Honda’s AWD Ridgeline is the best riding, most comfortable half-ton pickup on the market

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Honda’s 2021 Ridgeline pickup is, without a doubt, the best riding pickup on the market. Perhaps that’s because it’s based on Honda’s top selling Pilot SUV.

But before we get into this review, be advised we own a 2014 Ridgeline, but promise to remain impartial, and perhaps even more critical.

Back in 2017, Honda redesigned the Ridgeline by removing the flying buttress back end on earlier models that I have and like because it reminds me of the old Chevy El Camino and Ford Ranchero, cars of yesteryear with cargo beds. The new Ridgeline, however, looks more truck-like, but doesn’t ride or handle like one.

For 2021, Ridgeline midsize pickup has made AWD as standard, includes an improved infotainment system and offers the new HPD (Honda Performance Division) package that adds details to give it an enhanced performance look. It’s offered in Sport, RTL, RTL-E and Black Edition trim levels. We tested the Sport which is the trim model we have.

Ridgeline rides so smoothly because it’s built on a unibody platform like the Pilot with softer underpinnings. But that doesn’t mean it’s a whimp as it can tow up to 5,000 pounds and carries a max payload of 1,580 pounds. It’s also a quiet rider with added sound deadening. And it parks easily with a 43.4 foot turning radius

There are two impressive features that sold me on the Ridgeline and that are found on the 2021 model. First is the swing-out tailgate. Since I bought it new, I may have used the flip down gate maybe three or four times. Two of those were to haul our sons’ freshly cut 12-foot Christmas tree and a new hot-tub cover. For all other times, I use the swing-out feature as it makes loading/unloading so much easier and also when climbing into the bed to secure a load.

The second feature is the 18-inch deep, in-bed locking trunk that has plugged drain holes for when using it as an ice-laden beverage cooler. While I have to use a key to unlock the trunk on my Ridgeline, it can be unlocked via the keyfob on the 2021. One of many nice enhancements.

The composite (dent and corrosion resistant and doesn’t need a spray-in liner) bed itself measures 64×50 inches and has an easy 35-inch load height with the gate dropped down or swung to the side. The bed can carry a 4-foot sheet of plywood with the tailgate open, or prop the end of the sheet over the closed tailgate.

Inside the cockpit, and onto the comfy, supportive cloth front seats, the first thing I noticed during my initial drive in the 2021, was the gearshift for the 9-speed automatic transmission. It’s four electronic push buttons with P, R, N, D/S gear selections. It took a little getting used to coming from my column shifter. But the button switches are easy with the Reverse gear being a pull switch. Honda also included paddle shifters.

A separate AWD Mode switch selects the systems Normal, Snow, Mud and Sand modes for specific driving conditions that my truck doesn’t have. The improved system can send 70 percent of engine power/torque to the rear wheels when needed.

At the top of the stack is an 8-inch display embedded with Honda Link infotainment system requires the use of a smartphone for various apps, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Wi-Fi connectivity. Features my Ridgeline doesn’t have.
I was surprised though that Honda engineers didn’t use the pad at the base of the vertical stack for a wireless phone charger. But there are receptacles for wired charging.

After a low 20-inch step-in, Ridgeline’s 60/40 split-folding back seat can comfortably seat three adults with gobs of head and leg room. Pull two handles and the bottoms automatically flip up against the bulkhead for 2.9 cu/ft of protected flat floor load space.

The 2021 Ridgeline’s robust 3.5-liter V6 with 280-hp and 262 lb/ft of torque earns EPA mileage estimates of 18 city, 24-highway mpg. Much improved mileage over my Ridgeline’s powertrain. One factor contributing to this is the 2021 comes with cylinder deactivation, start/stop function for improved fuel consumption. There’s also an Econ mode switch that when engaged, helps improve fuel economy by adjusting engine and climate control systems. Another feature absent on my truck.

So powered, acceleration from a standing stop is a linear explosion of power as is highway passing situations. There’s no want for power, even with four aboard.

And it’s a quiet and smooth ride on Firestone, 8.5-inch wide, 20-inch tires. Handling too is impressive as sharp turns produced negligible body lean as Ridgeline’s suspension maintains a planted poise.

With a low 7.64 inches of ground clearance, Ridgeline is not a bona fide off-roader, but merely suitable for mild trails and modest snow depths.

The 2021 Sport tested, was not without safety features and amenities. It came standard with vehicle stability assist, collision mitigation braking system, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation and more.

Ridgeline’s base price of $36,490 increased after adding Radiant Red paint ($396) and HPD package ($2,800) that included fender flares, alloy wheels and special badging that took the bottom line to $40,880 with delivery.

For those who need a pickup truck with modest payload and towing capacities and one that is a comfortable, smooth rider that doubles as a daily driver, look no further than Honda’s Ridgeline. It’s a compelling truck like no other. I love mine.

Based on Honda's top-selling Pilot SUV, their Ridgeline offers an unusually smooth, quiet ride for a half-ton AWD pickup. Photo by author
With Honda's optional HPD package that adds gold colored wheels, dual exhaust tips, fender flares and badging, Ridgeline takes on a sporty look. Photo by author
With 7.9 inches of ground clearance, Ridgeline is not suited for rugged, off-road use. But it can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Photo by author
Ridgeline's unique swing-out tailgate allows easy ingress into the bed as well as ease of loading. Photo by author
Plus, the tailgate folds down in traditional fashion to extend for long items like 4x8 sheets of plywood. Photo by author
Another nifty feature is the in-bed locking trunk that can be used as an ice-filled beverage cooler complete with drain plug. Photo by author
A nicely designed cockpit comes with comfy cloth seats in the Sport model, an 8-inch touchscreen, keyless ignition, push button transmission shifter and a huge console box with a sliding top. Photo by author
Long-wearing cloth front seats in the Sport model offer extended under thigh support. They're soft and offer just the right amount of lateral lumbar support. Photo by author
The first feature to grab the eyes upon slipping into the cockpit are these push button automatic transmission gear selector switches. Reverse gear requires a pull to engage. Photo by author
The truck pictorial is the drive mode switch for the AWD selections. The A-Off switch is to turn-off the engine auto start-stop feature. Photo by author
AWD mode selections appear in the driver information display within the gauge cluster. Photo by author
Ridgeline's 8-inch touchscreen offers HondaLink infotainment system plus a smartphone connection that adds Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Wi-Fi connectivity. Photo by author
Ridgeline's rearview camera offers three different views. Photo by author
The rearview camera offers a hitch view that helps when backing up to a trailer to couple it to the standard receiver hitch. Photo by author
HVAC controls are easy to view and use. Selections are also displayed on the touchscreen. Photo by author
As shown, the gauge cluster includes a driver information display within it plus it includes a digital speedometer. Photo by author
With the rear seatbacks down, they can comfortably seat three adults with ample leg and headroom. Photo by author
With the rear seat backs flipped up against the bulkhead, it opens up a flat load floor for added protected storage. Photo by author
Lest I forget, Ridgeline's Lane Assist feature switch will keep the truck between the roadway lines but driver's should still maintain light hand pressure on the steering wheel. Photo by author
Ridgeline gets its grunt from this 3.5L, 280-hp V6 that earns EPA mileage estimates of 18 city, 24-highway mpg with engine start/stop and Econ mode technology. Photo by author