GLOBE, Ariz. -- Rolling along on U.S. 60 as it slices through Arizona's Superstition Mountains to the mining capital of Globe, we're strapped to the leather-clad driver's seat of Honda's plush sport utility truck -- the Ridgeline.
This boxy vehicle, looking like it was chiseled from a solid block of metal, poses with a broad stance and a blunt and stubby face with integrated bumpers and a large grille mounted in front of a long hood.
It's substantial in size, with a wheelbase stretching more than ten feet long and the squarish and cubic body drawing out for 17 feet long by more than six wide and the cab roof capping at close to six feet high.
The generous passenger compartment, comparable to quarters of a large sport utility vehicle, houses two rows of seats for five riders beneath a power-motivated moonroof.
The pickup box in back is condensed at 60 inches long by 49.5 inches wide but extends to 79 inches with the tailgate down. It comes with a steel-reinforced bed made of molded composite material and eight heavy-duty rail cleats to secure a load of cargo. And concealed below deck is a bona fide trunk -- Honda dubs it the In-Bed Trunk -- containing 8.5 cubic feet of stow space secured by a lockable lid.
While Ridgeline brings the 2-box format of a truck with the engine mounted in front, a high-rising cab at the middle and the truck bed in back, it differs from a conventional pickup because it doesn't use the chassis of a truck as its foundation and the engine doesn't drive the rear wheels.
Instead, Ridgeline springs from a unitized structure that's innately stiff and strong, and the front-mounted V6 engine normally directs its muscle to the front wheels although the on-board all-wheel-drive system -- labeled VTM-4 meaning Variable Torque Management Four for 4-wheel-drive -- can send some of that torque to the rear wheels when the front ones slip in order to maintain traction on the tires and keep the vehicle rolling forward.
That VTM-4 controller shows three modes of engagement.
On dry pavement, the system runs in front-drive mode but may shift some torque from front to rear wheels when accelerating to cruise speed. Second, the system constantly measures wheel rotational differences, front to rear, and may redirect torque away from slipping wheels in favor of the set which still maintains traction. For a third condition, torque is locked at rear wheels via a dashboard switch, and Ridgeline tackles a difficult traction situation at slow speed like an icy driveway or sandy off-road slope.
Ridgeline also packs plenty of power. Its aluminum V6 engine with single overhead camshaft displaces 3.5 liters and uses Honda's remarkable VTEC (variable value timing and lift electronic control) valvetrain to manage engine breathing and combustion. The V6 scores big power numbers -- 250 hp at 5700 rpm plus 247 lb-ft at 4300 rpm.
Engine power channels through an intelligent 5-speed automatic transaxle which has electronic controls and supports diverse demands, from high-speed highway runs to slow-speed off-road work, 4-wheel traction and towing.
Add variable power rack and pinion steering and disc brakes for all corners with sophisticated computer controls for the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), brake assist (BA), and vehicle stability assist (VSA) with traction control system (TCS) anti-skid management.
In the spacious cabin of Ridgeline, all aspects seem comfortable and convenient in the Honda tradition. Capacity extends to five passengers in an arrangement with twin bucket seats on the first row and a bench for three riders on the second row.
The back bench splits 60/40 with lift-up seats revealing a storage compartment big enough for a golf bag. Or the bench folds up, transforming the space into a cargo bay large enough to house a full-size mountain bike with its front wheel removed.
Honda casts the 2014 Ridgeline SUT in five trim designations -- the well-equipped RT, a black-trimmed Ridgeline Sport, full-featured RTS, luxurious RTL with leather upholstery and optional satellite-linked navigation system, and new black-out SE (Special Edition).
The Ridgeline SE dresses in 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels with black spokes and carries the black-out package of Ridgeline Sport which includes black headlight and brake light housings, a black tailgate plus black honeycomb grille with black surround.
Base equipment on Ridgeline RT ranges from 17-inch steel wheels to air conditioning and power controls for windows and door locks to a trip computer, cruise control, keyless entry devise, power sliding rear window and 100-watt audio package with six speakers and a CD deck with MP3/WMA playback capability.
Price points for the 2014 Ridgeline begin at $29,575 for the RT and extend to $37,505 for Ridgeline SE.