2008 Honda Element SC Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
It is the box it came in, and that's the beauty of the Honda Element. It combines almost unparalleled utility with a distinctive style - or, perhaps, anti-style - to make a vehicle that is eminently useful and is full of character. "Bland" is nowhere in its description.
The Element was designed with active people in mind, and to that end was simple and inexpensive, with a spacious, accessible, and easy-to-clean interior. "Active lifestyle" people are more likely to spend their discretionary income on their active pursuits than their cars, after all.
The original LX and EX models were joined last year by the SC, a semi-"factory tuner" edition aimed at a more urban-oriented customer. SC stands for "Street Custom", and although it has the same torquey 2.4-liter, 166-horsepower four-cylinder engine as the other models, it has unique exterior and interior trim and is offered in front-wheel drive trim only, with no four-wheel drive option. The Element SC features a lowered and stiffer sports suspension and 18-inch wheels shod with lower-profile tires - 55-series versus 70 - for a sportier look and driving experience. The Element lineup got its biggest revisions last year, with freshened styling and upgraded standard safety equipment in addition to the SC model. 2008 changes are limited to a new Royal Blue Pearl color scheme available for the SC.
At a reasonable $23,575 MSRP with the five-speed automatic transmission, the SC sits at the top of the Element lineup. It's the Urban Element in style, but it's just as functional as any other model. And its suspension upgrades make it more fun to drive, as I discovered during my recent week with one. Add up fun, function, space and versatility, and the Element comes up as a winner in any form.
APPEARANCE: Attention to detail makes a difference. Although the SC shares major body panels with the LX and EX, it has no textured plastic pieces - its fenders, roof trim, and bumpers are all body-colored. Its front fascia is subtly different, integrating a more car-like bumper shape and unique headlights and grille. Wheels are 18-inch alloy instead of the sixteens of other models, with suitably lower-profile tires, and the suspension modifications result in a 0.7-inch lower ride height. Rocker panel extension visually lower it even more. At the rear, the SC replaces the textured plastic bumper of the other models with a larger body-colored one with a cutout for the single exhaust.
COMFORT: As outside, the SC is a little different from the Element lineup inside, highlighted by special fabric on the seats, copper-colored bezels around the instruments and shifter with some exterior colors, copper-backlit instruments, and "piano black" interior trim. Befitting its top-of-the-line status, it's more fully-appointed, with, among other features, carpeting in the passenger area and a standard seven-speaker, 270-watt AM/FM/XM/MP3 and WMA-capable CD audio system with a jack and power adapter for an external music player in the center console. But there is no loss of space or function, and it's just as versatile as any other Element. That means over 64 possible interior configurations, from two-seat cargo van to camping vehicle, with access made easy by the large portals created when the B-pillarless side doors are opened and the two-piece flip-up, flip-down clamshell tailgate. The high ceiling and low, flat floor ensure no lack of headroom for passengers or cargo. Front seat comfort is very good, with manual adjustment including driver's cushion height. As in other Elements, the rear seats have plenty of leg and head room and adjustable back angle. Along with the front seats, they may be folded flat for a double bed. Or they can (individually) be folded and clipped to the side for cargo space. Or they can be removed. Rubber floormats are available to replace the SC's carpet, and most of the accessories available for other models can be fitted to the SC, including kayak, ski, snowboard, and bicycle extensions to the roof rack, a cabana tent extension to the tailgate, various cargo organizers and trays, and even table legs to convert the spare tire cover to a picnic table. It's ingenious, it's useful, it's a Honda Element.
SAFETY: The Element's standard safety equipment levels are very high, with dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags, seat-mounted front side airbags with the Occupant Position Detection System to control deployment, and full-length side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor. Its unibody structure is built with a strong safety cage around the passenger compartment and front and rear crumple zones. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist and electronic brake distribution and the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) stability control system are also found on every Element.
RIDE AND HANDLING: There is no truck in the Element's ancestry, as it is built on Honda's ``Global Compact Platform'' and so structurally similar to the CR-V and a cousin to the Civic. 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. The SC gets firmer, and well-matched, shocks and springs, stiffer front and rear stabilizer bars, and lower-profile tires on 18-inch alloy wheels. The ride is firmer but not at all uncomfortable or trucklike. The suspension tuning and steering that is slightly faster ensure handling that is a touch better than the other Element models. The SC won't keep up with a Civic Si or S2000 - but they won't hold as much.
PERFORMANCE: Torque? In a Honda? Believe it. Honda's sports engines may be better known for high specific output at high rpms, but what a vehicle like the Element needs is low- and mid-range torque. And that's what it has, thanks to the dual overhead cam aluminum alloy four-cylinder engine's relatively large 2.4-liter displacement and i-VTEC valve control system, which combines Honda's dual cam lobe VTEC system with variable cam phasing to improve power and drivability at all engine speeds. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with a five-speed automatic optional. My test car had the automatic, which worked well in daily use. Grade Logic Control computer control minimizes hunting between gears on grades, although there is still some, especially when the Element is loaded with people or cargo.
CONCLUSIONS: The Honda Element is useful, spacious, and versatile.
2008 Honda Element SC Base Price $ 23,575 with automatic transmission Price As Tested $ 24,210 Engine Type dual overhead cam aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC variable valve lift and timing Engine Size 2.4 liters / 144 cu. in. Horsepower 166 @ 5500 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 161 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 5-speed automatic (opt) Wheelbase / Length 101.4 in. / 170.8 in. Curb Weight 3596 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 21.7 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires P225/55 R18 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA, VSA standard Suspension, front/rear independent control-link MacPherson strut / independent double wishbone Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 27 / 23 0 to 60 mph 9.6 sec Towing capacity 1500 pounds OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination charge $ 635