“How much truck do you actually need?” is a question that automotive journalists constantly pose to the car-buying public. There are tons of reasons so many of us have elevated the Honda Ridgeline to critical darling status: it’s comfortable, unique and capable of performing the vast majority of “truck tasks” that everyday owners face, and all with a better ride, superior handling and ease of parking over hulking competitors from Ford, Ram and Chevy.
Unfortunately, the batting average of automotive journalists is astoundingly low. If we were even remotely on the pulse of the public we purport to serve, everyone in America would be driving either a brown, manual-transmission station wagon, or a Subaru BRZ. Alas, that is not the case, and as great as the unibody Ridgeline is, it still sells in annual numbers what the F-150 does in about five minutes.
What the Ridgeline—updated with a new face, a new nine-speed automatic transmission, no more front-wheel drive model and a volume knob for 2021—does have is a cult following. A small but vocal crowd loves and swears by the Ridgeline, seeing its many practical benefits and Honda reliability over body-on-frame competitors. And the Ridgeline is something of an oddball, too. It’s soon to be followed by the Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz, so maybe more people will wake up to what’s good about a unibody truck.
2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport HPD: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $37,665 ($40,860)
- Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 | nine-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 280 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 262 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
- Seating capacity: 5
- Curb weight: 4,436 pounds
- Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
- Payload capacity: 1,583 pounds
- Bed length: 64 inches (tailgate up), 83 inches (tailgate down)
- Ground clearance: 7.64 inches
- Cargo volume: 33.9 cubic feet (bed), 7.3 cubic feet (in-bed trunk), 2.9 cubic feet (underneath 2nd-row seats)
- EPA fuel economy: 18 mpg city | 24 highway | 21 combined
- Quick take: A unique truck that truly deserves a deeper look from midsize pickup shoppers.
I got that sense when I asked you to ask me things about the 2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport HPD I drove for a few days. The Drive was inundated with nearly 100 comments asking about the truck, and I personally got about two dozen emails seeking advice. Clearly, many people are curious about what the Ridgeline can do. If you want to know more about that, I suggest you check out coverage from my Guides & Gear editor colleague, Jonathon Klein.
In a rare stroke of press car luck, we had the same truck—not the same options or packages, but the same vehicle a few weeks apart, him in Utah and me in upstate New York. Klein wrote a full review that includes his impressions of motorcycle and baby hauling, and he covered how to load a motorcycle into the bed. He did the review, I’m here to answer reader questions.
My time in the Ridgeline was a bit more pedesterian than his, anyway; a few trips to and from New York City, some grocery runs and very light off-roading. My biggest gripes were the lack of equipment at its $40,000 price tag: no navigation, no satellite radio, no parking sensors (which would be useful in city parking) and cloth seats. Perhaps I’m cheap or out of touch with how expensive new cars are, but I would want more if I paid that much. Still, I walked away extremely impressed with this truck, such that when my 20-year-old Toyota 4Runner finally decides it’s had enough, I’d want to replace it with one of these.
There’s a lot to like here, including the cushy ride, the smooth V6, the innovative in-bed storage compartment and clever swing-out tailgate. I’d describe the driving experience as pleasant; it’s just a very chill, enjoyable machine to pilot in nearly any setting. It lacks the harsh ride and poor handling dynamics of nearly every truck, trading those for the kind of everyday comfort you’d expect from any Honda passenger car. I’d take it as a daily-driver over a lot of SUVs, too.
So, again, it’s a critical darling. But can it meet your needs? Let’s answer your questions and find out.
Q: I replaced my 2014 Frontier with a 2021 RTL-E a few months ago. The Ridgeline is much easier to live with. A very comfortable ride. My biggest complaint is the infotainment system. Why couldn’t Honda just swap it out with their newest system? Personally I find the HPD package too “boy racer” for me but do like the black HPD wheels. — Hoff1
Much as I like the Ridgeline, I do agree with most of your complaints. The infotainment system really doesn’t do the rest of the truck justice; it’s laggy, it’s ugly and feels critically behind the massive, slick, HD units on the market now. Honda’s infotainment system felt outdated five years ago; in 2021, it’s laughable. (It’s even worse when you consider this is what you get when you spring for an Acura NSX.)
As for why Honda doesn’t toss in the updated system from the Accord and Odyssey, sometimes that happens with mid-cycle updates and sometimes it does not. At least this Ridgeline gets a volume knob. Oh, and regarding the wheels: I like them, but not on a truck. I’d be too afraid to scuff them doing Truck Things.
Q: How is the nine speed transmission? The six speed is a solid transmission that they used to have and I think Honda could have used the new 10 speed in Odyseey in this too. I have heard mixed reviews of nine speed no matter which manufacturer has tried to use it. — Paul M
Nine gears? Too many gears, friend. I love the ZF8 eight-speed you get in BMWs and a ton of other models, but it’s buttery smooth, fast and you barely use the last two except on the highway. Every nine-speed I’ve driven takes forever to kick down when you give it the beans. This unit—also a ZF gearbox—has been generally less well-regarded, often due to software issues.
Having said that, I can’t really say I encountered issues or frustrations in this application. The transmission is fine. It did its job. Don’t expect lightning-fast paddle shifts on a backroad, but few people will do that in a Ridgeline anyway. On a truck, if I don’t pay much attention the gearbox, I’d call that a win. (As Motor Trend points out, the revised ratios do make it almost a second quicker from zero to 60 mph.)
Q: This vs. Maverick vs. the best of the “mid-size” body on frame designs. Specifically regarding capacities (what can it comfortably carry or tow), running costs (price, resale, reliability, mpg loaded and empty), and daily use (not hauling or towing) comfort and convenience. My personal scale would put the daily comfort and convenience at the top, running costs second and capacities third. — icebergy
I can’t speak to running costs and resale, especially for the Maverick, which isn’t on sale yet. But I can tell you that like most Hondas, the Ridgeline holds its value exceptionally well; most of the second-gen used ones I looked at ran between $30,000 and $45,000.
As for spec comparisons between this and the two forthcoming unibody trucks, we’ve got you covered right here. I think if comfort and convenience are your top priorities, you’d be a good fit for this truck.
Q: What’s your experienced fuel economy? When helping a friend shop for trucks (initially midsize ones), I was shocked that the Ridgeline doesn’t really get very good fuel economy compared to its fullsize competition, especially once you start getting into (admittedly, much more expensive) stuff like the EcoDiesel RAM and the hybrid F-150. It’s rated at 1mpg City worse than the F-150 2.7, and 2mpg across the board than the RAM 5.7 eTorque. That’s just not acceptable when you’re a smaller truck, with a less powerful motor, and the towing capacity is less than half, even with the price being less (and it’s not even that much less if you spec it out much).
Great question. I averaged about 16.5 MPG in the Ridgeline with a mix of around-town and highway driving; I think it crept up to 18 MPG briefly at one point. You’re right that fuel economy isn’t what we’d call great; though you pay more upfront for the two trucks you mentioned, you will save more on fuel in the long-term. Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 is a wonderful engine, one of my favorite everyday naturally aspirated six-cylinder motors. But I definitely get the sense it’s not as fully optimized for truck duty as more truck-centric competitors. Still, in everyday use, it’s reasonably quick, sounds great and gets the job done.
Q: Is this a real competitor for the Canyon/Colorado twins or Ford Ranger for the price? Comfort while hauling light loads, real world fuel economy, interior space etc. Or is this just for folks who “need a truck” but don’t “need” a truck? — slow_to_go
No, I think it’s a legit competitor to those two. I’m a big fan of the Canyon and Colorado, I think the Ranger is just fine, and while I respect the Tacoma for its proven unbeatability long-term, I have trouble feeling physically comfortable one. For the stuff you mentioned—light loads, cargo space, and so on—the Ridgeline gets it done really well. Like I said, I’d replace my old 4Runner with this. What appeals to me is the bed for hauling my Home Depot crap, the AWD, the ride height and the everyday usability.
Q: I have a 2009 Ridgeline. 87,000 miles. Great shape. Owned outright. Is it really worth trading in for an $48,000 fully loaded 2021? —Jim, via email
Well, I have a simple answer, and it’s that my favorite car is the one that’s paid off. Do you need a new Ridgeline? If yours is still trucking (pun intended) at 87,000 miles, which isn’t much at all for a Honda, I’d keep it running until it dies. But that’s just me!
Q: You answered a question I’ve pondered about off road credibility, okay no getting crazy out there I guess. Maybe this: does Honda have factory options for HP enhancement? Turbos or supercharger? Main attention for me is that this unit just does not lend comfortably to being a conventional ‘work truck’, i.e., setting up for ladders and materials mobilization. —Thomas, via email
No factory turbo or supercharger here, unfortunately. There also seems to be generally less aftermarket support for Honda’s V6 engines than the four-cylinders. I did however find several ladder racks for the truck, and have personally seen several with hat setup over the years.
Q: I just priced a Ridgeline how I would want it and it comes out more than a comparably equipped Taco. Seriously, F that. Honda lost their mind. After pricing out a fully loaded Ford Maverick, I had a Ranger for a long time, I am most definitely going to get a Maverick. It is a better and more reasonably priced Ridgeline. —Rick, via email
No car exists in a vacuum. Not even the Ridgeline. It’s always had competition from the Tacoma, Colorado and bigger midsize trucks, and now it’s about to get some from some (admittedly smaller) similarly unibody entries from Ford and Hyundai.
I personally think the 2022 Ford Maverick is going to be a big hit. If anyone can convince buyers to try a unibody truck at meaningful sales volumes, it’s Ford. The Ridgeline is plenty capable, but it could well be outclassed by a smaller, cheaper “I need a crossover that sometimes does truck things” type of vehicle from Ford.
Q: Does the bed have convenient tie downs when you inevitably have to carry something that is too long for the bed? Not knocking the Ridgeline’s bed, seeing almost every other pickup I see only has a 5.5-6′ bed as well. Agree with the other comments though – wish it had an Avalanche mid-gate. Also would never pay $2,800 for plastic cladding, gold wheels, and stickers. —MantisToboggan
Your reply guy did my job for me: “Tie points, near bed level and near top bed side elevation at each bed corner. I use an industrial strength cargo net for most large loads.” I add that I agree with you on the HPD package. It’s not worth springing for. The red paint on our tester was lovely, but I didn’t care for the wheels or the goofy decals.
Bonus Reader Review
Reader William Scott has owned four Ridgelines, two from each generation, and I figured it’d be helpful to include his real-world experiences here. Enjoy.
I’ve owned four Ridgelines since 2008 – 2 Gen 1 and 2 Gen 2. All performed flawlessly – just give ‘em gas, tires, and oil changes. I’ve purchased Honda extended warranties (7/120k) on each and never had occasion to use it or the base warranty. The company I own has F-250 4x4s, Tundra 4x4s, and Taco 4x4s. I can drive whatever I want. Why the Ridgeline? Because I don’t haul horse trailers, gravel, or 30+ foot boats. I live in suburbia and haul occasional 454 Crusaders, railroad ties, sacked concrete, and plywood. Works great, rides great, gets north of 21 mpg combined city/highway I drive (you have to get past the first 10-15k to get the driveline loosened up). Biggest gripe – the Atari aged infotainment system. But, as with any other machine, you learn the hacks and it performs decently and efficiently; Android Auto and a good phone bypass most of the Honda silliness.
Honda’s p**s-poor marketing of the Ridge can’t be explained. The HPD looks like a clown car. Gold wheels and a decal for $2.8k? Really? With zero actual performance enhancements?
Ridgeline? You bet. HPD? Just silly.
You’re not wrong on any of that stuff.
So in the end, the Ridgeline is a winner among The Drive’s virtual office—it’s comfortable, capable and less brutal than most body-on-frame trucks, and will do most of what you need it to. The price and fuel economy are still an issue, as is the outdated infotainment system, and it may need to up its game in bigger ways with the smaller, cheaper Maverick coming. But there’s definitely something to what that vocal cult of Ridgeline owners have been preaching for years.