Honda Element Review

The Honda Element is attracting converts from diverse walks of life, due largely to its bare-bones practicailty, reasonable cost and of course the well deserved Honda reputation for excellent reliability and value.

Honda designed the Element to appeal to young, hip, primarily male buyers. But the distinctive looking SUV is attracting converts from diverse walks of life, due largely to its bare-bones practicailty, reasonable cost and of course the well deserved Honda reputation for excellent reliability and value. The Element got very high scores from the Institute for Car Safety ratings in crash tests. Hondas generally hold their value extremely well, so used Elements are not yet significantly cheaper than new ones, since they were only introduced in 2003.

The Element comes in two styles - the LX and the upgraded EX. Both trim packages come in either front-wheel drive or Honda's Real Time 4WD, and a 2.4-liter, 16-valve, 4-cylinder engine. MSRP is from $17,000 to $22,000. Each trim level comes standard with dual front and side airbags, cruise control, 4-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning, and power window and door locks. Additional options for the EX include anti-lock brakes, anti-theft system, rear moonroof, upgraded stereo with satellite radio and more trim and color options. Both styles come with a 36 month/36K bumper-to-bumper warranty, and an extended factory warranty is available. Fuel mileage is not stellar at 21/26, though it is a little more efficient in the 2WD 5-speed option.

It is suprisingly peppy, belying the bulky appearance. Testers find it very stable on rough and winding roads, with a somewhat stiff suspension making it more than adequate for off-road use. Those used to a plusher SUV or large car may find it a little noisy and rough-riding for extensive town and freeway driving. I test drove an Element at a dealer in 2003 and found it quite comfortable. There was some noticeable wind and road noise at freeway speeds, but the engine was quiet and the Element is quiet for city driving. Visibility on all sides was excellent due to the height and large windows, except for a large blind spot in the rear. However, large side mirrors make up for this. Some testers have commented that visibility is somewhat limited for short people. It was indeed quite quick and fun to drive, and did not feel very truck-like in handling.

The knobs and controls are basic and very user-friendly. The 4WD is activated by a switch, and the stereo has knobs instead of tiny buttons. The guages are attractive and easy to read. While the front windows and all doors are power, there is no way to fully open either the rear passenger windows or optional moonroof. These have to be manually popped open into "tilt" position.

The two side clamshell opening doors without a center pillar allow for loading extremely large and bulky items. The rear seats fold up, fold down or can be removed completely for even more space. The Element is not a vehicle for large families as it only seats four. The cargo area of the vehicle has a number of clever storage bins built into the sidewalls and doors. With the numerous possible seat configurations and storage space, the Honda website claims there are 64 different space options.

With the exception of the optional cloth seats, the whole interior of the Element can be washed down with soapy water. The floor is textured rubber matting - there is no carpet anywhere in the this vehicle.Even the dashboard and door panels are covered with a tough, rubber-type material instead of hard plastic. For outdoor sporting activities, this is a perfect SUV for transporting messy gear, large dogs - or messy people.

The eccentric boxy shape, funky colors like metallic green and orange with matte black and gray trim make this a "love it or hate it" vehicle when it comes to appearance. JD Powers gives it very high ratings to date for owner satisfaction, and with Honda's tradition of producing reliable, economical automobiles, the Element will no doubt continue to attract a loyal and longstanding following.

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