Honda created some buzz at the 2018 SEMA show. The automaker pulled the wraps back on a unique side-by-side concept. It was one part Ridgeline, one part Pioneer 1000. But it was all parts intriguing and bad ass. Called the Rugged Open Air Vehicle concept, the Honda ROAV piqued our interests and we wanted to learn more.

Well, we finally got the chance to do just that.

Honda invited us to its proving grounds in in the middle of Bury You In The Desert Forever, California. There we got some seat time in the Honda Talon (which we’ve driven and love), the Passport (which we hadn’t driven, and are now extremely impressed with), and the ROAV.

We were supposed to take it easy on the concept vehicle. It has a few rapid prototyped parts, it’s one of a kind, and a few other folks have to show up and drive it this week. The first time we put a wheel in the dirt, the program manager John Barlow told us to ignore the PR and Marketing team and to put the throttle to the floor. And that we did.

The ROAV responds like a heavy side-by-side, which is to say it’s fine but it’s clearly a project. Still, it’s 3.5-liter engine is throaty and responsive and it easily dispatches the fine silty dirt of the California desert. It’s no match for the nimble Talon, but it’s no intended to be. This is an exercise in what’s possible using existing Honda parts, team know-how, and some quickly whipped up extra bits. The finished conceptual product is a joy-inducing desert toy with which we’d love to spend all day playing.

If Honda can find a middle ground between its two-door Talon and a four-door ROAV scaled down a bit, we’d be on board. Keep the travel and insanity of the Talon but add in room for four? Yes please!

Regardless, kudos to Honda (and specifically Barlow) for letting us mash the throttle on a real-deal concept.