- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2003

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — Crazy or cool, it does not matter. As long as it’s different from the car your parents drive, different from the minivan that took you to school or the baseball game.

In January 2001, at the Detroit Auto Show, Honda launched the Model X concept car, with which it specially aimed at Generation Y, the 16- to 24-year-old grandchildren of the baby boomers.

In Europe we are somewhat more used to funny and boxy looking cars, mostly passenger versions of the small French business vans that a lot of people do not want to be seen in.

So for me the design of the Honda Element, though younger and more macho, was not so shocking. On the contrary, I even liked its different, boxy looks. And I am older than 25.

When drawing the new car, the designers of Honda R&D; Americas had to meet the standards for a versatile model, meant for young, active people that do not have the money to pay for a pickup truck or a sport utility vehicle.

At campuses the engineers discovered that Gen-Y wanted to have a roomy cabin, flexible seating, a large and flat floor, strong looks and considerable power.

The Model X concept car met those requirements and as the car generated a lot of positive reactions at the shows, Honda decided to build the Element. Last December it arrived at the dealers as a 2004 model.

Honda hoped to sell 50,000 Elements this year, but because of the high demand Honda will build the maximum of 70,000 in its Ohio plant.

The underpinnings of the CR-V form the basis of the Element. Whereas the flat floor and the hatch in two parts are unique, as is the omission of the B-pillars, that creates large openings at the sides with rear doors opening at 90 degrees.

Even as the Element looks somewhat weird, when you are driving the boxy Honda it provides a self-assured impression.

You would expect it to feel like the CR-V, but with its wider track, larger (16-inch) wheels, stiffer springs and fatter stabilizers, it feels better balanced and it smoothes out the bumps in the road. The 160 horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine performs nicely and the five-speed stick shift behaves as you might expect of a Honda. I drove the front-wheel-drive version, but the Element also comes with all-wheel drive.

I drove the Element in Redondo Beach, where the car attracted a lot of attention from the Gen-Y crowd, who thought the new Honda is cool. But also not-so-young surfers and moms driving Odysseys were approving the Element’s rugged interior that can deal with dirty feet, muddy bikes or wet surfboards.

Another good thing is the flexible seating: there are 12 positions for adjusting the seats, such as the possibility to fold the rear seats flat against the sides in just two movements.

Take into account the price of $16,000 and the Element is a very good deal for bikers, surfers, and skiers of whatever generation. Or for parents of very active children.

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