The Honda Element was originally described as a “dorm room on wheels” aimed at young, active buyers who favor outdoor sports. The interior had rubber floor mats, rear seats that folded up against the side and material that is easy to clean. Large sections of gray plastic cladding on the front and rear fenders gave it a practical and utilitarian look.

For 2007, Honda has added a variation to the Element called the SC, for “Street Custom.” The rugged outdoor look has given way to a sleeker style. The SC sits lower to the ground, has a sports-tuned suspension, rides on 18-inch wheels and gets an updated interior with carpeted floors, piano-black trim on the instrument panel and seatbelts that are integrated into the front seats. Projector-beam headlights, a more streamlined grille and a center console are added as well.

The SC is available only in front-wheel drive, whereas other Elements offer all-wheel drive. Prices start at $22,695 for the manual and $23,495 for the automatic.

The test vehicle was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, and it’s the first Element I’ve driven with a manual gearbox. The difference in character was surprising. The five-speed SC felt spunkier, and the shift lever, which protrudes from the lower section of the dash, was easy to use because it was close to the driver’s right hand.

The SC’s piano-black trim, bronze instrument lighting and black cloth seats create an interior that is much more elegant than the interior of the regular Element. While the look is appealing, its fanciness seems a tad out of harmony with the boxy, utilitarian shape.

The engine is a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder whose horsepower has been bumped to 166. The beauty of this engine is its low- and mid-range torque, thanks in large measure to the variable valve timing, dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. The manual transmission encourages the driver to probe the engine’s higher rpm ranges, and that adds to its liveliness.

Making the Element more like a street custom did not impair functionality. Access to the back seat is enhanced by the half-size rear doors that open only after the front doors are open. These little doors improve access to either the back seat or the cargo area.

In the CR-V, upon which the Element is based, the folded back seats consumed space in the front of the cargo space, but in the Element these seats pivot to the side. Bikes and other long objects fit inside much easier.

Storage areas include five beverage holders, a three-bin tray above the glove box, an overhead storage bin and six hooks for strapping down bikes or other bulky gear. The rear seats can also be removed for maximum space.

The SC has a 270-watt audio system with an AM/FM tuner, CD player with MP3/WMA capability, an iPod jack, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and seven speakers. A subwoofer is located in the bottom of the instrument panel. XM satellite radio is standard.

The SC will never be a sports sedan, but its personality is tailored to buyers who want a small utility vehicle without sacrificing the ride and handling of a spirited compact sedan.

Price The test vehicle’s base price was $22,695. Destination charges brought the sticker to $23,290.

Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

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