An all-new model for 2005, the Ridgeline represents a major step: it’s Honda’s very first pickup truck. It’s a tough market to crack, especially for the first time, and even tougher for a company that’s best known for building smaller cars. Honda had one chance to get it right, and it succeeded.

The Ridgeline is made in the same plant as the Pilot SUV; it shares the Pilot’s V6 and five-speed automatic transmission, but its body and frame are 93 per cent exclusive. The truck’s heavy-duty unibody design is incorporated into a lower ladder frame with seven fully-boxed cross supports. Honda claims it has a bending rigidity two and a half times stiffer than any body-on-frame compact truck, with a rear torsional rigidity that is more than 20 times stiffer. It helps gives the truck excellent road manners, with no squeaking or bending on rougher roads. Everything about this truck is smooth and civilized – its ride, its engine, its transmission – with the possible exclusion of its offbeat styling. The front end is all odd angles and sharp corners, as though Honda thought it needed a tough face so as not to put off traditional manly truck buyers.

The Ridgeline comes exclusively as a four-door, five-passenger vehicle, and while it isn’t meant for really heavy-duty work, not many of its competitors get all that dirty in the real world either. It’ll tow 5,000 lbs and take a 1,100-lb bed payload.

The five-foot bed is made of a composite material designed to fend off scrapes and dents, and it has notches in the front wall so dirt bikers can carry two motorcycles to the rough stuff. An ATV will fit in it, too. Because of its independent rear suspension, Honda was able to fit a unique 240-litre waterproof, lockable trunk under the bed floor (it will carry three golf bags). A sliding tray holds the spare tire. The tailgate is dual-action, swinging down or to the side.

The Ridgeline uses Honda’s VTM-4 four-wheel-drive system; unusual for a pickup truck, it’s primarily front-wheel-drive, with torque sent to the rear wheels on acceleration or when needed for extra traction.

There’s plenty of storage space inside as well, with a nifty multi-function console with hidden storage areas, and rear seats that provide underseat storage when down, or that can be lifted up for more cargo space.

The Ridgeline comes in three trim levels. The base LX includes air conditioning, 17-inch steel wheels, power locks with keyless entry, variable intermittent wipers with automatic heated zone, power windows, power rear sliding window, cruise control and CD player with six speakers.

The mid-line EX-L adds 17-inch alloy wheels, auto-off headlights, leather heated seats with eight-way power driver’s seat, Homelink garage door opener, leather-wrapped wheel, automatic dual-zone climate control, rearview mirror with compass, and six-CD system with seven speakers.

An EX-L Navi package adds a bilingual voice-recognition navigation system, MP3 media auxiliary jack, and power sunroof.

The Ridgeline is built in Alliston, Ontario.

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