Ever since the Honda Element made its debut in 2002, certain things are expected from this sport-utility vehicle: a boxy shape, plastic floor, Spartan interior, so-so performance and prototypical party vehicle.
For 2007, Honda has introduced the Element's SC version.
Think of it as the Element with something extra.
Those extras include a sport-tuned suspension, a lowered ride height, 18-inch wheels/tires, projector beam headlights, a carpeted floor beneath the front/rear seats, a center console with storage space and interior fabrics exclusive to the SC model.
The additions and "Street Custom" styling -- hence the SC label -- make the newest Element seem downright sophisticated. And even though it is the most expensive of 10 trim levels, the SC starts at a still-reasonable $23,495.
More SC improvements are evident at first glance. While no Corvette, the Element SC has a little more flash than the typical box-like Element. That's particularly true on the front end, where a more-rounded, three-tier grille grins between large headlights. Painted, body-color-matching bumpers give the SC a clean look.
The tester wore an SC-exclusive paint job that now ranks as one of my favorites. It's called Root Beer Metallic. Think of those root-beer-flavored barrel candies you had as a kid, and you'll have a pretty fair approximation of the tested vehicle's color.
On the move, the SC buried previous stereotypes of a pokey Element. The 2.4-liter, 166-horsepower in-line 4 power plant with variable valve timing performed admirably, although it did make a lot of noise when maximum power was requested.
The SC is no road burner, and the body swayed just a touch on hard slalom moves. But, for the most part, the SC's drive-by-wire electronic throttle system handled most of what I threw at it. The sport-tuned suspension is nicely firm, but you feel most road imperfections in the seat of your pants.
Inside, the SC came off as downright elegant. Copper-colored trim was sprinkled throughout the cabin. Seating surfaces had the feel of a high-end sedan.
The center stack of controls was easy to see and use. My aging eyes appreciated the large gauges behind the steering wheel.
Please note that the floor of the SC's rear cargo area is made of black urethane that can be easily cleaned. That means you can roll the Element onto the beach, throw your sand-crusted shoes into the vehicle's cargo bay at the end of the day and not worry about sand sinking into a carpeted floor.
And, by the way, the four-seat Element SC retains many of those beach party traits that helped make the Element an instant hit with young buyers when it debuted five years ago.
That includes saloon-style side doors that swing open to take on passengers and bulky cargo.
The rear seats are particularly helpful in configuring the Element SC for almost any driving outing. They flip up, fold flat or fold against the interior sides of the vehicle. And if you don't want them there at all, they can be removed.
Without rear seats, the Element can tote a healthy 74.6 cubic feet of cargo.
The Element SC safety package includes seat-mounted side air bags in front, side curtain air bags front and back (sensors deploy these air bags if a vehicle rollover is imminent) and an "antenna system" in the front passenger seat that switches off the side air bag if a child is in the path of bag's deployment.
My prediction: Despite the Element's well-deserved reputation as a fun crossover vehicle for young motorists, a fair number of 30-somethings and baby boomers will take a good, hard look at the SC model.
It has enough extras to please that crowd, and obviously, there's no law against having fun well into middle age.
Make/model: Honda Element SC
Vehicle type: Four-passenger, four-door, front-drive sport-utility vehicle
Base price: $23,495
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line 4 with 166 horsepower at 5,500 revolutions per minute and 161 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm
EPA fuel economy: 22 miles per gallon city; 27 mpg highway (regular unleaded)
Transmission: Five-speed automatic with overdrive
Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion
Brakes: Four-wheel discs (ventilated on front) with anti-lock
Suspension: Independent, MacPherson strut-type on front; independent, double wishbone on rear (stabilizer bars front and rear)
Fuel tank: 15.9 gallons
Passenger volume: 103.6 cubic feet
Maximum cargo volume: 74.6 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,596 pounds
Height: 69.5 inches
Length: 170.8 inches
Wheelbase: 101.4 inches
Width: 71.5 inches
Track: 62.1 inches on front; 62.5 inches on rear
Ground clearance: 6.2 inches
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Tires: P225/55R18 all-season radials
Assembly point: East Liberty, Ohio