Youthful shoppers issued a big thumbs-up when Honda exhibited its Model X concept vehicle at the 2001 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. 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 also appealed to quite a few older folks who appreciate its practical merits.
A new EX-P trim level is available for 2006. Based on the EX model, it adds body-colored side panels and door handles. Antilock brakes have been added to the LX model. Built in Ohio, the Element comes with front- or all-wheel drive.
For 2005, side-impact airbags became standard on EX models, which also gained standard XM Satellite Radio as well as MP3 and Windows Media Audio playback capability. Power mirrors and cruise control were added to LX models.
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 front-hinged. The Element is smaller than the Japanese automaker's Pilot SUV, but its styling is undeniably more adventurous. Part of the lower body consists of composite cladding panels, which form a curious contrast to the painted steel portions.
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
Under new Society of Automotive Engineers testing standards, the Element's 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 156 horsepower and 160 pounds-feet of torque. While those numbers are down slightly from 2005 figures, actual performance is the same. Either a four-speed-automatic transmission or a five-speed manual can be installed.
Antilock brakes are standard, and EX models have side-impact airbags.
With its pillarless design and washable floor, this SUV offers substantial versatility and practicality, plus a distinctive appearance. More than 4 inches taller than the Honda CR-V, the Element looks 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.