2008 Honda Element

AdChoices

2003 Honda Element

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2003 to 2008.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Unusual new crossover vehicle has surprisingly high appeal.
Pros:
  • Highly functional
  • Fun to drive
  • Unusual look
Cons:
  • Wind noise
  • High revs on highways
  • No standard model radio

The funky new youth-oriented Honda Element crossover vehicle has plenty of utility and is surprisingly fun to drive.

The Element's boxy shape is appealing to many younger drivers, judging by reactions to my test Element. It had almost a paramilitary look with its green paint and gray scratch-resistant plastic cladding on the fenders and numerous other body areas. Although primarily aimed at young males, the Element drew many second glances from a good number of young women.

The Element is aimed at young, active, high-spending Generation Y members who are approximately 16 to 29 years of age. It goes on sale in December, with prices ranging from about $16,500 to $21,500.

Honda hopes to sell 60,000 Elements annually in the United States. It says the Gen Y age group will constitute a big increase of young buyers and account for the largest proportion of first-time new vehicle purchases.

Will It Take Off?
Still, it's an open question as to if this vehicle will take off in this country. (Japanese youth adore such vehicles.) Honda can only hope it will strike a sweet spot with American Gen Yers because no automaker knows for sure what that age group really wants.

One person who was slightly beyond the Gen Y age range said he liked my test Element "because it doesn't look like anything else on the road." Neither does the Chrysler PT Cruiser, and it's ended up with far more buyers over 35 years of age than DaimlerChrysler expected it would attract.

Proven Mechanical Components
No Element buyer is taking a mechanical "chance," though, because it's based on Honda's well-proven CR-V sport-utility vehicle. But the Element is more functional than the CR-V, combining features of a sport-ute and pickup truck while delivering a car's performance and fuel economy.

The Element has a fairly potent 160-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that provides lively acceleration, hitting 60 mph in 9.5 seconds with the standard 5-speed manual transmission.

Excessive Wind Noise
Moreover, the Element handles much like a sports coupe despite a high, boxy body that causes too much wind noise above 60 mph.

Sports car buffs might not mind, but the 2.3-liter engine calls for lots of shifting of the slick manual transmission to deliver the best performance. And the engine revs at a high 3500 rpm at 70 mph, which makes you want to reach for a sixth gear.

Yes, a 4-speed automatic transmission will be offered. But the Element still will be a high-rev vehicle because both manual and automatic transmission trims have "short" gearing to enhance acceleration.

As for fuel economy, Honda says to expect mile-per-gallon numbers in the "low-to-mid 20s." That's about right for a vehicle that weighs about 3,400 pounds and has a rather small, hard-working engine and that short gearing, which allows those high revs.

The Element is offered with front- or 4-wheel drive in base DX or more upscale EX trim levels. The DX has items such as an adjustable steering column and power front windows, door and tailgate locks—but no radio.

No Radio
Why no radio? Honda figures that most young DX buyers would just rip out a standard audio unit and replace it with a higher-line unit, and it's probably right. However, even an AM//FM radio would be nice because not all Element buyers will be Gen Yers.

The EX adds an AM/FM/CD sound system, air conditioning, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, alloy wheels and power mirrors.

It's simple to slide in and out of the Element, and the interior roof is so high you could wear a top hat from a classic 1930s movie. The windshield is huge, but even a 6-footer can't see the front of the vehicle from the driver's seat.

A large rear skylight on the 4-wheel-drive trim tilts or removes completely and stores inside the Element. Rear seats are set higher than the front ones for "theater" seating, and the rear-seat area has limousine-style space. However, rear seat bottoms are uncomfortably short for adults.

Fun to Drive
The Element is fun to drive because it has quick steering with nice power assist and sharp handling. It is surprising to find the Element streaking through curves at speeds one might think would threaten to put it on its roof. The brake pedal is a little too sensitive, but stopping distances are short. While generally good, the ride gets jittery on rough roads.

Rugged and Utilitarian
But the Element's primary appeal to many likely will be its rugged nature and utility. For instance, the wide-opening side "clamshell" cargo doors have no visible center post (it's hidden inside the rear doors) and open from the center for easy loading of cumbersome items such as mountain bikes and surfboards.

Rear seats flip up to the sides of the Element to create a big cargo area, although they block rear vision in that position. Those seats can be removed or made to lay flat to form a lumpy bed with the folding front seatbacks. Rear-seat removal is a bit of a hassle.

The Element has been described as a "rolling dormitory," partly because the seats have waterproof material and a urethane-coated utility floor resists dirt, water and scratches while allowing easy clean up. Cargo loading is enhanced by an utterly flat floor.

The split rear tailgate bottom opens down to reveal a low load floor, while the upper part smoothly swings up on hydraulic struts.

No-Nonsense Interior
The no-nonsense interior's dashboard has easily read gauges, although the tachometer is a little too small for a vehicle that calls for lots of shifting. Fairly large sound system controls are conveniently put above large climate system controls.

The easily reached shifter for the manual and automatic transmissions is in the center of the instrument panel as in a thoroughbred European rally car. Front cupholders sit low on the floor because there is no console, but those with long arms should find that no problem.

Front seats provide above-average support, and outside mirrors are nicely sized. But the rear windows swing out a little instead of sliding down because of a lot of structural reinforcements and various mechanisms in the rear doors.

Honda has elaborate crash test facilities at its research and development facility in Japan and expects high U.S. government crash test ratings for the Element. That's important, partly because a lot of parents might be buying an Element for kids who don't have much driving experience.

The Element is based on Honda's Model X concept vehicle displayed at last year's big car shows and will be assembled at the automaker's plant in Ohio.

The Element is far from being a style leader, at least in the conventional sense, but has a lot to offer.

advertisement

Search local listings

powered by:

Recently Viewed Cars

View favorites
BB05 - 9/17/2014 12:53:49 PM