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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 Honda Element Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 Honda Element Overview

Unconventional Yet Functional

When Honda introduced the Element, many people were not sure what to make of it. With its radical styling, efficient use of space and frugal engine, it blurred the lines between a conventional pickup and a bulky SUV. Today, after a year of strong sales, there is no doubt that Honda definitely got the new-age truck formula correct, right down to the last screw.

For most people, their first encounter with the Element is a bit of an eye opener. The Element is blocky, like a breadbox on wheels, and it's unorthodox, covered in plastic panels and dark privacy glass. The Element touts two rear-facing swing-out doors with no center B-pillar to block your entrance and features a rear hatchback with a 70/30 split; the larger half swinging up to allow access to the rear cargo area and the lower door flipping down to serve as a ledge on which to rest or load gear. There is additional plastic paneling around the edges of the roof, strategically placed to protect the vehicle from scratches as you load and unload unwieldy items.

As different as the Element's exterior is, you can add to it with such options as side-step rails, front fog lights, chrome-tip exhaust and a tow package that includes a Class-1 trailer hitch and ball rated up to 1,500 lbs. The Element comes in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive and is available in three trim levels: the DX, LX and EX.

A greater surprise awaits you inside the Element. Honda says they designed their new vehicle to appeal to 20-25 year old males. It was modeled after a college dorm room and so provides many of the necessities this age group requires. We can understand Honda's need to set a target audience for their newest product, but in this case, the irony is that the Element meets the needs of so many other demographic groups; it was snatched off dealer lots by much older—and better funded—individuals. This was confirmed on a test drive when the owner of a brand new Mercedes SL 500 circled around our test car three times before giving us a big thumbs-up sign.

On the EX model, you'll discover a killer sound system with a built-in subwoofer and an auxiliary outlet designed to accept input from an external source, such as a MP3 player. You'll also find such standard goodies as air conditioning, cruise control and optional side-curtain airbags. There are cup holders and storage bins everywhere you look and the entire interior is resistant to all sorts of stains and messes thanks to the durable and washable seat covers. The floor is blanketed with a tough urethane-coated mat that resists water and can be easily wiped down with a damp cloth for a quick clean up. The door armrests are covered in a rubbery feeling material that also covers parts of the dash. Throughout the interior, you won't find an ounce of cloth or carpet—except for the optional carpeted floor mats.

The functionality of the Element's interior continues with its variable seating configurations. The rear seats can be reclined flat, stowed on their sides or removed altogether. All of the seats, including the front buckets, can be reclined to form a large cushion perfect for sleeping on; when the rear seats are put up, there is enough room to fit two mountain bikes standing side by side. An optional interior curtain can be attached to the surrounding windows allowing for more privacy and you can even order a rear tent-like canopy to be used as a changing room or for additional shade. As of now, there is no DVD-based entertainment system on the option list, but hopefully Honda will soon remedy this and offer the excellent unit now available in the Pilot and Odyssey.

One oddity we noticed is that from the rear hatch, there is no lever or pull strap to recline the rear seats; to do so, you must go around to the side door to reach the pull strap. We also noticed the rear seatbacks do not fold forward, only backward. This means that whatever you load into the back of the Element will be resting on the face of the seat bottom and back, possibly scuffing or staining the same place your passengers will later be sitting.

Power comes from Honda's excellent 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. This power plant is so smooth you can't even tell it's turned on when sitting at idle. The 2.4 is a strong engine, with a good deal of torque for pulling and passing. You can easily get the Element up to 75 mph with no problem and even accelerate uphill in 5th gear. Honda offers an automatic on the Element, but we think the 5-speed is better suited to getting the most power and fuel efficiency from the 2.4-liter engine.

The tall Element roofline may look top heavy, but the majority of its weight has been kept close to the ground. As a result, the Element's ride and handling characteristics are much more akin to an Accord sedan than to a truck-based SUV. Once we adjusted to the long dash and squared-off hood, we found it easy to dart in and out of traffic and to attack sweeping curves and sharp turns with no fear of tipping up on two wheels. The steering and brakes are first rate, returning excellent feedback to the driver under all driving conditions. The Element truly is one-of-a-kind when it comes to features, capabilities and price.

A base DX front-wheel drive model starts at just over $16,000. For that price you get power front windows with driver's side auto up/down, power door locks, driver's side manually-adjustable seat height, 12-volt accessory outlets, removable rear seats and 16-inch styled steel wheels. LX models add air conditioning and a four speaker AM/FM CD player while the EX adds to this cruise control, driver's side armrest, overhead storage compartment, rear 12-volt outlet, 270-watt AM/FM CD with subwoofer and MP3 outlet, dual power mirrors and 16-inch alloy wheels.

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