Since its debut in 2003, the Honda Element has frequently been described with two succinct comments: “It’s ugly” and “It’s a box with four wheels.” There’s no disputing the Element has among the most conspicuous appearances on the road. But good looks (or lack of good looks) are subjective.
More important, Honda doesn’t make a car without a plan. The Element was introduced as an urban utilitarian vehicle with hopes it would appeal to younger drivers seeking pickup truck cargo space in an enclosed area.
The vehicle has attracted a young crowd to some degree, but the average buyer’s age is surprising. After its first year on the road, the average purchaser’s age was 43, according to J.D. Power & Associates.
In the first extended trek in my weekly test drive four years ago, I drove the four-wheel drive EX model. It had a 4-cylinder, 16-value, 2.4-liter, 166-horsepower engine with a 4-speed automatic transmission.
The Element was resigned in 2007 and the 2008 version remains largely unchanged. My test drive is the SC, one of four available models. It’s available only with a six-speed manual transmission and only with front-wheel drive. Other Elements also offer all-wheel drive.
The SC version also features an upgraded center console, carpeting, floormats, sport suspension and 18-inch tires. The interior design is straightforward with few gadgets, easy-to-use ventilation, air-conditioning, heat and radio controls, and a nicely angled transmission box and shifter. The back seats ar comfortable, with sufficient leg and head room and cupholders are seemingly everywhere. Seats adjust easily and the more one looks, there more interior room becomes available.
The two front doors open wide and have easy entry and exit. The side doors open with an interior side door latch, often called suicide doors, and only in combination with the front door handle. The side doors also open to 90-degree angles and that affords a massive amount of interior space for loading or unloading the aforementioned needs of the utilitarian-type owners.
The vehicle’s riding comfort and steering are satisfactory and its easy maneuverability in tight positions is impressive considering its height and shape.
None of the automatic Elements have earned particularly good acceleration marks. The EX model, as others have noted, needed a full throttle to maintain its speed on a few medium-grade inclines. But the manual transmission SC adds a sporting peppiness.
Honda isn’t the first manufacturer to stray from tradition color schemes, but it does offer some unique choice. My test drive this week had an official exterior color of “root beer metallic.” And thus, it’s nickname as a “root beer float.”
Safety Features — Driver and front passenger front and side airbags, side impact door beams, ABS brakes.
Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 21 mpg (city), 24 mpg (highway).
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 3 years/36,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles.
Base Price — $23,575.