A lot of SUVs pass through the Fogelson garage, but there's one that's been Mrs. Fogelson's favorite ever since it hit the streets as a 2003 model -- the Honda Element. My wife was thrilled that I arranged to test the 2007 Honda Element SC. The 2007 Honda Element SC arrived with a base price of $23,495 ($24,090 as tested), a 3 year/36,000 mile basic warranty, a 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and an EPA estimate of 22 mpg city/27 mpg highway. Let's see how the 2007 Honda Element SC stood up to the scrutiny of the Fogelson household's most fearsome critic -- Mrs. Robin Fogelson.
Honda has tamed the Element a bit over the years. It used to wear dark grey body panels, trim and bumpers that contrasted with its metal painted bits in both color and texture. A while into its run, Honda expanded the color choices for the composite parts, softening the look a bit in the process. Now there are three trim levels of Element: LX (base price $18,900 - $21,000), EX (base price $20,910 - $23,110) and SC (base price $22,695 - $23,495). LX still wears the black plastic fenders, trim and bumpers; EX now wears body-colored fenders with black bumpers and trim; and SC comes with body-colored fenders, bumpers and trim. Our SC test vehicle sported a coat of Alabaster Silver Metallic paint. The monochromatic treatment makes Element look a little more ordinary, a little less oddball than the parti-coloring. Robin didn't miss the black plastic, though as a somewhat less-than expert parallel parker, she worried about the durability of the body-colored bumpers.
The Element SC rides a little lower -- by 20 mm -- than the LX and EX, a very subtle distinction that adds a touch of sportiness to its stance. 18" alloy wheels are standard, and make Element's urban intentions clear.
The SC goes exactly the opposite stylistic direction from what I love about the Element in the first place. Element is a triumph of function over form. If I were building my ultimate Element, I'd add even more functional aspects, not cover up the bones with paint. I'd like to see some clever modular racks and storage devices, not dress up kits. Element should be elemental.
Continued below . . .
In the Driver's Seat
Element's interior remains a marvel, an airy, light-filled space that's flexible and roomy.Photo © Jason Fogelson
Element's interior remains a marvel, an airy, light-filled space that's flexible and roomy. The dash and instrument panel are low, flat and full of useful cubby spaces. The seats are flat and firm, with plenty of adjustability. If you're used to a lot of lateral support from your sports car seat, you'll find the Element's seats a little disconcerting, but they're very functional and easy to slide in and out of. The seats are covered with a durable-looking cloth with a cool design.
Access to the back seats is another issue. Element's rear passenger doors are half-size clamshell doors that hinge at the rear. The front door has to be open before the rear door can be, and there's no "B" pillar between the doors. When both front and rear doors are open, the resulting opening is huge, and it's very easy to get into the back seat. The downside to the arrangement is that rear seat passengers can't get in or out without disturbing the front seat passengers. If you carpool a lot, this might get old fast.
Element's cargo compartment is accessible through a split tailgate -- about 30% folds down, and the rest folds up. You can get close to the load floor, and the top doesn't require tons of clearance. The 50/50 split rear seat will fold flat like a bed, or swing up against the side wall to leave a clear cargo floor, or even better yet, lift out completely for maximum cargo space. There's 25.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row; 70.1 with the seats flipped up; and 74.6 cubic feet of useable cargo space with the seats completely removed.
On the Road
The 3596 lb Element SC remains modestly powered by a 2.4 liter 16 valve double overhead cam in-line four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. Output has increased over the 2006 model by 10 hp to 166 hp and 161 lb-ft of torque. The SC is front-wheel drive only; EX and LX models are available as all-wheel drive vehicles as well as front-wheel drive. A manual five-speed or automatic five-speed are the transmission choices -- my test vehicle had the automatic, which did just fine. Element is in its element around town. Get it out on the highway, and the boxy shape reveals the wisdom of considering aerodynamics in design. Element never feels unstable or unsafe, it just feels like it is working very hard to counteract wind resistance at speed.
You can toss Element into corners with surprising aplomb. Four-wheel independent suspension, bolstered by front and rear sway bars, keeps body roll from being a big factor in handling. Variable-assist rack-and-pinion power steering is direct and responsive. Element wears a full complement of safety features, including side curtain airbags with rollover sensors.
Driving the Element, I remembered why I liked it so much in the first place. It's a no-nonsense SUV that feels so much different than anything else on the road. I didn't feel like I was driving a big behemoth, and yet I felt like I had an enormous amount of space to work in. Element made me want to go to a few yard sales, just to see what I could fit inside. How much for that armoire? I really need that moose head! Just toss it in there next to the plaid recliner!
The 50/50 split rear seat will fold flat like a bed, or swing up against the side wall to leave a clear cargo floor.Photo © Jason Fogelson
A week in the Element SC didn't dim my wife's desire to own one. Our friend Jill, an artist, recently bought a bright green Element to transport her oversized canvases and her two 90 lb German Shepherd mixes, and she loves it. Robin doesn't paint, and our dog only weighs 35 lbs, but she still wants one. I can't blame her. Element is practical, fun and affordable. I'm going to push for the LX, because I still like those cool contrasting body panels, and the all-wheel drive option is a must. I'm also going to insist that my wife drive some competing vehicles before she makes up her mind once and for all.
The Scion xB is a very cool vehicle, though it lacks the pure utility of the Element. Toyota's FJ Cruiser is a retro styling exercise that shares some traits with the Element, like clamshell rear doors. Chrysler's PT Cruiser is very flexible and stylish, as is the Chevrolet HHR, a very close competitor. The Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V have moved upscale a little, but are still excellent entry-level compact SUVs. The Jeep Compass/Dodge Caliber are worth looking at, though I would pick the Element over either in a heartbeat.
As for my wife, her mind is set. She loves the Element, and she'll let me take care of the details when the time comes. I'm pretty sure that there's an Element somewhere in our future, because, luckily for me, Mrs. Fogelson's affections do not waver. I can live with that.