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.
For 2007, all Elements get standard side curtain airbags and an electronic stability system. There's also a new Element SC that loses the gray lower-body cladding and sits lower than other Elements. Element EX-P models also swap the gray trim for body-colored side panels and door handles. Built in Ohio, the Element comes with front- or all-wheel drive.
Side-impact airbags are standard on EX models, which also have standard XM Satellite Radio as well as MP3 and Windows Media Audio playback capability. LX models get power mirrors and cruise control.
Center-opening swing-wide doors with no B-pillar between them are the most notable 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 on most trims consists of composite cladding panels, which form a curious contrast to the painted steel portions.
The new Element SC features a different, blacked-out grille and painted bumpers and trim in place of the gray cladding on most other Element models. It also sits lower on a revised suspension and features projector-beam headlights.
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.
One of the Element's defining features is missing from the SC: The floor is carpeted, where the regular model has a wipe-clean plastic surface. The dashboard is darker and less fanciful, with piano-black trim around the center control panel and vents and on the steering wheel.
Under the Hood
The Element's 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 156 horsepower and 160 pounds-feet of torque. Either a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual can be installed.
Antilock brakes are standard, and all models have side curtain airbags and Honda's Vehicle Stability Assist program to keep drivers on their intended path.
Eclipsed by the new SC version is the fact that the regular Element boasts drivetrain improvements, too. A 10-hp increase isn't dramatic, but the optional automatic transmission is now a five-speed rather than a four-speed. This makes the Element quicker, both off the line and in passing, and it improves highway gas mileage by an estimated 1 mpg with front-wheel drive and 2 mpg in the all-wheel-drive version.