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2005 Honda Element

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San Francisco:  Several years ago, Honda management asked itself, what do young people want? We know nothing of their actual thoughts, but the result was the Element, a four-wheel-drive on-road adventurer that combines hauling practicality with a comfortable ride and distinctive styling. It is minimalist yet lacks little.

Honda was lucky enough to have the popular CR-V small SUV in the family, so the engineers had a nice, car-based platform to work with. While the CR-V keeps small families and conventional folks happy, the Element goes back to basics.

The Element looks like a big box. The designers deliberately installed gray plastic lower body panels for a utilitarian look, and even carved a chunk out of the front side windows just because they could. The upright windshield resembles that on an ice cream truck and the face is far from pretty. But it all works well in its own way.

While Honda borrowed the CR-V chassis, the technical folks had to modify it to accommodate one of the Elementís special features, rear-hinged back doors. After you open the front door, you can use a handle in the leading edge of the rear door to pop it open. The doors work like a double gate, or a two-door refrigerator. You can swing them both open then load your gear onto a wide, flat floor. That floor, by the way, is covered in a rugged urethane, not carpeting, so thereís no problem if you make a mess, just wipe it up.

The Elementís seats are covered in FXC Fabric for Extreme Conditions, which definitely complements the interiors practical, rugged appearance. The rear seats fold up out of the way or you can remove them for camping or hauling.

The view from the drivers seat is stylish, in a truck kind of way. The dash panel and doors are beefy looking and contain lots of handy storage niches. Large, silvery gauge circles sit before you, filled with only the information you require. The upright center console holds the climate and audio controls.

You can buy one of these handy boxes in three levels, DX, LX, and EX, in ascending order. All come well equipped, but the LX gains standard air conditioning and stereo. In the EX models, a 270-watt AM/FM/CD with seven speakers, including a subwoofer comes standard, along with the wonders of XM satellite radio. You even get MP3 capability and a digital Media auxiliary jack. Thereís nothing like knowing your target buyer.

In all three trim levels, you can choose a manual or automatic transmission, and two or all-wheel-drive. All-wheel-drive models get a spacious glass sunroof over the rear seat, which is positioned far back in the vehicle, with super limo style legroom.

The Element comes with one engine only, the 2.4-liter 160 horsepower transverse four-cylinder shared with the CR-V. It has decent pep in most driving conditions, although with a weight of 3,300 to 3,500 pounds, this is no sprite on the road. Mileage is 21 City, 24 Highway, which is not bad considering itís not an econobox. The Element actually feels big and heavy, which only enhances the sense of ruggedness and safety out on the road.

Speaking of safety, you get dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags, as well as side airbags, up front. The passenger side airbag system can detect who is sitting there, and wonít go off if itís a kid or empty. An antitheft system keeps folks from taking your ride, and four-wheel disc brakes with antilock and electronic brake distribution keep you safe during emergency braking situations.

Iím old enough to be the parent of the demographic buyer of this car, yet I enjoyed my time with it. I liked the auto-up power driverís window, the tall ceiling, and the oddball feeling of play that driving the Element conveys. I would have liked the manual transmission. In practice, the wide-opening doors were a drag in tight parking spaces. There was substantial road noise on the freeway, and the hatch in back lifted so slowly that I bumped my head on it twice!

My Rallye Red test car, in EX trim, with all-wheel-drive and automatic transmission, came to $23,309. You can pick up the basic DX in two-wheel-drive with a manual gearbox for about $18,000.  By Steve Schaefer  © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo © AutoWire.Net
Column Name: 
 The Element goes back to basics
 The 2005 Honda Element
Word Count:  
Photo Caption: 
 The 2005 Honda Element
Photo Credits:  
Honda Internet Media
Series #:   2005 - 51

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