Seventeen years ago, Honda introduced the Ridgeline to challenge the mainstream pickup truck empire. The Ridgeline was something. It had the industry’s first lockable in-bed storage trunk. It had a fully independent suspension. The truck’s dual-action tailgate could be opened to the side or down.
The 2006 Honda Ridgeline (the debuting model made in Canada as early as March 2005) also had an unusual exterior design. It had a unibody frame. It had a 3.5-liter V6 transverse-mounted engine, a five-speed automatic transmission and 247 horsepower. Its towing capacity was (and remains) 5,000 pounds.
Accolades arrived quickly, including the Ridgeline’s selection as Motor Trend’s 2006 Truck of the Year. It was also named Car and Driver’s top midsize truck for 2006. The Ridgeline combined truck capabilities with a car-quality ride. It became a purchase for those who had a need but didn’t want to own a truck.
In its debut model year, sales of the Honda Ridgeline slightly surpassed 50,000 in the United States. It was the truck’s best-selling year but it was still about one-tenth the volume of the top-selling counterparts from Ford and Chevrolet.
Not much of a startling change has occurred with the Ridgeline since. Its innovation, however refreshing, has waned. The truck was last redesigned in 2017. The 2021 Honda Ridgeline is more focused on exterior change to attract young buyers. New designs for the hood, face, dual exhaust system, fenders and bumper cover detail the makeover.
Honda also now features a Honda Performance Development (HPD) Appearance Package. It’s attention-grabbing and money-heavy bling – a stylized grille, black fender flares and bronze alloy wheels. An HPD emblem and decals are added as a post-production $2,800 option.
The rest of the 2021 Honda Ridgeline, available in four trims, remains the same as the 2020 model. And it’s destined to the same fate as the truck’s recent year decline. In the pandemic-affected 2020 sales year, the Ridgeline’s total was 32,168. Sales in 2019 were 33,334.
From its original specs, the current Ridgeline has improved, but not dramatically. It’s now offered with a 3.5-liter VTEC V6 with a nine-speed automatic transmission and only in all-wheel drive. Front-wheel drive has been discontinued. Acceleration from 0-60 miles per hour takes 7.2 seconds. Gas mileage averages are 18 mpg in city driving, 24 mph on the highway.
2021 Honda Ridgeline: A mystery truck
With its unique styling, car-like qualities and value-pricing, a Ridgeline success story seemed logical. But the truck hasn’t revisited its early success. It’s simultaneously a mystery and easy to fathom why.
Consider the value. The base Sport trim includes: LED headlights, proximity entry and push-button ignition, automatic tri-zone climate control, 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and a seven-speaker sound system.
Safety features bundled in the Honda Sensing Safety Suite include adaptive cruise control. It adjusts speed to maintain a constant distance between the vehicle and the car in front. It has lane-keeping assist.
It steers the truck back into the proper lane if it drifts over the lane marker. And it has forward collision mitigation. It warns the driver of an impending collision and applies the brakes in certain scenarios.
The MSRP is $36,490. Its price as tested is $40,860, slightly below the new vehicle price average.
Still, the Ridgeline has had repeated recall problems – from fuel pump failure to rust issues, extreme oil consumption to electric system malfunctions.
It’s difficult to consider any Honda vehicle a failure. The carmaker’s diverse lineup includes some of the most enduring and top-selling vehicles in history.
But like the Honda Fit, the Ridgeline may have run its course. The Fit was highly rated and it may hold the unofficial title of Best of Design Efficiency. But when sales fell, the Fit was gone.
The Ridgeline has distinguished itself as something different among the long-time pickup truck leaders. But it isn’t enough. With its stumbling sales, the Ridgeline is destined for termination.
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: email@example.com.