The only notable tech feature in the cabin is the stereo. In the SC and EX trimmed models, you get a seven speaker system with XM satellite radio and an auxiliary input mounted in the console. The single disc player reads MP3 CDs and shows track information on the radio display. You can quickly move around folders using the right hand tuning knob. The XM radio is a nice addition, and you can navigate channel categories with two dedicated buttons, while using the tuning knob to find stations. The face plate of the stereo also indicates that it has the capability to connect to a six disc changer, but Honda doesn't offer one as an option. The auxiliary input is nicely placed next to a 12 volt power point in the very deep console. However, we would really like to see full iPod integration in a car so clearly aimed at a youth demographic.
The audio system's speaker arrangement includes tweeters in the A pillars, woofers in each door, and a subwoofer in the dashboard. The system is powered by a 270 watt amp and produces sound quality we consider just above average. The sound production is well-balanced, with neither the high or low range overwhelming the system. We put in our new favorite bass response test CD, a mix from the Eighteenth Street Lounge label, and were impressed that, while we could hear and feel the bass, it never rattled the speakers. The highs came through clearly, but overall, the system didn't blow us away.
We do like the fact that the stereo head unit sits in a standard double DIN enclosure, which should make it easy to replace it with a full-featured system offering navigation and Bluetooth cell phone integration. Considering that Honda offers an excellent navigation system in its Civic and Accord models, we're surprised not to see that option with the Element.
One other niggle, the button to activate cruise control is down by the driver's left knee, next to the button that turns off stability control. This placement is horrible, as the two buttons have an identical shape, so it encourages you to look under the dashboard while driving down the freeway.
Under the hood
We were more impressed with the driving experience in the 2008 Honda Element SC than with the cabin tech. The car uses a 2.4-liter four cylinder engine producing a 166 horsepower at 5,800rpm and 161 foot pounds of torque at 4,500rpm. Although it doesn't sound like much, it pushes the roomy Element around well. We felt a good boost from the engine during fast starts, with acceleration that continued up to freeway speeds. We found the five speed manual transmission, detailed above, easy to use.
The Element handles surprisingly well for a car of this ungainly shape, which might be partly because of the fact that the SC version is lower than the EX and LX models. We pushed it as fast as we dared along some winding mountain roads and found that it held the corners well. Of course, having the manual transmission helped, as we could jam it down to second then push it through the turns. Also helping the handling are front and rear stabilizer bars and Macpherson struts on the front wheels. The car includes a checklist of modern safety equipment standard, such as vehicle stability control, antilock disc brakes on all four wheels, and even electronic brake distribution.
For economy, the Element gets an EPA-rated 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, numbers which aren't spectacular considering the size of the engine. During our testing, we came in at the middle of that range, with an observed 20 mpg for combined city and freeway driving. Emissions are rated at LEV II, the minimum under California Air Resources Board regulations.
Our car, a 2008 Honda Element SC with a manual transmission, goes for a base price of $22,775. Honda doesn't offer factory options, but you can get a range of dealer accessories, such as cargo racks, wheel locks, and a security system. There aren't any major electronics offered with the dealer accessories. So with the $635 destination charge, the total price of the 2008 Honda Element SC is $23,410.
For its rating, we couldn't give the cabin tech many points as Honda offers so few options. The stereo is the only real cabin gadget, and it's a pretty run-of-the-mill configuration with its single disc slot and satellite radio. For its driving technology, we give it a better than average score for its by-wire-throttle and general responsiveness. As for design, many people consider the style of the Element very ugly, but we like its different look. However, we're docking it points for the inconvenient rear half doors.