2021 Honda Ridgeline Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Mar 04, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Honda deals!

Honda wants you to know that its midsize crew-cab pickup truck is tougher than it looks. In addition to using a heavily modified version of a platform shared with the company’s Passport and Pilot SUVs and Odyssey minivan, the Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds and haul as much as 1,583 lbs. of payload. It offers 7.64 inches of ground clearance, has a standard hill-start assistance system, and includes traction modes designed for use in snow, mud, and sand. 

For 2021, Honda adds to the Ridgeline’s credentials by making several changes to the truck:

  • Redesigned front end
  • New rear bumper and exhaust outlets
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • Restyled aluminum wheels
  • More aggressive tire tread
  • Small 20mm increase in track width
  • Four new manufacturer lifestyle packages debut
  • New seating details and trim finishes for the interior
  • Infotainment system gets a stereo volume knob
  • Available wireless smartphone charging

This year, the Ridgeline comes in Sport, RTL, RTL-E, and Black Edition trim levels. Each one has a crew cab and a standard 33.9 cubic-foot dent- and scratch-resistant cargo bed with a nearly flat load floor. The dual-action tailgate continues, which drops down or swings from the right to the left depending on how you want to use it. The 7.3 cu.-ft. weatherproof trunk under the cargo bed also continues, complete with its water drain plug. Higher trims include an in-bed audio system and a 115-volt 150-watt/400-watt power outlet.

Previously, J.D. Power reviewed the 2020 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E. This review focuses on the Ridgeline’s updates for 2021, and how they potentially impact its overall appeal to consumers.

What Owners Say About the Honda Ridgeline - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport HPD Package Red Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 91% of Honda Ridgeline owners are male (vs. 85% for the midsize pickup segment), and the median age of a Ridgeline owner is 65 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about the Ridgeline are (in descending order) the:

  • Driving Feel
  • Interior Design
  • Feeling of Safety (in a tie with Getting In and Out)
  • Exterior Styling

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Ridgeline are (in descending order) the: 

  • Powertrain
  • Setting Up and Starting
  • Driving Comfort
  • Infotainment System
  • Fuel Economy

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the Ridgeline ranked first out of six midsize pickups.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Honda Ridgeline - Find the best Honda deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a Ridgeline Sport equipped with the following options:

  • Radiant Red II paint
  • HPD Package
  • All-season floor mats 

The price of the test vehicle came to $41,039, including the $1,175 destination charge.

New Styling From Windshield Forward

2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport HPD Package Red Side View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Part of the allure of a pickup truck is its rugged look that promises a lifestyle of purpose and play. A truck should be ready for anything, prepared to tackle any task, and convey a can-do attitude. And if it can’t actually perform to such idealistic levels, well, it had better look like it can.

Honda’s Ridgeline has struggled in this regard. The first-generation version had a look alright, but its angular design wasn’t for everyone. The second-generation version came along and shared far too much of its soft and friendly appearance with the similar Pilot SUV. 

For 2021, the Ridgeline gets a restyle that really helps in the design department.

Everything from the windshield forward is new, the truck adopting taller front fenders and a higher, flatter hood that you can actually see from the driver’s seat. Around back, a new rear bumper sits above dual exhaust outlets. Redesigned wheels with trendy finishes and wearing tires with more aggressive looking tread debut, and Honda also widens the truck’s track by 20mm, amounting to a small but effective improvement in its stance.

Approach, breakover, and departure angles remain modest, and with an inch less ground clearance than a typical Subaru crossover, the Ridgeline isn’t going rock-hopping any time soon. But there is no doubt that the 2021 Ridgeline is the best-looking example yet.

Standard Torque-Vectoring All-Wheel Drive

Honda also upgrades the Ridgeline’s perceived capability by banishing the front-wheel-drive version of the truck to the dustbin of history. Starting in 2021, all Ridgelines have Honda’s Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) all-wheel-drive system.

Essentially, this is the same setup that you’ll find in the previous-generation Acura MDX, where it’s called Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). Depending on how you’re driving and conditions at the surface, it can put up to 70% of engine output to the rear axle. From there, i-VTM4 determines how much needs to go to each wheel, and can put up to 100% of rear-axle power to either the left or the right wheel.

Based on driving in deep sand and around a dirt course at Honda’s proving grounds in the Mojave Desert, the AWD system and its associated Sand driving mode are mighty effective. Not only that, the truck is downright fun to drift in the dirt.

Based on driving on the twisty roads near Malibu, California, the i-VTM4 adds an on-pavement thrill to the Ridgeline’s driving character that you simply cannot find in any other midsize truck. This Honda, which employs unibody rather than body-on-frame construction, is unexpectedly fun to fling around on a favorite back road.

Y’know. For a truck.

Volume Knob Added for Stereo

2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Honda doesn’t make many changes to the Ridgeline’s interior, but the addition of a new volume knob for the stereo is a big deal. Previously, the Ridgeline’s 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display was as flat as Nebraska. Now, it’s got a volume knob, just like Nebraska has Panorama Point.

Volume knobs (and tuning knobs, for that matter) are important because you know right where to reach for them, you know how to use them without looking away from the road, and they work instantaneously. No other solution, even the best of the digital voice assistants, can beat a volume knob (or a tuning knob, for that matter).

In addition to the new knob, Honda adds wireless smartphone charging to the Ridgeline’s higher trim levels. New contrast seat stitching, new patterned inserts for the Sport’s cloth seats, and new trim finishes also debut for 2021. 

New Lifestyle Option Packages

New manufacturer-installed lifestyle packages add to the Ridgeline’s more rugged appearance, including one from Honda Performance Development (HPD). You can’t miss the HPD Package, which equips the Ridgeline with a different grille, massive fender flares, bronze-painted 18-inch aluminum wheels, and decals on each side of the cargo box. You can see it in the accompanying photos.

Additionally, the 2021 Ridgeline is available with new Function, Function+, and Utility packages. Honda dealers continue to offer a variety of similarly themed upgrades, and in total there are 12 packages with which Ridgeline owners can customize their new truck.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Honda deals!

2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport HPD Package Red Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to the results of the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the Honda Ridgeline led the midsize pickup truck segment in terms of its overall appeal. That means that the people who own a Ridgeline rate their trucks higher than do owners of competing models.

It’s not hard to see why. This is a terrific truck. Aside from its tow rating and its clearances for serious off-roading, it gives up nothing to its more traditional body-on-frame competitors while making everyday driving far more enjoyable in terms of refinement, acceleration, ride, and handling.

Now, thanks to its new styling and other updates, the Ridgeline is better than ever. We’ll know by the end of the summer of 2021 if owners of the refreshed model continue to rate it as the best midsize truck in overall appeal.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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