When introducing the Honda Element, Honda aimed directly at the youth market, the Gen-Xers with an active lifestyle including mountain biking, camping and, according to at least one advertisement, road tripping. Honda missed. The Honda Element, despite funky styling, enough room inside for at least two or three active lifestyles, and go-more-places ability with optional all-wheel drive, went wide of its mark.
It didn’t miss everything, however. With its rubber (actually urethane) floor mats, easy-access rear suicide doors and high-volume box-shaped interior, the Honda Element soon appeared with families inside, with flower delivery decals on its sides, or chock full of small business supplies and equipment. The Honda Element didn’t find its market. Its market found it.
Four years on, Honda updates the Element with a welcome ten additional horses, new safety equipment and a new trim package taking another shot at the elusive youth market, this time avoiding the outdoorsy crowd in favor of urban chic. The new model, which we tested, is the 2007 Honda Element SC.
For 2007, every Honda Element gets standard front seat-mounted airbags that sense occupant position, not deploying them if the passenger is leaning against the door (to prevent injuries from the shotgun-like inflation). Also new are full-length side curtain airbags, standard for all Elements, and vehicle stability in all trim levels. Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and brake assist, which provides full braking if “panic braking” by the driver is detected, are all standard on all Elements.
Honda also moved the upper front seat belt attachment to the seatback, not for safety but to keep it from lassoing rear seat passengers as they get in the car.
Rather than “car,” however, the Honda Element is perhaps better designated as “vehicle” because we really don’t know what it is. It doesn’t quite look like an SUV, but it’s definitely not a van or a crossover, though perhaps the latter is most accurate considering its neither-this-nor-that status. However, it doesn’t look at home there either.
But that doesn’t affect the Element’s usefulness. With rear seats removed it has a maximum 135.7 cubic feet of cargo area, and with its rear seats folded up against the passenger compartment sides and front seat lowered can accommodate a ten-foot surfboard.
The Honda Element seats only four, however, the split rear seat having no center position. The front seats are comfortable enough, though not particularly memorable. The back seats, however, have NBA legroom. Most of which usually goes to waste, but it could be used for a longer seat track to make the NBAer to be happy behind the wheel.
But as the spiritual descendant of the panel van, the Honda Element is the proverbial box on wheels or a utility trailer with a steering wheel, all in a package only 169.3 inches long with a 101.4-inch wheelbase but nonetheless has an agile 34.9-foot turning circle, good for getting in and out of tight spaces. The rear side doors open to 90 degrees making unloading people or things easy. Narrow parking slots are a challenge, however. Opening front and rear doors, which must be done for rear seat occupants to exit, traps them between the doors and the car next door.