By Derek Price
The Honda Ridgeline has long been a truck that happily flies in the face of established convention.
It’s built on a minivan platform and has a fully independent suspension, making it the most nimble, responsive pickup for sale today. It also gets decent fuel economy thanks to its unusual construction.
While it can tow a respectable 5,000 pounds, that’s less than other midsize trucks and a whole lot less than a full-size, half-ton pickup. It’s more than enough capability for a lot of buyers, though, who don’t need the towing and hauling overkill that today’s giant trucks are built to offer.
It’s the practical, logical alternative.
Honda decided to make the Ridgeline look a lot more like a traditional truck this year, though, with updates to all the sheetmetal in front of the windshield.
It’s more squared-off and upright now, less like a minivan. It even gets what Honda somewhat hilariously calls a “power bulge” on the hood.
An optional package from Honda Performance Development (HPD) makes it look even tougher. Black fender flares, a black grille insert, flashy graphics on the bed and eye-catching bronze wheels make it sharp.
Unfortunately, the $2,800 HPD package is strictly about appearance. Thoughts of a Type-R Ridgeline will have to remain fantasies for now, along with hopes for one built for serious off-roading.
The Ridgeline’s infotainment system is updated for 2021 with a new icon-based home screen and a real, physical volume knob, something I’ve wanted on Honda products for years. It responds slowly to inputs, though, compared to similar systems in other trucks.
All-wheel drive is now standard across the lineup.
A 3.5-liter V6 makes 280 horsepower, enough to make it feel quick at stoplights and when passing on freeways. A nine-speed transmission delivers fast, effortless shifts.
Perhaps the Ridgeline’s best selling points, though, are in the cabin and bed. They’re noteworthy for their smart layout and sheer size.
This truck feels bigger inside than its mid-size domestic and Japanese-brand competitors. It rides fairly low to the ground, but the Ridgeline is so long and wide that it feels more like a full-size truck from the front seat.
Honda says it’s the roomiest cabin and widest bed in its class, and I believe it.
The Ridgeline’s size and capability help it stand out from two new brand-new, unibody-truck competitors hitting the market this year: the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz.
A locking compartment called the In-Bed Trunk makes a great use of otherwise wasted space in the Ridgeline. The back seats are also easy to fold out of the way, which — when combined with a completely flat floor — allows for loading big pieces of furniture or cargo inside the cabin, protected from the elements.
Pricing starts at $36,490 for the Ridgeline Sport and ranges up to $43,920 for the Black Edition.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2021 Honda Ridgeline AWD Sport ($36,490). Options: Premium paint ($395), HPD package ($2,800). Price as tested (including $1,175 destination charge): $40,860
Wheelbase: 125.2 in.
Length: 210.2 in.
Width: 78.6 in.
Height: 70.8 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (280 hp, 262 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 24 highway
Why buy it?
It’s the Honda of pickups: logical and reliable. It’s a capable alternative to body-on-frame trucks.