Review: 2007 Honda Element
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
I don't know about you. But in the throes of winter, I dread having a pretty car. The dirty slush, residue of road-clearing chemicals and clingy ice crystals make a mess of vehicles and stubbornly hold fast to sheet metal and windows.
No wonder, then, that my interest piques around that time of year in less attractive vehicles—you know, the ones that won't win a beauty contest but are practical and maybe a bit offbeat in their looks.
Most people won't argue that the boxy Honda Element, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price around $19,000 for a 2007 model, falls in this category.
In fact, most Element sport-utility vehicles don't even come with carpeting inside, so passengers don't have to fret about dirty winter boots making a permanent mess on the floor.
There's generous room inside for even tall passengers, and back seats can double as beds or fold up along the side walls, leaving an SUV-like 70.1 cubic feet of open cargo space. (Yes, the cargo floor is covered by easy-to-clean, black urethane, not stain-prone carpeting.)
Best of all, the 2007 Element earned the federal government's top safety rating—five out of five stars—in frontal and side crash testing.
And powered by a 4-cylinder engine, the Element has a top fuel economy rating—22 miles a gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway for a two-wheel-drive model with new-for-2007 5-speed automatic transmission—that puts it among the top 15 gasoline-powered SUV nameplates.
Lowest-priced SUV at Honda
But when the versatile Element reached showrooms as Honda's least-expensive SUV, drivers young and old and of both genders became purchasers and pushed the Element's median age up into the 40s.
Annual sales have been steady in the 50,000 to 60,000 range, and 2007 brought the most updates ever to the Element.
Most changes ever
The 2007 Element has more standard safety equipment than its predecessor, including side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control.
At the front, the 2007 Element has new headlights and grille, and inside, gauges are jazzier-looking.
Honda also added a new, top Element SC model that offers—horrors!—carpeting in the seating areas (not the back cargo space). The SC also comes standard with a sportier suspension, 18-inch wheels, exclusive seat fabrics, halogen headlights and a bolder grille.
The Element SC also looks better—more cohesive—than other Elements. While it retains the blunt, blockish looks of every Element, the SC is the only one whose bumpers aren't black. They're painted the same color as the vehicle body.
Driving around a room
The ceiling on the 5.1-foot-tall Element is so much above passengers that my 6-foot-tall husband could ride inside the test vehicle with his "Indiana Jones" hat on.
And when I put a computer bag and two suitcases in the back of the Element, they slid all over in the space back there, where there's 25.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats.
So I reminded myself to be sure to use the tie-down hooks.
Good around town
With the 5-speed automatic transmission, this model accelerated well in city traffic and provided comfortable get up and go.
While the Element is no rocket ship, horsepower has been improved with the addition of high-lift camshafts and high-flow intake and exhaust systems.
Torque is 161 lb-ft, virtually the same as last year. But peak torque comes on earlier—at 4000 rpm, instead of 4500. Still, at highway speeds and on mountainous roads, the Element can take a bit of time to regain its momentum if a driver lets up on the accelerator and then tries to resume speed.
You know what often happened to me when I did this? Other cars darted into the opening in front of the Element. It seems other drivers don't like to be behind such a blockish vehicle.
Odds and ends
But more noticeable was wind noise at highway speeds that had me double-checking that windows were closed tight. They were.
There also was road noise from the 18-inch tires.
With beefier stabilizer bars and firmer spring and damper tuning, the SC suspension has a more sporty feel than that of other Elements. So I felt and heard abrupt impacts of potholes, and the ride came across as louder than expected on concrete highway expansion cracks and uneven sections of pavement.
Thank goodness the front seats, with a feeling of heavy foam, were comfortable to rest on and tried, as much as possible, to contain road impacts.
Don't miss the Element's clamshell side doors with no stationary metal pillar between them. The front door is front-hinged, while the rear door is rear-hinged, providing a larger-than-normal opening on each side of the Element.
This door arrangement is easy to manipulate when the Element is parked away from other vehicles. But trying to work these doors—where the front door has to be opened first before the rear-hinged back door can be opened—can become problematic when the Element is snugly in a parking lot with cars close on each side. There's just no easy way to get to that wide double-door opening.
I also noticed that with no fixed metal pillar between the side doors, the Element's front doors had a less-than-solid sound every time I closed them.
Oh well, at least I didn't fret when the Element got dirty.