2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD RTL-E: Midsize trucks - a compromise from all angles?

Price: $42,270 as tested. No options on test vehicle. (A bare-bones front-wheel-drive model can be had for as little as $29,475.)

Marketer's pitch: "A truckload of ingenuity."

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com says it has "class-leading ride and handling" and calls the backseat "more accommodating of people and cargo" but also pans the "maximum tow rating of only 5,000 pounds" and says the "8-inch touchscreen audio and navigation system isn't always easy to use."

Reality: This could be the holy grail of midsized pickups.

What's new: After a three-year hiatus, Honda's answer to pickups returns to the market.

Midsized? My experience with midsized trucks has generally been "All the bad fuel economy of a large truck with none of the versatility."

As examples, a 2015 Chevy Colorado I tested garnered 18 mpg. A 2016 Toyota Tacoma, 18 mpg. Neither of these showed great gains over full-size pickups (17 for the F-150). And I've owned a two-wheel-drive Dodge Dakota (18) and a full-size Chevy Silverado (17) as well, and the one-mpg difference didn't bother me as much as all the stuff I couldn't fit into the Dakota.

Stuff: Because this is what having a truck is all about - how much can you carry? While the Ridgeline bed is short - just 5 feet 4 inches long vs. 6 feet 2 on the Colorado - Honda has made up in other ways.

The bed sits flat, so there are no wheel wells interfering with wider wood carrying. And tucked in between those wheel wells and beneath the bed is a handy lockable trunk area. At 7.3 cubic feet, it's about half the average car's, but this is attached to a vehicle much more versatile than the average car. And while the tailgate moves up and down, it also offers a swing feature, so that accessing the trunk doesn't mean leaning over the tailgate and breaking some vertebrae.

We were able to make a couple of trips to the township compost pile while we had the Ridgeline and found it to be easy to load and fairly roomy. A 1,500-pound payload capacity is available.

A handy console matches the big boys' offerings as well, with room for the backpack that allows me to schlep all the writing, editing, and professoring needs of my life.

Pulling: Most truck owners also wish to use their unit for hooking up trailers. The Ridgeline can tow up to 5,000 pounds, depending on how it's configured.

Friends: Sturgis Kid 4.0 has grown and grown, and his main question these days is "How's that backseat?"

While most pickups of even the full-size variety require some forgiveness, the Ridgeline offers a comfortable backseat for any size - even 6-foot-1 with size 13 flipper/feet - without compromise.

Like most trucks, the backseat easily folds up, allowing storage on the floor.

The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat agreed the front seats were equally comfortable; they were supportive with just the right touch of softness. The seating position is commanding even though the Ridgeline sits low compared with most four-wheel-drive trucks.

Play some tunes: The Ridgeline came with the typical upgraded Honda radio, which I've seen in the Pilot and Accord.

The interface is a pretty, glossy touchscreen. Sound is awesome but functionality grates on my nerves. This time around, the touchscreen could be balky, and finding a specific song or even getting back to a screen from the map was a multistep process.

The sound, however, was excellent, an A.

Up to speed: Acceleration is brisk from the 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine.

Shifty: The six-speed transmission operated smoothly during testing. With only Drive and Low, and a button for shifting, though, there's no real shiftability for drivers.

On the road: Handling is pleasant. The Ridgeline truly carries itself confidently through curves and on turns, with a minimum of roll.

Night shift: The interior lighting is subtle and pretty, worthy of an Acura.

Fuel economy: I averaged 21.5 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver's Seat array of highways, country, and suburban roads, pretty stellar for an all-wheel-drive pickup.

Where it's built: Lincoln, Ala.

How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts its reliability will be good. Previous models ranged from better than average to much better than average.

In the end: For its comfort, ride, and fuel economy, I would definitely put the Ridgeline on a very short list of versatile truck options. Most buyers don't really need everything the big boys offer anyway, but I doubt it'll be easy to convince them of it.

ssturgis@phillynews.com215-854-2558