2007 Honda Element EX Review
SEE ALSO:Compare Models - Honda Buyer's Guide
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2007 Honda Element EX
It seems like nearly all automakers are courting young, or at least young at heart, people with active lifestyles. But sometimes the connection between the vehicle and any activity is tenuous at best. Other times, though, the connection is spot-on. Such is the case with the Honda Element. Its styling is quirky, offbeat, and appealing - and also extremely functional. The Element is the box it came in, all the better to fill with bicycles, skis, snowboards, surfboards, climbing equipment, or camping gear. Wait, scratch the camping gear - with seats that fold flat into a double bed, an Element makes a very good base camp. And best of all, the Element is priced very reasonably. Active people generally spend what disposable income they may have on their sport of passion, not their car, and with base prices from $18,900 to $23,495, an Element won't dispose of too much income.
The Element gets the most significant revisions of its short career for 2007. Both the exterior and interior styling have been freshened. That's not surprising, but what can't be seen is: Standard safety safety equipment has been upgraded, with a full complement of airbags, antilock brakes, and VSA stability control for all models. The 2.4-liter engine makes more power and features electronic throttle control, and the optional automatic transmission has been upgraded from a four-speed to a five-speed.
As before, there is a well-equipped entry-level model, called LX, and a slightly fancier EX model, both available with front-wheel drive or optionally with Honda's automatic part-time single-range "Real Time 4WD" four-wheel drive system. For the first time, a "factory tuner" version is available. The SC - "Street Custom" - features a lowered sport suspension with 18-inch wheels and exclusive interior and exterior styling and trim. It's available in front-wheel drive form only, and is the Element for people whose sport of passion is their car.
But I'll leave the SC for another day, as I've just finished a week with a four-wheel drive Element EX. Wet winter weather gave the Real Time 4WD system a workout, and it performed admirably, getting the torquey engine's power to the ground in a controlled manner at all times. The Element's interior versatility and accessibility have yet to be improved upon by any other vehicle, and it is an excellent example of space utilization. In its ride and handling characteristics, it's a tall car, not a truck, and that and first-rate seats make it a fine vehicle for travel - accommodations included. Personalization is important, and Honda has accessories galore to enable the Element to haul bicycles, kayaks, skis, surf and snow boards, and enhance its versatility with tent and tailgate seat attachments. What's not to like?
APPEARANCE: Japanese animation meets two-box utility vehicle, Japanese animation wins. The basic shape is unchanged, but the grille and headlights are new, in line with the latest Honda styling trends. On both the LX and EX, the bumpers, mirrors, rocker panels, and roof sides are made of textured dark plastic. The fenders are also made of dent-resistant plastic, and are body-colored on the EX and match the other trim on the LX. Not only is the Element unintimidating in its looks, it's almost whimsical. It produces smiles from on-lookers.
COMFORT: The Element also produces smiles from anyone who has to get into it, or load anything into it. With its high roof, low floor height, side doors that open to reveal a large B-pillarless portal on each side, and a two-piece flip-up and flip-down clamshell rear tailgate, access, even of large or unwieldy items, is not going to be a problem. Seats are upholstered in waterproof FXC(tm) fabric, in a pleasing herringbone pattern. Firm foam ensures comfort, and, while the front seats are manually-adjustable, that adjustment includes driver's cushion height. The two rear seats have adjustable back angles, from bolt upright to flat. Slide the front seats forward, recline them completely, recline the rears, and you get two beds. Beats a blown-out air mattress in a leaky tent! The rear seats may also be flipped up to the sides, or removed completely. According to Honda there are "over 64" ways to configure the interior.
The main point of the interior restyle is a new instrument panel, which is both stylish and practical, with easy-to-see backlit instruments. There are useful storage spaces in all doors, a small cupholder console on the floor between the front seats, and, in the EX, overhead storage. The EX has a 270-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 and WMA CD audio system with an auxiliary jack for an MP3 player. The floor is covered with an easy-to-clean and water-resistant urethane material.
SAFETY: "Safety For Everyone" is Honda's integrated approach to both vehicle occupant and pedestrian safety. To that end, every Element has four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist and electronic brake distribution, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), front side airbags with occupant sensing, and side-curtain airbags in addition to dual-stage front airbags, side-impact door beams, three-point safety harnesses for all seating positions, and an immobilizer theft-deterrent system.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Built on Honda's ``Global Compact Platform,'' the Element is structurally similar to the CR-V, and a cousin to the Civic. There is no truck in its ancestry. Its rigid unibody structure and fully-independent suspension, with modified MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones at the rear, gives it car-like ride and handling characteristics. Just don't expect to keep up with a Civic Si or S2000. ``Real-Time 4WD'' gives extra traction when needed, and even in 4WD trim the turning circle is small, for great maneuverability. Under acceleration in the rain, the front wheels would begin to slip, and then some of the engine's torque was transferred to the rear wheels. End of slippage, and a very secure feeling.
PERFORMANCE: With its long history of high-revving performance engines, Honda is not exactly known for making powerplants with strong low-end torque. Yet this is exactly what the 2.4-liter aluminum alloy four-cylinder in the Element has, and it is exactly what a vehicle like the Element needs. As a bonus, ten more horsepower are n tap this year, for a total of 166 (at 5800 rpm), with torque peaking at 161 lb-ft at 4500 rpm. The i-VTEC variable valve timing and cam phasing system gets credit for the broad spread of power, with new cams and intake and exhaust systems improving output. "Drive by wire" electronic throttle control helps integration of engine and transmission electronics. The new five-speed automatic features grade logic control to reduce hunting between gears. Fuel consumption, at around 22mpg overall, is moderate, and much better than that of a "real" SUV.
CONCLUSIONS: Have lots of active-lifestyle equipment? Put it in the box - the Honda Element.
2007 Honda Element EX
Base Price $ 23,110 with automatic transmission Price As Tested $ 23,850 Engine Type dual overhead cam 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC variable valve timing Engine Size 2.4 liters / 144 cu. in. Horsepower 166 @ 5500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 161 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 5-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 101.4 in. / 170.3 in. Curb Weight 3661 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 22.1 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P215/70 SR16 Goodyear Wrangler Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc Suspension, front/rear control link MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone Drivetrain front engine, front with on-demand part-time four-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 26 / 22 0 to 60 mph 9.6 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Cargo cover $ 145 Destination charge $ 595