2004 Element New Car Test Drive
Honda went out on a limb with the Element. Normally a conservative company, it designed a unique vehicle, both in appearance and packaging. The Element is sort of military/utilitarian chic. Honda says Element was designed specifically for young male buyers who need a truck to haul their stuff, but want the security of an enclosed cargo area with car-like performance and economy. As it turns out, the Element appeals to a much larger audience than young men.
Element features a plain, durable, scratch-resistant interior, and that's a big part of its charm. Its seats are designed to get wet. It looks like a little truck, but is built with components from the Honda Civic so it drives more like a car than a truck-based SUV.
The Element was all-new for 2003 and returns for 2004 with minor changes. Most significantly, there's now a mid-range LX trim level between the plain DX and the premium EX; meanwhile the EX comes with more standard equipment than before.
Each of the three trim levels is available with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. All are powered by a four-cylinder engine, Honda's i-VTEC 2.4-liter.
The entry-level DX ($16,100) does not come with a radio or air conditioning. It does, however, come with power windows and door locks, four-wheel disc brakes, and an adjustable steering column. The new LX ($17,100) adds air conditioning with micron filtration and a four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo.
EX ($18,900) adds aluminum wheels, anti-lock brakes, cruise control, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, a passenger-side armrest, and a seven-speaker, 270-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with an auxiliary input for an MP3 player or other digital media.
All of the above can be ordered with an automatic transmission ($800) and/or Honda's Real Time all-wheel drive ($1400). Order all-wheel drive, and you also get a large rear skylight that tilts open or removes completely and stores inside the vehicle. Side-impact airbags ($250) are offered on the EX only.
Safety features include front seatbelts with pre-tensioners and load limiters to reduce the chance of belt-related injuries. The Element earned a five-star rating for both driver and front-seat passenger in the federal (NHTSA) frontal crash test. Side-impact airbags are only available for the EX, however, and are an extra-cost option that we recommend as they can help reduce injuries in a side impact. As mentioned, ABS only comes on the EX model, and we recommend it as it allows the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency-braking situation.