Reliability and a penchant for adventure are in Honda’s DNA. With humble beginnings building motorcycles in Hamamatsu, a city in the Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan, the small company was quick to blaze a trail of innovation and automotive excellence, which became its foothold in the industry. Whether it’s dirt bikes, four-wheelers, and side-by-sides or a range of highly adaptable, street-ready cars, trucks, and SUVs, Honda continues to break barriers as it defines the future of mobility on- and off-road.
How It Started
In 2006, Honda debuted its first and only pickup for the North American market, the Ridgeline. To say this truck ruptured the traditional light-truck landscape is an understatement. Touting a highly unconventional design set on a unibody frame typically reserved for sedans, it was accompanied by equally distinctive C-pillar, flying buttresses that adjoined the cab. Although a radical marriage of unexpected components, it would prove to be a rival for the industry’s 4×4 heavyweights. While the Ridgeline’s preliminary exterior stylings left much to be desired, the magnitude of its ability would soon become its calling card.
Within that inaugural model laid the inner workings of an extremely versatile utility vehicle—the industry’s first In-Bed Trunk®, nimble handling, an impressive payload, and outstanding towing capacity. By 2017, the Ridgeline retained most of its beloved features but did away with its less flattering ones. The C-pillars were eighty-sixed and instead, the structural integrity was enhanced by cueing up critical load-bearing joints in the unibody. The result: the same powerful functionality with a decidedly more truck-worthy aesthetic. That year, Ridgeline became the first pickup truck to earn IIHS’s Top Safety Pick+ and North America Truck of the Year.
How It’s Going
With its most recent redesign, the 2021 Ridgeline is clearly not beating around the bush. Starting at an estimated $35,500, the bolder and more robust surface area finally matches the capability planted under the hood. Thanks to a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter, direct-injected VTEC V-6, one squeeze on the throttle introduces you to a responsive nine-speed automatic transmission that’s quick and also the most fuel-efficient in its class.
The Ridgeline comes standard with an Intelligent Traction Management System and i-VTM4® torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, which makes it ultra-reliable in a host of unpredictable terrain or inclement weather. While most trucks are eager to strong-arm their way out of unfavorable topography, Ridgeline uses adaptive technology to out-think the road ahead. Its ability to survey paved and natural features is guided by a heap of tiny sensors that help optimize power and delivery distribution to tackle snowy or slick surfaces. With additional modes for mud and sand, up to 70 percent of the engine’s 262 pound-feet of torque is sent to the rear wheels, contingent on the circumstances.
While Ridgeline continues to tick all the boxes, the handling and ride quality remain best-in-class. Down the roadway, it floats with a comfortable drive quality from the coil-sprung, independent rear suspension, which differs from the leaf-sprung, solid-axle setups of traditional pickup trucks. And it’s fully loaded with Honda Sensing® safety and driver-assistive technology to help keep you poised behind the wheel through hazardous forecasts and less than ideal conditions.
The Ridgeline’s cosmetic overhaul and new, rugged stylings come courtesy of the talented team of designers and engineers at Honda R&D Americas (HRA). It’s been built out with new sheet metal from the front pillars forward, and sports an entirely new fascia: fenders, bumpers, and a squared-off nose coupled with a jawline that’s typically reserved for the brawny superhero of your favorite comic book.
The new hood is defined by a pronounced power bulge and the more perpendicular grille is flanked by LED headlights bisected by crossbars that offer a menacing glare. Its broad side vents target airflow through the bumper and around the front tires and wheels to improve aerodynamics. With reduced backspacing, the Ridgeline accommodates a wider track, offering a broader, more planted stance that feels tougher and sturdier than ever. The all-terrain tires are fitted with a more aggressive sidewall and shoulder design while the prominent skid plates are primed to aid in maximizing protection against any type of ground it comes across.
Turn up the dial on the Ridgeline’s powerful new physique even further by opting for the additional trim level designed in collaboration with Honda Performance Development™ (HPD™), the arm of American Honda Motor that specializes in production racing parts. A unique honeycomb-style grille treatment, black fender flares, bronze-tone wheels and HPD™ graphics create a mighty round up of complementary features, hammering away the past doubts of any naysayers questioning its original body shape.
All Work and All Play
The Ridgeline’s list of impressive credentials is long, but the mid-size pickup’s versatility in cargo management truly sets it apart from the rest. It has a maximum payload of 1,580 pounds with a towing capacity up to 5,000 pounds. Honda was the first to pioneer the dual-action tailgate, which is rated to handle loads up to 300 pounds. The useful functionality allows it to open downward or to the side, making it simple to load the bed with any precious cargo, bet it a couple of dual-sports or supplies for a home project. Ridgeline’s extra-wide standard bed makes it the only truck in its class that can flat carry four-by-eight-foot material between the wheel wells, and leaves a cushy amount of room along the bedsides if you’re stowing an ATV, which we discovered in our own rigorous rounds of testing.
Ridgeline’s signature lockable, In-Bed Trunk® dates back to the first generation model and continues to be a standout feature. The trunk is made from a highly scratch- and dent-resistant composite material reinforced by glass fiber, and open to provide you with an additional 7.3 cu.-ft.of secure storage underneath the bed floor. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, Honda offers the world’s first Truck Bed Audio System to guarantee that the good times keep rolling at every outdoor excursion you have coming down the pipeline.
The adaptable storage capacity starts behind the cab, but it surely doesn’t end there. Inside, the Ridgeline boasts an exceedingly spacious interior with the largest cabin in its segment for passengers and gear. Behind the cockpit, the flat floor gives way to foldaway 60/40-split rear seat bottoms that make it easier than ever to house longer and taller items. The roomy insides afford enough capacity to adequately position a full size bicycle, leaving you with only little to no excuse to pack up and get away for some off-the-grid exploits.
As a truck, Ridgeline is as multifaceted as it is prototypical. Its foundation is built on an unorthodox approach, which has allowed it to deliver creative features beyond the run-of-the-mill offerings of other mid-size trucks. Contrary to the standard offering of most competitors’ body-on-frame construction, Ridgeline’s now signature unit-body features a Honda-exclusive, Advanced Compatibility Engineering™ (ACE™) body structure, which has been a large contributing factor to its success since. This innovative underpinning is shared amongst the equivalently adept Passport and Pilot in Honda’s lineup. United with fully boxed frame members for the body sides and rear tailgate frame with truss-style inner assembly, the unibody efficiently carves out room for a cushy rear suspension which creates a leveling effect while driving to provide stability and control. Even on the roughest and uneven terrain, Ridgeline’s notable car-like drive quality offers uncompromising comfort.
A Stalwart Pedigree
Whilst Ridgeline shares many attributes with its crossover counterparts, it is in Honda’s motorsports legacy where we find the root of this truck’s confident and enduring energy. Soichiro Honda said, “Racing improves the breed,” so it should come as no surprise that Honda’s extracurricular activities draw parallels to its fleet of off-road ready vehicles, and help inform their overall performance and aesthetic.
That persistent spirit of exploration and charting a path through unknown territory is a gravitational pull for Honda, which is why it returned to the challenging terrain of desert racing in 2015. Backed by HPD™, the team’s custom-built Ridgeline continues to dominate the field along its similarly spritely and aggressive cousin, the Talon. Since then, Honda teams have gone on to secure podium finishes and class victories at the grueling Baja 500 and 1000, further cementing its rugged reputation.
The Ridgeline proves to be a resilient daily driver, an outdoor opportunist, and a sturdy workhorse outright. Above all, it’s evident that whatever life tests you with, the redesigned Honda Ridgeline stands ready to rise to any challenge.