2021 Honda Ridgeline Sport AWD HPD new car reviews

For 2021, Honda has done a mild revamp of the Honda Ridgeline, the brand’s easy-to-drive pickup that has a cult-like following–GRM has had one in the fleet since the early days of the original model.  

We spent a week with the latest AWD Sport model fitted with the HPD Package. This package includes black fender flares, 18-inch HPD alloy wheels, HPD grille, and HPD decals and emblem.

[Read about GRM’s first year with the new-for-2016 Honda Ridgeline.

From the Honda press materials: 

For the 2021 model year, Ridgeline features all-new sheet metal from the front roof pillars forward, including a new hood with a pronounced power bulge, a new squared off nose and upright grille, and new front fenders. Flanking the grille are new, brighter LED headlights bisected by the crossbar atop the grille, which is painted gloss black on Sport trims and Black Edition, and is chrome plated on RTL and RTL-E. The body-color lower front bumper further accentuates the Ridgeline’s tough new look with a prominent skid plate and broad side vents that create air curtains to route air through the bumper and around the front tires and wheels to improve aerodynamic performance. A reshaped rear bumper exposes aggressive new twin exhaust outlets, and all Ridgeline trims feature tougher looking 18-inch wheels and an additional 20 mm of track width to give Ridgeline a broader, more planted stance. New tires top off the more rugged look with a more aggressive sidewall and shoulder design. Ridgeline also adds a new Radiant Red Metallic to its exterior color palette. 

What did we think about the latest Ridgeline–and how did it do on Tail of the Dragon? Keep reading. 

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Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard
Publisher Emeritus

Perhaps as the ultimate test: We ran the 2021 Ridgeline hard on the infamous Tail of the Dragon–Highway 129 between North Carolina and Tennessee–and were blown away with how capable this truck handled this very twisty road.


We instantly noticed that the new Ridgeline handles better than our 2018 model. We scoured the press information to find out what has changed and, other than the wheels, could find no differences in components or tuning.

All-new Ridgeline trims feature tougher-looking, 18-inch wheels and an additional 20mm of track width to give Ridgeline a broader, more planted stance. New tires top off the rugged look, adding a more aggressive sidewall and shoulder design.

Perhaps this could have made the difference, or perhaps the lower-level Sport, as opposed to the top-of-the-line RTL-E–which must be a little heavier–caused the change in handling. Another possibility is that a new truck handles better than one with 60,000 miles. And yet another possibility could have been some alignment differences or slightly upgraded shocks. Either way, the new Ridgeline somehow delivers crisper handling than our current 2018 model.

While we kind of liked the wheels and the stripes were kind of neat, the rather tacky, added-on plastic flares left us a bit cold. At $2800, we would forgo this option and just use about half that money to pick up some cool-looking wheels.

The only other option our Ridgeline had was Platinum White paint. The HPD package and the special paint brought the total price of our test vehicle to $40,860

Perhaps a wiser option would be to choose the RTL version of the Ridgeline instead. At $41,040 (in the same Platinum Pearl White ($395) for just $80 more, this model would get you a moonroof, leather seats, heated front seats and the blind spot information system. This package offers much more real benefits than the HPD package.

[Read about our real-world Ford F-250 tow vehicle.]

The 2021 Ridgeline offers the new-for-the-2020-model-year nine-speed transmission. While we loved the paddle shifters on the mountainous roads that we encountered, we should warn you that Honda Odyssey owners filed a class-action suit last year due to jerky and uneven shifting. We encountered none of these issues and absolutely loved the way the new Ridgeline shifts.

We also like the new hood as it doesn’t flutter like the one on our 2018 Ridgeline. While nothing has ever broken, it is quite disconcerting to have your hood flutter while driving at highway speeds. Thank you, Honda, for fixing this.

One thing we like less about the new Ridgeline is the shifter. Like so many companies, Honda has gone to a shift knob. Perhaps you could get used to it, but it is much easier to get to the wrong gear with the knob than it is with a lever.

The new generation Ridgeline is an unqualified success. We see many more on the road than we saw of the first generation. While a pandemic might have had something to do with it, Honda claims Ridgeline sales up 83% through April.

We still love our Ridgeline and while not quite willing to trade yet, spending a week in the new version has us looking forward to the move up.

If Honda could just find a way to bump the tow rating up from 5000 pounds to 6000-6500, then they could accurately claim they have perfected the pickup. With that two-way tailgate, huge trunk under the bed, and passenger car-like comfort, no other truck is as practical and fuel-efficient as the Honda Ridgeline. The rest of the world is starting to realize what we have been touting for years.

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karplus2 GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/26/21 2:48 p.m.

My wife loves her 2019 Ridgeline. I am not a fan of the grill/front end look. I really like the 2021s. Her truck only has 13K miles and has held its value really well. I asked her if we could trade it for a 2021. She shook her head and walked away saying she can barely tell the difference.

wearymicrobe PowerDork
5/26/21 3:12 p.m.

2800$ for that package is not that bad to be honest. WIsh it had upgraded shocks but its Honda and they dont do that sort of stuff to the ridgeline. 

Dieselboss15 Reader
5/27/21 9:56 a.m.

how did it do a truck things? also, they seem to be slowly getting the truck look right, but at this rate i bet by the time they do get it right everyone will have moved to the 2019 body style.... granted there are other things just as or more important than looks, but still.

amerson New Reader
6/2/21 9:50 p.m.

Not the best-looking truck, however, it looks much better than the Hyundai Santa Cruz.  If I had one, I would definitely replace the tires with something more aggressive like the nitto grappler to make it more offroad capable.

Kreb (Forum Supporter)
Kreb (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
6/14/21 3:18 p.m.

So basically it looks as though all Honda had to do was butch up their SUV nose and the customers come-a-running... kinda sad. Or maybe, the pretty girl with the great personality finally graduated from wallflower status.  I don't know what analogy to use, but I do not think that the Santa Cruz or Maverick's going to hurt Honda much. Honda will remain the big brother with the most to offer. Oh wait, here's an analogy: You know how burger joints and coffee shops often come in clusters? The marketers found out that they feed each other rather than steal each others customers. So there you go. Now we've got three brands of coffee sharing the intersection.

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