Youthful shoppers gave a big thumbs-up when Honda exhibited its Model X concept vehicle at Detroits North American International Auto Show in January 2001. As a result, the innovative light truck wound up on what Honda calls the fast track to production. A preproduction version was introduced at the New York International Auto Show in March 2002; it is now named the Element.
Honda says the Element combines the best traits of a pickup truck and a sport utility vehicle, and it retains the most striking feature of the Model X concept: a pillarless side-door configuration that yields maximum cargo-loading flexibility. Aimed directly at active young buyers, the square-rigged Element is intended to be what the automaker calls a combination dorm room/base camp with enough space for four passengers and all their gear.
The Element is designed for those who surf, snowboard, mountain bike and do just about anything else, said Tom Elliott, executive vice president of American Honda. Right now, [these buyers are] trying to adapt to cars, trucks and SUVs, but there is no one vehicle that meets their needs.
Front-wheel-drive (FWD) and four-wheel-drive (4WD) versions will be offered. Built in East Liberty, Ohio, the Element is scheduled to reach dealerships in December 2002. About 50,000 units are expected to go on sale in the first year and will be priced between $16,000 and $21,000. The likely buyers are part of whats called Generation Y some 71 million young people born between 1977 and 1994.
Center-opening swing-wide doors with no B-pillar between them are the most notable styling feature of the Elements straightforward exterior design. To create a wide entrance space, the rear doors are hinged at the back and the front doors are hinged in the normal way. Built on Hondas Global Compact Platform, the Element is smaller in size than Hondas new Pilot SUV, and its styling is undeniably more adventurous.
Functionality is considered to be one of the Elements main attractions. The rear seats fold down to create a large, open cargo space in the rugged, easy-to-clean interior. Space is sufficient for hauling surfboards, snowboards, mountain bikes just the sort of outdoors equipment that young buyers with athletic lifestyles are presumed to like. A powerful AM/FM radio with a six-CD player can also be fitted with an MP3 player or video-game outlets.
Under the Hood
Borrowed from Hondas CR-V, the 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine produces 160 horsepower. Either a four-speed-automatic or a five-speed-manual transmission can be installed, and FWD or Real Time 4WD is available.
Details on safety features are not yet available, but Honda expects the Element to achieve five-star crash-test ratings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
To capture attention in the crowded SUV market, Honda needed to make the Element something special. The companys answer was creating the SUV with versatility, practicality and a distinctive appearance with its pillarless design and washable floor. Approximately 8 inches taller than the CR-V, the Element is seriously upright and tall.
Based on a brief drive in an early FWD model with a manual shift, the Elements handling is positive and quite precise. The firm suspension yields a smooth ride on good pavement, but the Element gets bouncy on rougher surfaces. Performance ranks as strong but not stunning in order to keep up with the desires of likely buyers. The five-speed gearbox is mounted on the console and is easy to operate. Extra-comfortable seats round out the pluses on one of the more intriguing entrants into the 2003 SUV arena.