Youthful shoppers presented a big thumbs-up when Honda exhibited its Model X concept vehicle at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show in January 2001. Because of that reaction, the innovative light truck wound up on what Honda called the “fast track to production.” The result is the company’s youth-oriented Element, which was launched as a 2003 model.
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 . . . there is no one vehicle that meets their needs.”
Front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions are offered. Built in East Liberty, Ohio, the Element reached dealerships in December 2002 and targets buyers in Generation Y — those born between 1977 and 1994. Only minor enhancements are likely for the 2004 model year.
Center-opening swing-wide doors with no B-pillar between them are the most notable styling feature of the Element’s 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 Honda’s Global Compact Platform, the Element is smaller than the Japanese automaker’s Pilot SUV, and its styling is undeniably more adventurous.
Functionality is considered to be one of the Element’s 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 270-watt seven-speaker audio system goes into the EX model, and inputs for an MP3 player are available.
Under the Hood
Borrowed from Honda’s 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. Front-wheel drive and Real Time four-wheel drive are available.
Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are standard on the EX model.
With its pillarless design and washable floor, this SUV offers substantial versatility and practicality, as well as a distinctive appearance. Approximately 8 inches taller than the CR-V, the Element is seriously upright and tall.
Don’t let the Element’s youth-focused credentials sway your decision. Regardless of the driver’s age, this can be an enjoyable compact SUV to drive. Its handling is positive and quite precise. The firm suspension yields a smooth ride on good pavement, but the Element gets bouncy on rougher surfaces.
Its performance ranks as strong but not stunning, in order to keep up with the desires of likely buyers. The manual gearbox’s shift lever 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 SUV arena.