After 3328 miles it still makes me smile!
No problems whatsoever.
The 'new' has worn off and I *still* love this little truck. Er, car. Er, SUV. I've driven in a hurricane, high wind conditions, one longish trip (360 miles), hauled lots of stuff, moved the car seat in and out a dozen times... But everytime I think of the chunky little thing I still smile.
Yah -- there's been a lot of hype over this alternative vehicle. But that shouldn't tilt one's car buying decision one way or the other. In this review I'll point out the pluses and minus as I see them.
First the Bad Stuff.
Get the optional arm rest. The stock armrest is anemic for the driver and non-existent for the passenger.
Get the optional carpets. They look nice and things don't slide around on the carpet the way they do on the plastic flooring.
I love the ride. It has a great turning radius, but the short wheelbase makes the truck jumpy over certain roads at certain speeds. We came over a bridge on the New Jersey Turnpike last weekend that felt like a carnival ride. I put this under Bad Stuff because some have objected to this. To me it's fun because it doesn't happen very often at all.
Road noise. Every review I've read has commented on this. Probably Honda will inject some expandable urethane foam between the plastic roof and the steel supporting structure. To me the car (truck, SUV, whatever) is a LOT quieter than my 1967 Jeepster Commando. (...On a long trip the flapping flop-top would give you a headache!) To me it's not a problem. Crank up the stereo a notch or two.
Options. The truck is designed as an entry-level vehicle in it's class. Consequently, expenses had to be kept as low as possible. I wish it had heated seats and a carpeted cargo area, but these aren't even available as options. There are, however, MANY options to choose from. Buy what makes you comfortable and what you think you'll use. I bought the keyless remote, roof rack, carpets, seat back bungees, and armrest. I'm thankful for every one of them. One caution -- some of these options are overpriced. There are several good web sites that show how to install the options yourself. Also, shop around for price. (More on this later.) The roof rack (installed)was quoted to me at $395 by one dealer and $265 at another in a less metropolitan area.
Engine. I'm putting this in both categories -- bad and good. The engine works fine in this vehicle. When I first started driving it I thought it was underpowered. I don't think that, now, but it's not "overpowered" either.
"First year model." Often the first year of a new model (or engine or transmission) has lots of problem. Lots of recalls. Lots of trips to the dealer. I was concerned about this, too. But I found out the motor, transmission, and front chassis are really borrowed from the CR-V, which has been around for -- what? -- five years or so? On the dealer lot I parked next to a new CR-V and opened up both hoods. Yup -- they're more than cousins, but not twins.
Exposed radiator grille. Can't argue with this. The grille is "right there." Still, it's not much different from the CR-V. And after five years (or whatever) if Honda had had a problem with CR-V grilles being bashed-up by debris they would have done something about it. Given this history and Honda's testing regimen, I don't think the risk is all that great.
Cargo capacity. This is another item that gets both good and bad marks. Bad marks because the maximum load weight is only 650 lbs. Probably this is the least in the class. (It gets good marks, though, because a small garden shed can fit in the back!)
The Good Stuff.
Did I mention the ride? The handling is surprisingly good. I actually handles better than my 1996 Mercedes-Benz E320 Wagon. The wagon would push in corners -- slide to the outside of the turn. The Element just turns. Changing lanes on the highway is a blast. Takes about 250 milliseconds. Fun! Doing the same move in the M-B produced *significant* body roll. The Element just pops over.
Parking. This is such an easy vehicle to park. Good visibility, good mirrors. The square corners tell you *exactly* where every part of the truck it. The turning radius lets you get into any spot, and the short length lets you park in restricted spots that my wagon wouldn't even dream of.
Engine. I average 22 to 23 m.p.g. in mixed driving. My one road trip from Delaware to New York City got 24.9 mpg. Not bad! And it uses regular, not premium. I *like* this engine!
Transmission. I had to ask the dealer what the button on the shift lever was for. It's an electric overdrive switch. Didn't know what it did until I started to drive it. Now I use it all the time. It's like downshifting, but more simple and easier. The trans itself is very smooth and shifts at what seems to be the right points.
Doors. At this point I have to tell you that I'm 6'8" tall and weigh about 220. I LOVE these doors. They fit me. Smaller people might be overwhelmed by them, however. They are L O N G. And tall. Most people can't put their arm outside when the window is rolled down. But for me, they're fine. Don't park close to someone and expect to load anything easily. Read on...
Loading. My Element is a work truck for my business. I own a small IT support company. I'm always loading and unloading crates of tools, cable, computers, printers, etc. The truck is like a garden shed on wheels with doors on every side. The back opens completely, and so do both sides.(!) The seats do tricks -- they fold down, then flip up against the sides of the rear windows to open up a cavernous space, and the rear window flips up and the tailgate flips down like a pickup truck. SO EASY to load and unload.
Kids. Kids LOVE this truck. The rear seats are raised up from the floor so that most kids age ten or more can see over the adults heads. Nice! They love the funkiness / chunkiness / 'cartoonness' of the vehicle. They love the colors. They think everything about it is cool. Some young teens were staring at the truck as I came around a hedge. "You want to see it?" I asked. They did. Enthusiastically. (Yes, *teenagers*!)
Babies. I have a 16 month-old son. I have to do more twists and gyrations to put him in his car seat than a chiropractor working on a lower lumbar subluxation. Oh -- wait a minute. That's on my wife's car, a VW Jetta Wagon. It is a painful, wrenching experience to load and unload little ones into the Jetta. With the Element, though, you just open the doors and set them in the seat. It's so easy.
Clean up. All the reviews have mentioned this already, but they are right. I've already spilled coffee and soda, milk bottles have gone flying, and between the dog (an active pug) and the baby there were crumbs in every crevice and crack in one week. Just open the doors, wipe the seats off, and shake out the rugs. A little 409 or Fantastic and the car is ready for something else to be slopped on it.
Sound system. Nice! Not a killer system, but very, very good for a factory unit. The optional input is handy for MP3 players, portable shortwave receivers, or cassette tape players. Works and sounds great.
Radio. Not the best, but good enough. Reception in fringe areas is not as good as the best radios I've used. AM reception is LOT better than the Mercedes. FM is about the same. I've experimented with a longer whip antenna, but haven't come to any definitive conclusions. (The stock antenna is a 6" stub.)
4WD. I'm not an off-roader. The only time I've sensed that the 4WD unit engaged was during a heavy rain. I took off from a corner (turning) and I felt power being transfered to the rear wheels. It happens very smoothly. I think this is an excellent feature and will be welcomed in snowy times.
Visibility. For those of you who are not accustomed to using mirrors, you might initially think that visibility is poor. I don't think it is, though. I recommend buying little convex mirrors to add on the Element's mirror supports. I have my rear windows tinted, even, to 15% transmission and still don't think it's a problem. Some have complained that the A pillar is too large and blocks their view. The only time I sense this is when I am driving slowly and turning sharply, as in a parking lot. I've learned to look ahead a little more, perhaps.
Insurance costs. I was amazed to find out that the insurance costs for a new, 2003 Honda Element were $80 a year more than my old 1988 Mercedes 190E. I think this is a very economical car when you consider the original expense, low rate of depreciation, low operating expense, and high reliability.
Summary. Fun, funky, good tunes, good cargo capability, kid and dog friendly, good power, economical, reliable, useful. My wife even likes it.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 24th October, 2003