- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

When Honda entered the SUV arena, it brought an entirely new dimension to the category, offering a rugged, durable and extremely versatile transportation form with a high level of utility without a high price tag to match.

For the new model year, the Japanese automaker has added a new trim level with the EX-P. This model is based on the existing EX trim level, but features painted panels and door panels in the place of the familiar contrasting cladding.

Based on the Honda Model X Concept that bowed at Detroit’s 2001 North American International Auto Show, the Element first entered the market as a 2003 model. Initially there were only two trim levels: a basic DX (now discontinued) and a more upscale EX model, followed by the addition of an LX trim level that added air conditioning with an air-filtration system, along with an AM/FM/CD audio system with four speakers and a clock.

All trim designations are available in either a two-wheel-drive (2WD) or four-wheel-Drive (4WD) configuration.

Power for all Elements comes from a 2.4-liter DOHC iVTEC four-cylinder engine that pumps out 156 horsepower and generates 160 foot-pounds of torque.

Transmission choices include a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic (the latter is the only transmission available in 4WD models), with the shifter mounted in the hanging center console. Manual gearbox versions are capable of lighting up the front tires off the line.

Pricing of course varies according to trim level, with $550 to be added to all models for destination and handling fees. Automatic transmission models cost more than those equipped with standard transmissions and, 4WD will cost more than 2WD models.

There is still very little middle ground in terms of the Element’s visual appeal — it seems to evoke either a love or hate reaction. Most are enamored with its somewhat funky Japanese persona, while falling in love with the practicality and versatility that it offers.

There aren’t likely to be any aerodynamics awards, but the Element more than makes up for exterior slipperiness with slick, unique features and lower level of maintenance to keep its appearance top notch.

The seating is ideally flexible, with the split, removable flip-up second row folding flat into a bed (single or double), or folding up out of the way on each side. There are more than 64 available seating configurations.

The two cargo doors on each side open in the manner of a clam shell with no “B” pillar, while a lift gate/tailgate allows easy access from the rear.

The interior floor is covered by a hard, flat, textured urethane-coated mat for easy cleanup and the seat fabric is waterproof. There are open storage bins in each door and in the aft corners near the rear gate to hold wet, messy gear securely.

Much of the exterior consists of ding- and scratch-resistant polymer panels that require no waxing or buffing.

The term “ideal for those with active lifestyles” is, without question overworked, so I’ll substitute “great for going out with all your gear and having fun any way you choose.”

The test Element was in EX-P trim in a 4WD configuration with the five-speed automatic transmission. It was finished in Alabaster Silver metallic with the inside sporting a pleasing blend of blue, charcoal, gray and brushed-aluminum tones. The base price was set at $22,325 with a final tag of $22,875 after adding the destination and handling charge.

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