The 2021 Honda Ridgeline might feature a familiar truck profile, but it’s almost more of a synthesis of some of the best features available on today’s cars, trucks, and SUVs. This comes as little surprise given the Ridgeline’s status as the only truck in Honda’s current lineup; when a manufacturer known for their distinctive approach to SUVs and sedans takes on the truck sector, it’s bound to produce something a little different. In this case, a boombox on wheels.
Built with the inevitable tailgate party in mind, the Ridgeline uses a first-of-its-kind in-bed audio system to turn the entire vehicle into an extension of your sound system. Here Honda has employed the same principle used in traditional speakers – a speaker cone moving back and forth to make sound – but scaled it up to the size of the entire truck bed. The six speakers are embedded in the left, right, and front walls of the truck bed and work by subtly moving the walls themselves in and out. While you wouldn’t park a dirtbike on your home stereo, the Ridgeline’s 540-watt audio system is considerably more rugged. It is able to haul a bed full of construction materials one moment and then turn around and provide the low-end bass necessary to get the party going.
In-bed audio comes standard on the Ridgeline RTL-E and Black Editions and can be used for up to three hours with the vehicle in accessory mode or indefinitely when the engine is left running. When the battery starts to run low, the Ridgeline’s audio system will emit a beep and power down, ensuring there’s enough juice left to start the engine.
The Ridgeline’s RTL-E and Black Edition trim packages also include 150w/400w outlets throughout the bed, a beefier power option perfect for powering a blender, supplemental speakers, or anything else the party might require. The 2021 Ridgeline also features an automatically locking tailgate, which can be swung open or folded down flat depending on your cargo, and even a trunk hidden under the bed.
A Different Type of Truck
With a standard 3.5-liter V6 engine providing 280 horsepower through a ten-speed automatic transmission, the Ridgeline is competent in its own right. It even comes with standard all-wheel drive and boasts a payload of up to 1,583 pounds. But it’s the Honda’s creature features that truly set it apart from the crowd. Beyond the in-bed stereo, these include everything from the expected (such as Honda’s driver-assist features and the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system) to the unexpected (including 60/40 rear split seats with room for a full-size bicycle and a built-in cooler). The Ridgeline RTL-E and Black Edition trims include a satellite-linked navigation system with voice recognition and Honda HD Digital Traffic as well as a wireless phone charger, working together to provide a less distracted driving experience.
Keeping with Honda’s unique approach to the truck segment, the Ridgeline’s bed is packed with some interesting features like an in-bed, 7.3-cubic-foot locking trunk, which increases storage capacity while providing a sense of security for valuable tools or outdoor equipment. The weather-tight compartment also features a drain plug making the Ridgeline not only a class-leading midsize truck but a great place to chill some drinks. And with 50 inches between its bed wheel wells, the Ridgeline is the only truck in its class that can accommodate larger items like four-by-eight sheets of plywood flat in its bed, making for fewer and safer trips to the building supply store.
The higher price tag here is understandable considering the number of otherwise premium features that come standard on the 2021 model. The truck can also seat five comfortably in the standard crew cab – a feature that further distinguishes it from most of its midsize counterparts. It has also received a little makeover for 2021 as Honda responded to customer feedback by adding a little more truck-like flair to the new model.
The updated Ridgeline’s exterior features a new front bumper, underbody skid plate, restyled 18-inch wheels, and LED headlights. The truck edge comes from an all-new sheet metal design from the front pillars forward and a “power bulge” in the hood for a slightly retro look. It’s got new chrome exhaust tips and a restyled bumper, squaring off the Ridgeline and making it a little more powerful looking in the process. Inside, drivers will find an improved display screen, new seat stitching, and refreshed styling. There is even a physical volume knob to replace its predecessor’s digital-only infotainment interface, which was a common complaint in previous models.
It’s almost too limiting to pigeonhole the Ridgeline as a midsize truck. This rings especially true when you start to look at how the vehicle has been constructed. Most trucks are built on ladder-frame chassis, a tried-and-true method that helps to improve durability and towing capacity at the cost of a rougher ride and heavier weight. It’s also easier to modify the suspensions on these stiffer frames in the event you need to switch out for larger wheels – not something you are likely to encounter in everyday use. This setup might work well for those who see a lot of offroading or construction sites in their future but is simply overkill for the majority of today’s midsize truck drivers.
In contrast, the Ridgeline is built using a unibody construction method commonly found on popular crossover SUVs like the Honda Pilot and Toyota RAV4. This not only reduces the truck’s overall weight and improves fuel efficiency, but it also gives the Ridgeline a lower center of gravity, reducing rollovers and earning it an impressive safety rating. The lighter body is better able to absorb impacts during road accidents, earning it a 5-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The unibody approach, combined with a coil-sprung independent rear suspension, also gives the Ridgeline an unprecedentedly smooth ride complete with less vibration and better balance at a lower overall weight than the competition. It doesn’t have the raw power of some other midsize trucks, but it’s a fair trade-off for what has been described by many as almost car-like handling.
Four-wheel drive might be the standard when it comes to the truck sector, but here again, Honda has bucked the trend in the name of comfort. The 2021 Ridgeline instead opts for an all-wheel drive approach paired with an advanced traction control system called Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) to deliver a smoother driving experience. The i-VTM4 system uses Honda’s Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) sensors to monitor steering angle, wheel speed, lateral G-force, vehicle slide speed, and hydraulic clutch pressure as a means of distributing torque between the front and rear axles and left and right wheels.
The Best Truck For Modern Life
With an expansive slate of standard features that wouldn’t be out of place on some much higher-end models, the 2021 Honda Ridgeline offers real value in its class. As a truck that’s not afraid to not act like a truck, the Ridgeline offers the power and performance one expects from a midsize truck, but not at the cost of comfort or convenience. There’s no denying the current popularity of the crossover SUV trend, and with the Ridgeline, Honda has managed to include many of the same features that make crossovers so popular while still offering the power one expects from a midsize truck. Plus, who can resist the one-of-a-kind bed audio system?