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A silver 2024 Honda Ridgeline TrailSport is shown parked after visiting a Honda dealer.

Does the New TrailSport Trim Really Make the Ridgeline Off-Road Ready?

Can you find a truck at your local Honda dealer? Depends on your definition. For some, body-on-frame construction is what separates the trucks from the cars. But if you’re not a purist, you might be willing to admit that for most practical purposes, it’s the presence of an open cargo bed that defines the category. Whether you think a unibody truck is an oxymoron or not, you have to admit that there’s a market for it. The Honda Ridgeline has been around for nearly two decades, and plenty of drivers appreciate the niche it fills.

But that niche has always been on-road comfort. The unibody design of the Ridgeline gives it a smooth ride on paved roads, with easy handling and no “truck-like” stiffness. This makes the model seem like an unlikely candidate for a rugged off-road trim. But I suppose in a world where thousands of people actually spend their hard-earned money on the Tesla Cybertruck, anything is possible.

At the very least, Honda is making an attempt. For the 2024 model year, the Ridgeline is getting a refresh, and while most of the updates involve sprucing up the interior, the headline is the fact that the Ridgeline is getting an all-new off-road trim. The TrailSport badge has already been worn by the Passport and Pilot SUVs, but what does it mean for the Ridgeline? Let’s dive in and see if the Ridgeline TrailSport is just a skin-deep makeover or a serious upgrade to the pickup’s capability.

The History of the TrailSport Badge

When Honda first launched the TrailSport family with the 2022 Passport TrailSport, enthusiasts noticed right away that the included features were more cosmetic than functional. It sported “rugged-style” all-season tires that couldn’t be called all-terrain because their tread was just for looks. It had a front “skid garnish” but no actual protective skid plates in sight. The suspension system was exactly the same as what you’d find on other trims. MotorTrend was justified in calling this attempt “off-road cosplay.” The one good thing you can say about this incident is that Honda seems to have taken the criticism to heart. The newer TrailSport models actually have some substantiation upgrades that make it much better prepared to leave the pavement behind.

It’s fair to say that Honda made a good call testing the TrailSport badge on a midsize SUV instead of its only truck. While the original Passport TrailSport definitely garnered some well-deserved bad reviews, it didn’t spark the level of outrage that would probably have been inevitable if Honda had tried to pass a similarly-equipped Ridgeline off as an “off-road truck.” The bar is simply higher and the demographic has a more dedicated base of enthusiasts who would be quick to pounce.

The gray interior and dash in a 2024 Honda Ridgeline is shown.

Ridgeline TrailSport Exclusive Features

Honda certainly took the lessons it learned on the Passport to heart when designing the 2024 Ridgeline TrailSport. The truck comes standard with genuine all-terrain tires with a tread that not only provides better traction on off-road surfaces but also improves the truck’s braking significantly, according to testing done by Car and Driver. While the General Grabber A/T Sport tires (245/60R18) are up to the task of tackling mud, dirt, sand, snow, and rocky surfaces, it is disappointing to know that they’re the same size as the tires you’ll find on other Ridgeline trims, so they do nothing to increase the truck’s ground clearance.

In fact, the Ridgeline TrailSport’s ground clearance is exactly the same as other Ridgeline trims, at 7.6 inches. That’s about what you’ll get on a Chevy Colorado WT or LT, but the Colorado Z71 has 8.9 inches, the Trail Boss has 9.5 inches, and the ZR2 has 10.7 inches to give off-roaders better options. Still, the Ridgeline does offer some underbody protection to make up for this. While the truck feature the same “skid garnish” that was mocked on the 2022 Passport TrailSport, it supplements this with a proper steel plate that protects the oil pan from off-road obstacles.

Perhaps most significantly, the Ridgeline TrailSport also has a unique off-road tuned suspension. The system features different spring rates, stabilizer bars, and damper valve tuning than what you’ll find on other trims of the truck. These changes smooth out the TrailSport’s ride on bumpy ground to help with uneven surfaces. This goes a long way toward giving the trim actual increased off-road capability and, in conjunction with the other features, is a significant improvement, not just window dressing.

Non-Exclusive Features Helpful for Off-Roading

Despite the Ridgeline’s reputation, the 2024 model does have several features that can come in handy off-road, even on non-TrailSport trims. For one thing, every trim features a V6 engine that cranks out 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. That power can be used to carry up to 1,583 lbs of payload (1,521 lbs in the TrailSport) or tow up to 5,000 lbs, which isn’t terribly impressive compared to what traditional body-on-frame trucks can handle but is plenty for folks looking to bring some camping equipment or a boat along for their outdoor vacation.

All-wheel drive is standard across the lineup, giving the truck solid traction both off the pavement and when paved roads get wet or icy. Honda’s Intelligent variable torque management system (i-VTM4) is also standard across the lineup. This feature enhances handling and stability in a wide range of driving scenarios by sending up to 70% of the torque generated by the engine to the rear wheels if necessary. The twin-clutch system even means all of that torque can be sent to just the right or left rear wheel. It should be clear to anyone familiar with off-roading how this system can come in handy if you start spinning out on the trail.

Finally, every trim of the 2024 Ridgeline comes standard with selectable Intelligent Traction Management modes that adjust the truck’s throttle and traction control system to give you the best ride and control possible in your current situation. Snow, Sand, and Mud modes cover the basics nicely. The modes that are “missing” when you compare the Ridgeline to other trucks are pretty logical. There’s no Tow/Haul mode because the Ridgeline’s capacities aren’t high enough to warrant one, and there’s no Rock Crawl mode because that’s not the kind of off-roading you can do in this truck.

A gray 2024 Honda Ridgeline is shown driving off-road.

Ridgeline TrailSport Threads a Tricky Needle Pretty Darn Well

The Ridgeline’s greatest asset is the quality of its on-road ride, and Honda knows this. Even in the section of the press release where the brand boasts about the TrailSport’s off-road-tuned suspension, it makes sure to say that the system improves its off-road capability “without sacrificing Ridgeline’s exceptional on-road comfort and best-in-class handling.” This gives you a clear picture of the kind of balancing act Honda is trying to pull off with this new move. It can’t make the Ridgeline a true contender against the ZR2s and Raptors without fundamentally changing what the Ridgeline is. What Honda is shooting for instead is a truck that can handle dirt roads and gravel driveways comfortably and manage some light off-roading.

The 2024 Ridgeline TrailSport isn’t for off-road enthusiasts who hit the trails whenever they have a spare moment—it’s for people who mostly want a comfortable on-road ride but still want to be able to go camping a few times a year without damaging vital components. Looking at it that way, it’s fair to say that the new trim succeeds. It has several tangible upgrades that make it better equipped to leave the pavement behind for some real off-road driving, not just parking on a dirt lot at the county fair. Honda has already made some serious improvements to the TrailSport badge since its release for 2022, and it’ll be interesting to see how the trim continues to evolve in the years to come. For now, the 2024 Ridgeline TrailSport is far from exciting for dedicated off-roaders, but it’s a practical option for those who only want to rough it when they’re actually heading off-road, not when they’re driving down the street.

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