By Beth Palmer on August 22, 2008
The latest model to land in Beth’s and Amanda’s clutches is Honda’s funky yet flexible Element. Long praised for its versatility, does the aging sort-of-SUV hold up to the tests these two put it through?
Amanda: I really put the Element through its paces; I drove all over Chicagoland, hauled furniture and flipped the seats up and down more times than I can count. Given this car’s polarizing looks, I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a few issues with it.
Beth: It’s definitely a niche car. Take the plastic floor: If you’re a person who’s rough on your SUV, it’s probably a dream come true. Personally, I felt like I was driving around in a Rubbermaid storage bin. I’m not a fan of its boxy shape, either, but it did translate to a lot of space inside. That meant both that I had tons of room above my head and that I had to reach up and forward quite a bit to adjust the rearview mirror.
Amanda: I love the idea of the plastic floor, and it’s probably perfect if you’re tossing backpacks and hiking gear in the back (ahem, Weekend Athlete), but items with a flat base were a bit of a problem. While it was incredibly easy to load my desk and wooden trunk into the cargo area, once I started driving the two items pinballed all over the car as they slid on the plastic floor. Like you, I definitely noticed the roominess — even the rear seats seemed really spacious and comfortable. However, at a time when even some compact SUVs have three rows, it seems a little odd that this car can only seat four people.
Beth: Not to mention that the cargo area with the seats up seemed awfully small. That said, though, I was pleasantly surprised by the driving experience. The engine has a fair amount of pickup, and the ride was far more comfortable than I expected based on this car’s image and audience. The auxiliary input jack is conveniently located above the glove compartment, with a little ledge in front that’s perfect to rest an iPod on.
Amanda: I don’t have any complaints about driving the Element around the city, but it could’ve used a tad more oomph to better maneuver the expressway entrance ramp. As you pointed out with the auxiliary input jack, Honda seems to have put extra thought into storage compartments in this car. There was no shortage of conveniently located bins, pockets and nooks for stowing stuff; they recognize that not everyone wants to toss their maps, sunglasses and iPod into a bottomless pit of a center storage console.
Beth: All that handy storage is a good illustration of what I think is really the point of this car: practicality. Function trumps form in every aspect; the Element is all about knowing its job and getting it done — no muss, no fuss. If that’s your thing, you’ll probably fit well in the Element’s niche.