2007 Honda Element SC; photo by Chris Chase
2007 Honda Element SC; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase

Many crossovers are designed to look like trucks, but are in fact based on and share many components with cars. The Honda Element didn’t stray from that formula: it was based on the CR-V, which in turn was built on a modified Honda Civic platform.

But while most such crossovers were designed to fit comfortably into the mainstream mould, the CR-V being a prime example, the Element was anything but conventional.

Check out the back seats (the Element was strictly a four-seater) which can be folded flat like a bed, flipped up against the sides of the cargo area, or removed altogether for ultimate utility. The rear doors are hinged at the back; they can’t be opened independently of the front ones, but there’s no pillar between the front and rear doors, making for a very large opening. The Element was a trendy-looking piece but was, in fact, quite practical for moving cargo.

The Element’s engine and drivetrain were borrowed from the CR-V crossover. In early models, the 2.4-litre engine makes 160 horsepower and 159 lb-ft of torque, and is matched with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. In 2007, engine output rose to 166 hp/161 lb-ft, and the automatic transmission gained a cog for a total of five.

2004 Honda Element; photo by Paul Williams
2004 Honda Element; photo by Paul Williams
2004 Honda Element; photos by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

The Element got a mild styling refresh in 2007, and the Element SC, with its unique front end, lowered suspension and larger wheels, debuted that year as well. In 2009, Honda updated the Element’s looks more substantially, and dropped the manual transmission from the lineup.

In 2003, fuel consumption ratings for front-wheel drive models were 10.5/8.2 L/100 km (city/highway) with an automatic transmission, and 11.0/8.8 with all-wheel drive. Little had changed by 2009, when an all-wheel drive model was rated 11.0/8.3 L/100 km.

Consumer Reports likes the Element, giving it the publication’s “much better than average” used vehicle verdict for all model years. There are a couple of issues to look out for and Consumer Reports’ data does make note of these. Not long after the Element first went on sale, owners posting in ElementOwnersClub.com began complaining of cracked windshields. This has become a very common issue, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued three Technical Service Bulletins as a result. One of these, TSB 06-084, points out that Honda Motor America extended warranty coverage on windshields in 2003-2004 Elements to six years/60,000 miles in response to a class-action suit by Element owners. (I’m awaiting a response from Honda Canada as to whether the same courtesy was extended to Canadian owners.) If you have a week’s holidays or so, here’s some light reading on the topic at ElementOwnersClub.com. Consumer Reports notes this issue in its “body hardware” category, where 2003 models score “worse than average.” The cause, apparently, was an uneven windshield mounting flange surface that put undue stress on the glass.

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