Update for Element fans: We've lined up an interview with the Element's original interior designer. Got a question you'd like to ask him? Click here to throw your question into the hat no later than Wednesday, March 15th.
Out of all the cars I've driven in my lifetime, only one made me consistently grateful for the effort put in by its designers. That car is the decidedly unsexy but fantastically utilitarian Honda Element, first released in 2003. A friend of mine owned one, and started lending it to me when I first got my dogs, allowing me to easily haul them out to the countryside.
First off the suicide doors make it super easy to load not only dogs, but cargo and people.
Once you load and unload a four-door car without a B-pillar, you'll wonder why all cars aren't designed this way.
You could also leave all four doors open wide when chilling out.
The unique design of the rear seats made the interior unbelievably flexible. The seats could be folded completely flat, meaning you could use one as a sort of couch when parked.
The rear seats were also designed to swing up and out of the way, giving you an absurd amount of floorspace for cargo.
They could also be removed altogether.
Though I never used the car in this manner, all four seats can be made to lie flat.
You'll also notice the floor is rubberized. This made it super easy to clean out after your dogs have tracked mud into it.
The Element became a big hit with dog owners, winning a "Dog Car of the Year" award in 2007, and Honda noticed. At the 2009 New York Auto Show they rolled out a "Dog Friendly" package for the Element.
It included an integrated bed and restraint system;
a lipped, recessed spill-proof water bowl;
a ramp to make loading and unloading easier for smaller or older dogs;
dog-friendly seat covers for the rear seats;
and in a somewhat cutesy move, they also upgraded the pattern on the rubber flooring.
They also included a ventilation fan for the rear.
Sadly, the Element was discontinued in 2011. As cool as its interior design features were, most consumers in the market for a small SUV weren't willing to pay for them; lower-priced and inferior offerings from other carmakers proved to be winning competitors. There were also rumors of internal strife at Honda, with their own CR-V apparently chosen to have its sales efforts focused on over the Element. As proof of this, note that the CR-V was updated every four years on average, whereas the Honda brass didn't allow a major redesign of the Element even once.
Ron Paulk—a man who knows a hell of a lot about making the interior of a vehicle useful—was recently in the market for a used vacation vehicle and settled on a Honda Element. He found that the car was so in-demand that they now sell, used, for more than the original retail price! And even so, they sell so fast that Paulk lost out on four of them before finally snagging one. Here he shows it to you and explains why he chose the Element:
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To all who have commented here: We've lined up an interview with the Element's interior designer, and are soliciting reader questions! Details on how to get yours in here: http://www.core77.com/posts/62919/Honda-Element-Lovers-Send-Us-Your-Questions-for-Our-Interview-With-the-Designer
450k and counting. 2004 element. Best. Car. Ever.
Just seems like every thing you'be brought up is what makes a Dodge/Chrysler Stow-N-go minvans so good. So the element is the Minivan for people that don't want a minivan? It would be nice if the minivan has a rubber floor, but we fixed that real quick with Weathertec type floor mats.
The Element is an SUV, and therefore better for camping, rough terrain, etc. It also handles better than a minivan, and is better for sleeping in, especially with the Skylight. (Which also gives you 4WD.)
Finally, it is more compact than a minivan, and easier to maneuver and park.
It is a very, very cool car. You need to update on the order of the Accord and CR-V now.
I have heard rumors that the Element will be brought back for 2018. Is this true?
I've owned mine since 03 and yes as noted, it is the most utilitarian/versatile vehicle I've owned. It has moved me countless times, hauled lumber to build decks, trash to the dump from many renovations and keeps on working. The one beauty is not electronics .... basic knobs to turn and buttons to push to reduce distractions and keep your eyes on the road. Too bad they didn't offer 4 wheel drive with a stick shifter.
Yes four seats has its limitations, but you have an excuse not to carry more kids to the rink. The stadium seating in the back allows those in the rear to see the road and be part of the conversation. Leg room in the back not found in any car this size. The back seat configuration is a dream to address any storage scenario. Raised rear seats allows for longer items to be stored under foot.
Long live the Element! Great article with a perfect title. I searched for a few years for the perfect mountain bike road trip vehicle. The VW Vanagon was at the top of the list, but I was unable to find the "one". While researching I stumbled across the Ecamper from Ursa Minor Vehicle. This pop-top for the Element is the reason I bought an Element. After a number of prototypes, I created an interior camping system that works as a stand alone kit or the perfect companion to the Ecamper. The Element interior, while brilliant from the factory, just got an upgrade.
More information on the interior system and the pop-top,
Love my 2007! My grandson calls it the Monarch Mobile! I have camped in it numerous times, carried my monarch festival display and tents around in it, and even had several monarch butterflies BORN in it! She has 157,000 miles and needs only a new exhaust system - no major work yet! Most dependable vehicle I've ever driven.
I've never owned an Element, but I've always loved them. They were always a bit out of reach, but now that they've become affordable in the used market, I need a 5-seater so they're no longer an option.
Brilliant. But as other mentioned, don't forget about the minivan option. Here's last weekend's sheet goods haul in my Sienna SE. 4x8's fit perfectly with the hatch closed.
Love love love my 2011 Element which I bought after my '05 got too high in mileage for reliability in traveling. I own 2 cars so that when I don't need the fantastic capacity of Element, I don't drive it in order to avoid unnecessary miles on it. I'm always seeking yet another 2011 Element to "save" for when my current one gets too high in mileage. I'd buy 2 or 3 to stock up on if I could find low mileage ones. It is My favorite car ever owned...including a Mercedes. Please please please Honda, bring it back. We Honda Element owners get it....Functionality RULES!!!!!! Great article. Thank you
I love my 2003 Honda Element. 148,000 miles and still running. I'm exceptionally hard on vehicles, but my element can take the beating and keeps on going. I love it.
Great post.. Originally bought a used 2005 element with 36k...and sold to Carmax with 200k...great car...but like previous person wrote... terrible at loading and unloading at parking lots with the clam shell door design. Rear doors are ok though. ..I did all my repairs and maintenance. ..oil filter doesnt matter too much..as i used ac delco filters but always used synthetic engine oil...i always used dealer transmission fluids. .. try to stick to it...If you start having problems. . It will most likely come from the rear lower mount rubber bushings... $3-5 dollars to fix.. dealer will charge upwards of 100 bucks for 10-15 minute job... Rear differential? I used dealer also .. i did mine at 1st 100k and it was clean. It was very easy car to maintain cuz the engine is very cavernous... replaced strut mount and was easy...finally..i sold it cuz the engine light came on with solenoid issues...replaced it and still had issues...and then the transmission started to slip...if those didn't go bad. ..i would have kept it.... loved it... forgot to mention. .the 200k was mostly city driving with lots of heavy loading for my business.... my business is now sold and i couldn't have done it without the element...hope this suggestion helps. I know own a rav4... i like it much more as the ride is nicer and smoother with age. i can say this with some certainty cuz i drove Hondas for over 30 years... hondas tend to ride a bit rough as you put more milage. ..cheers
Our kids are grown and my company is still a one man tech outfit. So when the 12 year old minivan was dying last year, the Element was the target replacement.
I drive an Element and love it...but those doors are TERRIBLE in a regular parking lot...ESPECIALLY with kids going into car seats. Perfect when you can open both doors all the way, but in a parking lot, they want to collide and make a tiny triangle that forces you to get creative with how your ingress works. Preeeeetty much the only complaint I have on the car. :)
I absolutely love my '03 AWD Element. I bought it just before graduating from college, knowing that I was A. moving across the country B. going to be taking numerous trips to snow-covered mountains and dirt cover-roads. It has been the perfect combination of stuff hauler, daily driver, and adventuremobile. It's getting up there in years and miles, and I'll be sad to have to put it out to pasture soon. There's nothing out there that comes close to matching its utility for the size and price.
Great post! I've been thinking about getting rid of my 2005 Subaru Outback and was thinking of a pickup truck, but don't really want a pickup truck but want the ability to carry more stuff but still fit 5 people.
The Element only seats four—I loved my '04 and would still be driving it today if it hadn't lost a fight with a moose. My only gripe about this amazing vehicle was the four person seating.
Nissan took the idea a little further
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Not really. Their box was smaller and less versatile.