For 2006, the Honda Element receives only minor changes: the base model receives four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution, and the Y-Package receives body-colour painted cladding and bumpers, and wheel-mounted audio controls.
Never a success with the skate- and snowboarders Honda thought it would attract in droves, the Element has gained most of its following among older buyers who can get past the “hit-it-with-an-ugly-stick” styling and appreciate some of the vehicle’s more practical applications.
Sharing its platform with the CR-V, the Element sacrifices heavier-duty SUV abilities in favour of more car-like ride and handling. Both Element models carry a 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder. Horsepower ratings have dropped, from 160 hp in 2005 to 156 hp in 2006, but this is due to new standards in calculation, and the engine power has not changed.
The base package includes air conditioning, 16-inch steel wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, power mirrors, power windows, rear washer/wiper, CD with four speakers, power locks, seatback bungee loops and cords, manual height adjustment on the driver’s seat, and easy-clean “Fabric For Extreme Conditions” on the front seats.
The Y Package puts that fabric on all four seats, and adds side airbags, keyless entry, upgraded audio system with seven speakers and MP3, cruise control, front map lights, and a pocket on the rear of the passenger seat.
RealTime four-wheel-drive – a “slip-and-grip” system that sends power to the rear wheels if the front ones lose traction – is available as an option only on Y Package-equipped cars. It’s also necessary in order to option the removable skylight.
Inside, the Honda Element is possibly the most “scrubbable” vehicle on the road; the floor is rubberized, the seat fabric resembles that used to make wetsuits, and all surfaces are plastic. Honda doesn’t recommend washing it out with a hose, but it certainly looks like you could.
The rear seats can be folded, or stretched flat – campers can form the seats into a lumpy bed – and then flipped up and attached to the body sides to make a flat cargo floor. It’s great for hauling stuff, but reduces the Element’s capacity to four people. The rear hatch opens clamshell style, which can make it difficult for short people to access items, since they have to reach across the lower part of the gate.
The rear doors open suicide-style, to reveal a pillarless expanse that makes loading very easy. The downside is that front passengers have to take off their seatbelts and open their doors before the rear ones can be opened – a potential drawback for parents who shuttle children from one errand to another, and who must effectively exit the vehicle each time to let someone in or out of the back seats. Still, when you’re taking them all to the beach, the Element’s wide-opening stance and that easy-clean interior looks pretty good.