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>> It's the original box on wheels: the Honda Element. And its essence hasn't changed since its debut in 2003. Honda's either doing something right or is just stubborn. Let's find out and check the tech.
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Now, our element is an SC, which is the sleek urban prowler of the line, with cool wheels and a lower suspension. This omni blue pearl color sets off the anthracite wheel finish rather well for a more expensive look. Now, while the Element SC is a fancy Element, it's really lacking a lot of stuff in the cabin. First of all, we've seen this head unit, oh, since about the time Jefferson was president. Same kinda now looking crappy graphics. That was hot one day; it's not now. Street names are hard to read and tortured. I mean, seriously: do you know what street that is? I live here and I barely know. I can't read that. That said, this one's a touch screen. We've seen other Honda units recently, like in the Accord Cross Tour that relied on an Acura-like control knob here. This is nice and intuitive 'cause when you want something, you can just go touch and get to it. And that said, Honda does offer nice, big, obvious touch zones. The buttons aren't fiddly and small and they're on the screen.
Moving past to navigation features, if you open this guy up, with the little tilty turny thing, here are some of your audio options aside from the AM/FM/XM Radio -- no HD, by the way. You do have a single-slot CD. Single-slot here because so much room is taken up by the nav apparatus. And one of Honda's pet crazinesses, the PC card. You know, the ubiquitous PC card that we all carry music on. The downside of this audio system is it sounds like crap. No matter what you do, no matter what the source, it sounds wooden and cardboardy. Just not a good audio system, and there's no upgrades that really bring it to a higher level. Seven speakers are around the cabin, by the way. One of them is that subwoofer you see right there, but all that adds is kind of unmanaged thumpy, tubby bass. It's more of a gimmick than it is a real augmentation to the sound. It does get a little more interesting once you push the aux setting because that gets you, to among other things, USB. We have a USB pigtail down here, a little female on the end of that cord, which can be used for, in this case, we have an iPod Touch hooked up. Reads it just fine, so it's compatible with the newer Apple devices. And you can see what the listing looks like.
Big let-down on this car is no Bluetooth hands-free, unless you get it as an a la carte option, which is installed by your dealer, by the way, for a rather outrageous $500. Cars in this mid to high $20,000s range absolutely oughtta have Bluetooth hands-free standard at this point. And another oddball: there is no security system in this car unless you option one. This little security key fob to lock it and turn the alarm on is an option from the dealer. If you buy this car straight off the factory floor, it's a thief's picnic.
Now of course, one of the features of the Element is the really flexible cargo bay back here. So first of all, you've got seats that you can easily take out or flatten them down like so, and then there's another little thing you can pull down here. Ah, there we are. So the whole thing flips up and can be put out of the way without being removed. You can do that with both, of course. And they've also got a little odd option: an interior privacy curtain you can put that kind of draws all the way around the side and rear glass. You can turn this into a little camper if you're like five-foot zip, or make it your little rolling, plastic boudoir. If you like doors, this could be the car for you. Dual opposing doors on each side of this little guy. Very accessible vehicle. And in the back, the Dutch door apparatus to make getting in that end is easy as these sides.
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For the longest time, you couldn't get nav in an Element, but the presence of it now proves that Honda isn't that stubborn. Nothing special under the hood; 2.4-liter inline four, doing 166 horsepower and 161 foot-pounds of torque. Eh. Zero to 60 in ten seconds. Eh. And 20/25 mpg. Eh. One gearbox, a five-speed automatic with no tricky shifting gates or paddles. It just sticks out of the dash like something from an alpha spider, which this definitely isn't.
Driving the Element is definitely a upright experience. It's a very tall, boxy car inside and out. The ride and the comfort are both really harsh. This SC is tightly sprung with a lower suspension, firm, low profile tires... really hard seats. The whole impression is one of riding on a snare drum as it traverses a rough road. Not a great car for a long road trip, I would think. The handling is mid-weight: not heavy, not too light. Pretty classic Honda stuff. Makes a horrible noise when you step on it. Hear that? Kind of like a vacuum cleaner. Not good. But it does feel solid and substantial. That's one thing I've always liked about the Element. It doesn't feel like a flimsy or silly car.
Okay, let's price our mini-doored little friend. A 2010 Honda Element SC, [inaudible] vehicle, with nav -- remember, nav's a trim level in Honda language -- is about $26,700. And then there's not a lot to add to go CNET style. Bluetooth hands-free... duh, an insulting $507, and $225 for a security system on a wireless key fob. Oh, and 168 bucks for that curtain that says, "If this thing's rockin', don't bother knockin'."
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