Youd think that Honda would be satisfied with the youth market it
already has with its popular Civic. Actually, Honda pleases people of all ages. But the
Element is a direct attempt to connect with "Generation Y".
This is the group that includes people just entering the
double-digit years and runs all the way to young adults in their late twenties. Gen
"Y" folks are not buying a lot of cars just yet, but before long the group will
be the biggest player in the marketplace since the baby boomers. Honda wants to get well
acquainted with them now.
The Element is based on the popular CR-V compact sport utility
vehicle, but once you get above the platform itself, it goes its own way. Five years ago,
Honda designers and engineers began researching everything they could about active young
people. They sought out busy 22-year-old males and found them surfing, biking, camping,
and generally making do with trucks and cars that didnt completely suit their needs.
These guys wanted an SUV type of car, with a flat floor, flexible
seating options, plentiful power, decent gas mileage, and a rugged body. And, they
didnt want to pay too much for it. After hanging out with young people and taking
lots of notes, Honda introduced the Model X concept car in 2001. Because of the incredible
enthusiastic response, they built the car as the new for 2003 Honda Element.
Sport and utility are both major features of the Element. For
simplicity, the Element comes in two modelsthe DX and EX, with two-wheel drive or
four-wheel drive and a manual or an automatic transmission. The biggest appeal is the
sheer spaciousness and practicality it offers. The rear seat is set way back in the
vehicle, giving those passengers almost limo type legroom.
Then those seats can be folded down, or up against the wall out of
the way, or you can remove them altogether. That makes more room for a batch of mountain
bikes, two 27-inch TV sets, dorm furniture, or a coupe of surfboards. Plus the cargo floor
is coated with urethane in a grippy dot pattern, always ready to take abuse and simply get
hosed out when the fun is over.
Despite all that practicality in back, the front accommodations are
almost luxurious. The three-circle instrument panel is mounted in an upright dashboard
with plenty of built in storage. The silvery circles are echoed in the corner vents, and
contrast with the matte texture around them.
The handsome steering wheel, with its prominent Honda logo, looks
anything but bargain basement, plus the seat fabric is waterproof. The shifter sits in a
little ledge off the front console, which makes for a complete open floor space. So when
the car is parked, you can walk from front to back easily.
Outside, the nearly six-foot-tall Element gets a pair of cargo doors
on each side, which swing open to provide a clean, clear shot from one side of the car to
the other, double wide, with no pillars. You can load and unload through the clamshell
tailgate, too. The nose and fender areas are made of scratch resistant composite material
for a tough look backed up by actual ruggedness.
The Element is powerful without being a powerhouse. It gets a
2.4-liter 160-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine, with all the charms of Hondas
VTEC variable valve timing. This technology gives the engine a broad torque curve, making
it perform like a larger engine.
I certainly had no problem getting my Satin Silver Metallic test
unit up to highway speed. Fuel mileage is 22 City, 26 Highway with the standard five-speed
manual, and 21 City, 24 highway with the optional automatic.
The Element is an extremely safe vehicle, with top ratings in
numerous government tests. The frame is especially strong in order to support the
pillarless double doorway, and that amounts to an extra safety advantage for the driver
and the passengers.
You can get the Element as a basic DX model with manual transmission
and two-wheel drive, or opt for the upper level EX model with an automatic and
four-wheel-drive. There are numerous options and extras available.
Every Element gets power front windows and power locks, front and
rear 12-volt accessory outlets, a rear window defroster, and an engine tachometer. With
the four-wheel-drive system you get a removable rear skylight, handy for stargazing or
transporting long objects.
The EX model adds cruise control, air conditioning, power mirrors,
alloy wheels, a 270-watt audio system with seven speakers, metallic trim, and more. Prices
start at just $16,560 for the base DX, and run to $20,510 for the well-equipped EX. Add
the options you want to make it just right for you.