2005 Honda Element EX 4WD
Unpainted composite body panels certainly aren't the norm in current passenger-vehicle styling, but the 2005 Honda Element EX makes no bones about its practicality as a quirky, urban runabout capable of carrying more cargo than other vehicles its size. With a rear seating area accessible via rear-hinged half-doors and a useful clamshell tailgate, the Element fits the bill whether you're hauling children, mountain bikes, potted plants, or antique armoires. A well-matched engine and chassis provide maneuverability around town, as well as comfortable highway cruising for longer getaways, while still returning good fuel economy and meeting LEV2/ULEV emissions standards. While tech offerings such as navigation and Bluetooth integration aren't available, a booming satellite radio and an MP3 player jack cater to the younger target audience Honda had in mind. Goofy looks notwithstanding, the Honda Element has proven popular across all age groups with its affordability--$20,925 base MSRP for the manual four-wheel-drive EX and $21,725 for automatic--and mix of quality feel and simple utility. As one would expect after beholding the 2005 Honda Element EX in all its boxy glory, the interior offers gobs of space for passengers and cargo alike. Trimmed in a resilient fabric befitting the Element's mission to be the vehicle of choice for active individuals, all the seats are comfortable and offer a good view of the surroundings except at the junction of the A-pillar and the dashboard, where pedestrians can disappear from the driver's field of vision. Long-drive comfort is aided by fold-down armrests on the inside of the front seats. A urethane mat covers the floor of the entire interior, resisting stains and allowing simple wipe-down cleaning.
Also in keeping with Honda's reputation for bargain usability are a height-adjustable driver seat and tilt wheel, both manual. The rear seats fold against the sides of the cargo area, where they greatly impede vision, or can be removed completely. With the front seats folded back and their headrests removed, a passable bed can be formed from the four seats, which is perfect for camping trips. Plus, Honda offers an accessory interior curtain ($165) for a level of privacy beyond that provided by the tinted rear windows. Small storage areas are located in the doors and overhead, and details such as 12V outlets, flush-folding cargo anchor loops, and elastic cords for lashing small items to the seat backs in the front point to thorough cabin design. The optional tilt-or-remove rear skylight is an interesting alternative to a front sunroof, but storing it in the car is awkward and wastes otherwise useful space.