by the traditional truck-buying public. Then, when the second-gen model debuted in 2016 as essentially a Pilot crossover with a pickup bed, it was derided for being not truck-like enough. The joke's on the Ridgeline's naysayers, though, as it's a fantastic pickup made even better by an update for 2021.

To fix the Ridgeline's main problem, gave its pickup a true facelift. Everything ahead of the A-pillar is new, and the hood and nose are taller and a lot more squared-off than before. The grille is larger and more rectangular, with a big chrome trim strip at the top that extends into the redesigned headlights. The new front end really makes a difference in how imposing the Ridgeline is, especially when put next to the pre-facelift model. Other styling updates are limited to new wheel designs and a different rear bumper with exposed dual exhaust tips.

The 2021 Honda Ridgeline is a truckier-looking pickup

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My test Ridgeline has the new $2,800 Honda Performance Development package that is available on every Ridgeline model. This HPD pack adds black fender flares (that seriously divided the opinions of my friends and coworkers), 18-inch gold beadlock-look wheels, HPD graphics on the bed, HPD badging and a unique front grille. You also get Firestone Destination LE2 tires that look like chunky all-terrains but are really just all-seasons with a redesigned sidewall and shoulder -- the tires are identical in size (245/60R-18) to the Ridgeline's standard setup.

Changes to the interior are minimal, which is alright as the Ridgeline already has what I think is the best cabin in its class. It gets new contrast seat stitching across the board, Sport models get different cloth seat inserts, and all but the Black Edition trim have new styling accents on the dash and center console. There are lots of smart storage cubbies and features, like a deep center console compartment with a sliding top. My Sport model has a good amount of hard plastics and rougher materials, but every other trim at least has leather upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

2021 Honda Ridgeline

The Ridgeline finally gets a volume knob.


Like last year, the updated Ridgeline has an 8-inch touchscreen as standard, but it finally gets a physical volume knob on the left side, a welcome addition. The rest of the screen, though, is the worst part of the Ridgeline. Only the upper two trims get navigation (and a slightly nicer sound system), and while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, the Display Audio infotainment system is, frankly, ugly and slow to respond.

The 2021 Ridgeline is pretty much mechanically identical to the outgoing model, with every version getting a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 engine putting out 280 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque and a 9-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive with torque vectoring is now standard on every Ridgeline, though, with Honda ditching the front-wheel-drive setup that used to be standard on the Sport and RTL trims.

People (specifically my coworker Emme Hall) decry the Ridgeline for its crossover underpinnings and overall softness, saying that it's "not a real truck," but it's still quite capable and fun when the going gets rough. I have the chance to hoon the Ridgeline at Honda's Proving Center in the Mojave desert, the location where Honda tests all of its new trucks and SUVs

2021 Honda Ridgeline

Every Ridgeline now gets dual exhaust tips.


We start on a packed-dirt course with some rougher gravel sections. There are triangular mounds to test the Ridgeline's articulation, a fairly steep hill to test its hill-start feature (which works a treat), and a bumpy stone-covered straight to test its ride quality and NVH. While this course is obviously optimal for the Ridgeline and thus won't pose an issue, it's still pretty fun, and I'd have no hesitation taking the Ridgeline on a real trail.

The best part is the second course, which is made up of deep sand and rocks and has lots of tight corners and a few long straights. In the Ridgeline's normal drive mode, the traction control is always kicking in and the AWD system is at its most conservative, preventing any untoward wheelspin or slides. Basically, it's tough to have fun. But putting the Ridgeline into its sand mode shuts off traction control and shifts the power delivery, and I'm able to really go fast and get the Ridgeline purposefully sideways. The AWD system can send up to 70% of torque to the rear wheels, which it does in sand mode, and 100% of that torque can be sent to either rear wheel. Putting the Ridgeline in sand mode also allows me to aggressively launch it from a stop in the deep stuff, and it keeps the revs higher and the transmission in a lower gear. (The other drive modes are for mud and snow, which similarly adjust the Ridgeline's powertrain and drivetrain.)

2021 Honda Ridgeline

These wheels are part of the $2,800 HPD package.


But it's on the road where the Ridgeline really shines, especially compared to its midsize competition. The Ridgeline is quiet and comfortable on the highway, and the chunkier tires don't lead to any more road noise or roughness. It doesn't feel at all like you're driving a truck -- chalk that up to its crossover DNA-- and while it's not sporty to drive, it's at the very least more pleasing than its body-on-frame competitors like the Chevy Colorado and Toyota Tacoma, with much less body lean and more composed handling. I'm averaging around 25 miles per gallon on the highway, 1 mpg better than the EPA's rating, and 21 mpg overall, matching the EPA's combined number.

The Ridgeline remains as practical as ever, too. The dual-hinged tailgate that swings both down and out is genius, as is the lockable in-bed storage compartment that's larger than the frunk in many EVs at 7.3 cubic feet. It's the only midsize truck that can carry 4-foot-wide objects between the wheel wells in the bed, and the 60/40-split rear seat base flips up so you can stow things on the flat cabin floor -- I'm able to transport a pair of new power bucket seats for my friend's Porsche Cayman no problem, though the door opening is a tad small.


The Ridgeline is perfect for when you need to haul some Porsche seats.

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Even the base Sport trim level comes with a ton of stuff as standard. LED head- and taillights, keyless entry and push-button start, bed lights, auto up/down front windows, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, powered side mirrors and three-zone automatic climate control are all included. The RTL adds a power sunroof and sliding rear window, powered and heated front seats, SiriusXM satellite radio, leather upholstery, heated side mirrors and an auto-dimming rear view mirror. Then the RTL-E and Black Edition get LED bed lights, ambient interior lighting, an in-bed audio system, a wireless phone charger, a USB port for the rear seats and a few other convenience features. 

Every Ridgeline has automated emergency braking with collision warning, lane-departure warning and mitigation, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. But annoyingly, the base Sport trim does without blind-spot monitoring, with that feature being reserved for the RTL and above, and automatic high-beams are only on the RTL-E and up. And no Ridgeline is available with a 360-degree camera system, something that would be welcome on a truck.

The base Sport model starts at $37,665 including destination, $430 more than last year's AWD base model. (AWD was previously a $2,200 option.) The mid-range RTL costs $40,645, while the fancier RTL-E is $43,595. Topping the lineup is the $45,095 Black Edition, which mostly adds lots of black accents and trim. The Ridgeline is a lot pricier than equivalent trims of the Colorado, Tacoma and Ford Ranger, but I think the Ridgeline is well worth the extra cost.

It may not have the off-road capability and true truckiness of those body-on-frame pickups, but the Ridgeline is more than enough truck for the majority of consumers. Its versatility is still unmatched, and it's nicer to both drive and just be in than the competition. What's more, the Ridgeline is a great stepping stone for those who need more practicality than a regular crossover, but don't want to make the jump to a more traditional pickup. The 2021 Ridgeline deserves to be taken seriously.