The Honda Ridgeline can do most of the heavy work on the farm and still serve as an agreeable vehicle to carry the whole family.

Honda built the Ridgeline with a full ladder frame topped with a unibody cab and equipped it with the category's breakthrough fully independent suspension and an advanced Variable Torque Management 4-wd system. It has a 3.5-liter V6 engine with VTEC variable valve timing tuned for maximum application of its usable 247 hp. Its electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission is bolstered by a standard transmission and oil cooler, plus heavy-duty brakes and dual radiator fans.

With the Ridgeline's 4-wd system, the power is first directed to the front wheels but can be electronically shifted to the rear wheels whenever the workload calls for it, or when the computerized system detects the tendency for the fronts to spin or lose traction.

The pickup offers standard antilock brakes with Honda's Vehicle Stability Assist system and traction control. It has dual-stage, dual-threshold driver and front passenger airbags, two-row side curtain airbags, and a rollover sensor.

The only way the Ridgeline comes is as a full four-door. Three adults can fit on the rear bench seat, but if hauling is required, there is room under the rear cushion to stash all sorts of stuff, with a lip on the hard, rubberized floor surface to keep it from sliding out. Also, at the flick of a wrist, you can pull a switch and lift the corner of the bench cushion and flip it up, in a 60-40 split, against the backrest, and it stays there. That allows storage of larger items.

Truck bed and trunk

The Ridgeline's entire 5-ft.-long, 4-ft.-wide bed is made of composite material. Six tie-down anchors and four bed lights are positioned for convenience.

At the rear of the truck, the tailgate is accessible by a center latch, which drops the tailgate down to extend the bed. But when the tailgate is closed, you also can reach down to the lower right corner and pull on a concealed switch to swing open the tailgate from the right side, opening it wide on left-side hinges.

You can insert the ignition key in a slot on the right edge of the bed, unlock the bed floor to rise on front hinges and reveal an 8.5-cu.-ft. trunk-like bin. A full-size spare tire is in there, fitted forward under the bed, but the large trunk space is deep enough to haul large tools or other bulky items.

The entire trunk is double-sealed with grooved rubber moldings, so you can fill it with ice and carry food and beverages in it. The double-sealed trunk keeps everything cold and uncontaminated.

The truck's instrumentation and audio system are as nice as those in any car, and a sunroof gives further ventilation beyond the four windows and the sliding center rear window.

Other packages stress occupant amenities, such as XM satellite radio, leather interior, interior compass, heated seats, a navigation system with voice recognition, dual-zone climate control, an eight-way power driver's seat, and a seven-speaker, 160W audio system with six-disk in-dash player and steering wheel remote controls.

Test-drive

At the introduction of the Ridgeline two years ago, Honda invited this reporter and other journalists to a ranch in California to test-drive the new truck up and down steep hills and over specially prepared obstacle courses.

On the courses, the Ridgeline's chassis was so stiff that when one wheel would sink up to its axle, the opposite wheel and tire would be carried airborne, while the other wheels kept churning through the obstacles without flinching.

In one demonstration, a front-end loader filled with 1,500 lbs. of large boulders was raised to full height above the Ridgeline before dropping its load with full force into the bed. The pickup slumped as it absorbed the full impact hit, but it stayed level. It not only hauled the load with ease, but displayed nary a scratch when the boulders were removed.

Next we found a popular full-size V8 pickup next to a Ridgeline, both of them hitched to 5,000-lb. trailers. To the surprise of no one, the larger pickup won a drag race between the two vehicles; but to the surprise of all of us, it barely won.

A similar run through a slalom course was next. The full-sized pickup went through the first cone, but with the first swerve it required an abrupt deceleration and counter-steering because it felt as if the whole rig might roll over. The Honda Ridgeline, on the other hand, zigged and zagged through the entire course, feeling more like a sports car in agility, even with the trailer.

For more information, contact American Honda Motor Co., Dept. FIN, 1919 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, CA 90501, 800/999-1009, visit www.ridgeline.honda.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 114.