EXPERT REVIEW

Cincinnati.com's view

I’d like to revisit a favorite of mine, the Honda Element. Honda has sold some 15,000 of them this year, and they’re still hard to get.

I was quite taken with the manual-transmissioned, two-wheel-drive version I tried late last year. I promised to come back when I had sampled the automatic-plus-all-wheel-drive variant.

The concern I had was that the extra drag and weight of the AWD system might take too great a toll, especially when paired with an auto transmission, itself a weight and power-loss item.

Now I can tell you: I would not hesitate to get one on those grounds.

The valiant four-cylinder engine is essentially the same as the one used in the CR-V – to which the Element, under its skin, bears more than a passing resemblance. It makes 160 hp and 161 foot-pounds, enough to propel the 3,577-pound machine not briskly, to be sure, but adequately.

I think you’d have more fun with the manual transmission, but you wouldn’t feel too badly outgunned when trying to merge onto a freeway with Honda’s fine 4-speed automatic.

This one may not be too sporty, but it exudes utility. The floor and seats are beautiful mainly in their resistance to the insults of dogs and kids. Still, the overall feeling of the austere interior is of a well-integrated melange of plastics.

The test vehicle was an EX, which comes pretty well loaded, even unto air conditioning and a 270-watt, 7-speaker AM-FM-CD stereo with subwoofer. The stereo showed well above average tuner sensitivity, but seemed a bit thin when auditioning my favorite classical station, which is revered for the purity of its signal.

No sacrifice being too great in the furtherance of my duty, I moved over to a leading rock station. There, with the typically overboosted signal, featuring a 10-dB gain in the bass register, I could feel the subwoofer working even at modest volumes. Those who care not for their eardrums could crank it up and be obnoxious from a considerable distance, I fear.

This vehicle had what Honda calls a skylight. It’s a glass panel like a moonroof, but it only tilts (or can be removed entirely), and it is placed over the rear compartment. Bogus. I want my moonroof, not a hatch for some idiot to stick his upper body out of.

The tester had no options. It was $21,310 with freight. Elements are pouring out as fast as the East Liberty, Ohio factory can manage, but they’re still a hot ticket. According to Edmunds.com, you very likely might end up paying a bit OVER sticker if you must have one now. Considering the price, I wouldn’t feel bad.

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