The so-ugly-it's-cool 2007 Honda Element SC eschews the rugged character favored by its model mates, the EX and LX, instead going for a more urban character. As opposed to the wash-and-wear interior of the other models, the Element SC actually has some carpet on which the passengers can rest their feet. Unfortunately, just because the Element SC is intended as an urban car doesn't mean it gets any better cabin gadgets than the LX and EX.
The utilitarian style of the Element is polarizing--a few people love it, but most hate it. But you can't argue with the practicality of its interior space. With the Element SC, you can fold the seats flat and strap them up to the sides of the car, creating a huge amount of cargo space. The clamshell rear gates offer easy access through the back, but the full door/half door combos in front aren't quite as generous. For example, the front door has to be opened for rear passengers to exit or enter through the small squeeze space afforded by the rear-side half doors. The driving position is comfortable, letting you sit up, and offers a good view of the road.
Test the tech: Photo safari
Because of its quirky looks and practical interior space, and because it's not really a performance car, we figured the 2007 Honda Element SC would work well as a photographer's car. To test this theory, we rounded up a photographer from out of town and took her on a quest for photo opportunities, promising to stop whenever she saw a particularly nice vista. Loading up the car, we didn't need all the space it had to offer--working photographers travel light.
We set our course south of San Francisco, heading toward Highway 1 on the coast. Our ride through San Francisco city traffic and onto the freeway was uneventful, as the Element offers an easy, if characterless, drive. The engine is peppy enough to push the car to freeway speeds safely and, with the five-speed automatic, driving it doesn't require a lot of thought.
As we continued our drive down the coast toward Half Moon Bay, our photographer took pictures out of the sizable windows of the Element, getting unobstructed views. But the Element isn't the greatest mobile photography platform, as its suspension isn't particularly soft.
The Element's big interior, large windows, and high seating position proved helpful for our photographer. While it feels rugged, like it can go anywhere, it doesn't have the clearance to get too far off the beaten track. It also doesn't have a navigation option, a serious drawback if you want to go exploring.
In the cabin
For a youth-oriented car, the Element SC is surprisingly lacking in cabin gadgetry. And it's not like Honda doesn't make excellent and affordable tech available in its other models. As we mentioned above, there is no navigation option for the Element. Neither is there Bluetooth cell phone integration. Which leaves the stereo.
The sound system includes a 270-watt amp and seven speakers, including a subwoofer. We got adequate sound out of it, but nothing spectacular. It's a large amount of space for only seven speakers. The sub adds richness to the audio, rather than a heavy bass beat.
Under the hood
Driving the Element around town and over mountain highways was easy. The car has a 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 166 horsepower and 161 ft-lbs of torque. These numbers don't sound like much, but the engine is more than adequate for getting the Element around. We had no problem getting up to freeway speeds at on-ramps. Our car came with a five-speed automatic transmission, and a five-speed manual is available. The automatic worked quietly, shifting up properly, although not offering performance-oriented downshifts, which we wouldn't have expected anyway.
The EPA rates the two-wheel drive Element with automatic transmission at 20mpg city and 25mpg highway. We came in at the low end of that scale, around 21mpg, a decent feat for a car with this cargo capacity. For emissions, it meets California's minimum LEV II requirement.
As a tech car, the 2007 Honda Element SC doesn't score particularly high, despite all the excellent gadgets Honda makes available in its other cars. Its stereo meets the basic requirements for a modern system, with its MP3 and WMA playback. Although slightly smaller, the similarly quirky 2008 Scion xB has much more to offer in the technology department.
The Element's main attribute is practicality. It drives along effortlessly, requiring little skill on the part of the driver. Its interior space can be configured in many combinations for cargo and passengers. And the exterior says that you are so cool, you don't care how ugly it looks.