Honda was kind enough to give us an example of a six-month-old 2021 Honda Ridgeline AWD RTL-E. (The shortage of semiconductor chips has made it difficult to provide the year-long loans we usually arrange.) Its arrival in October means we’ll be spending the winter with the truck and valuing it under some tough weather. People who work long-term at Detroit HQ make frequent trips to cabins in Michigan as well as northern Ontario, Canada, where 12 inches of snow isn’t unusual and temperatures stabilize in the single digits.
The virtues of freezing
Unfortunately, without our knowledge, the 2021 Honda Ridgeline was not equipped with proper winter windshield wiper fluid that contains antifreeze. This omission caused problems during the 10-hour drive north: As the temperature dropped and the windshield was covered in a milky film from the salty highways, the liquid froze. At first, the water froze on contact with the glass, then it froze deeper in his intestines, and no liquid at all came out for the last nine hours.
Then the weather turned into freezing rain and sleet. At first we welcomed the humidity. That means fewer stops at gas stations to clean windshields. As the mercury got lower, the freezing rain immediately froze on contact with the glass, and the defroster was too weak to melt and keep the windshield completely clean. There were a few intervals where all but the top bar of the fan was cleaned at full speed and only set to defrost. Choosing a setting that would allow a combination of defrost and a little bit of heat to warm up the cold fingers wasn’t an option: Splitting the heat weakened the defroster even more, and it couldn’t clear enough of the ice to see driving. Frequent stops were necessary to scrape and clean the ice, making long-distance driving even longer. On the plus side, this meant we weren’t unnecessarily overburdened with the Ridgeline’s smaller gas tank, which usually forces multiple gas stops. Fuel economy is rated at 18/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined.
The Ridgeline has a useful feature in the form of a wiper defroster that you activate via a button on the dash to the left of the steering wheel; It is designed to turn on automatically when the outside temperature drops below 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The feature heats up the area under the windshield, so the wipers don’t freeze in place. It worked beautifully. Spaces never get attached. The problem was that without dispensing the cleaning fluid, the wipers only smeared the salty paint across the windshield.
Heated seats and steering wheel
On the plus side, the black, leather-trimmed interior of this $43,990 Honda Ridgeline AWD RTL-E includes heated seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a well-functioning heated interior. The wheel heats up quickly, does not heat up very much, and does not turn itself off very quickly. It takes a minute to locate the button to the left of the steering wheel that turns it on, but once you know where it is, it’s easy to find and use.
On the equally horrific return trip to Detroit, we hit more sleet, and the whole truck got covered in ice. Cameras and sensors were encased, temporarily disabling safety features like cruise control and emergency braking. Pauses to defrost have restored well-functioning safety features on the Ridgeline.
We also had to remember to remove snow, ice and salt from the rear view camera; Otherwise, backup view becomes blurry white in color. It reminds you how good and reliable the backup camera features are. We now have a greater appreciation for cars that come with a camera lens cleaner.
Driving a Honda Ridgeline is like driving a car or a crossover. It feels nimble, and the fully independent suspension adds to the responsive driving dynamics. The 280-horsepower, 262-lb-ft 3.5-liter V-6 provides more than enough power, and there’s much less hunting with the nine-speed automatic that replaces the old six.
The Honda i-VTM4 torque vectoring all-wheel drive system turns on automatically when required. There are no push buttons or gears to interfere, which is useful, but it also means you can’t manually select a low-range gear. The system can send up to 70 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels and can direct it to any rear wheel as needed.
I was worried about going up a snowy trail, but the Ridgeline on 18-inch wheels and 245/60 R18 all-season tires was up to the task. The truck showed minimal skidding during an hour’s drive during a one-night snow storm, when it was impossible to visually identify two lanes of the divided highway. I felt safe even though it was impossible to tell where the shoulders were. In fact, Honda puts out its full suite of standard safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and automatic emergency braking.
One quibble: In clear driving conditions, adaptive cruise control was a tad slicker than other systems we’ve tried, including other Hondas. This Ridgeline tends to sway forward and brake abruptly, enough that the rear seat passenger asked to turn the system off. At the truck’s first service station, we asked the dealer to check the system for problems, but he found nothing. The problem mostly occurs when following traffic; It’s smooth when the road ahead is clear.
We appreciated the clever 2021 Honda Ridgeline packaging, as both the cabin and bed easily swallowed a lot of gear. We love the double-action tailgate that can open the traditional way or swing to the left like a door, something we found particularly useful for loading and unloading. It’s also the easiest way to use Honda’s premium bedside trunk space.
We were also glad we got the option because the addition of a hard foldable boot lid hampered our ability to pull the tailgate down at times. One cold morning the dropdown mode didn’t work at all. The mechanism worked later in the day, so there may have been some freezing – otherwise the gremlins would have been in the works.
In short, the 2021 Honda Ridgeline AWD RTL-E is a practical alternative for those who want functionality and all-wheel drive but would rather stop at a full-body truck on the frame. It’s a good choice on paper even for those who live in cold and snowy climates – and there are many happy buyers in the northern regions we visited. We’ve had some severe weather and having a wiper fluid along with antifreeze would make a huge difference, but that wasn’t the Ridgeline’s fault. On the other hand, in general, the defrost and heating system was not completely up to the task. We think the Ridgeline will be happier now that spring is here and heading into summer, at an outdoor party with loud music from the sound system on the truck bed.
Look well! More details?