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By Jim Flammang
March 18, 2005
Vehicle Overview Youthful shoppers gave a big thumbs-up when Honda exhibited its Model X concept vehicle at the 2001 North American International Auto Show. Because of that reaction, the innovative light truck wound up on what Honda called the "fast track to production." As a result, the youth-oriented Element was launched as a 2003 model.
Honda said the Element combined the best traits of a pickup truck and a sport utility vehicle while retaining the most striking feature of the Model X concept: a pillarless side-door configuration that yields cargo-loading flexibility. Even though it was directly aimed at active young buyers, the Element has appealed to quite a few older folks who appreciate its practical merits.
For 2005, side-impact airbags are standard on EX models, which also gain standard XM Satellite Radio as well as MP3 and Windows Media Audio playback capability. Power mirrors and cruise control have been added to LX models. Built in Ohio, the Element comes with front- or all-wheel drive.
Exterior 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 while the front doors are front-hinged. The Element is smaller than the Japanese automaker's Pilot SUV, but its styling is undeniably more adventurous.
Interior Functionality is considered 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 and other outdoors equipment that young buyers with athletic lifestyles are presumed to use. A 270-watt seven-speaker audio system is installed in the EX model.
Under the Hood The Element's 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 160 horsepower. Either a four-speed-automatic or five-speed-manual transmission can be installed.
Safety Antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are standard on the EX model.
Driving Impressions With its pillarless design and washable floor, this SUV offers substantial versatility and practicality and a distinctive appearance. Approximately 8 inches taller than the Honda CR-V, the Element is very 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, though the Element gets bouncy on rougher surfaces.
Performance ranks as strong but not stunning. 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.