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Car Reviews

Honda CR-V – Reborn with a New Look, New Utility

By Jim Bray

Monday, May 28, 2007

In the world of "cute utes," Honda's CR-V has traditionally been one of the least cute. That tradition has been maintained in the new generation SUV.

Honda's New Entry Level Car a Nice Fit

By Jim Bray

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Once upon a time, back in the 1970's, Honda made waves with its entry level car, the Civic. It was a little two door econobox that promised little more than providing an economical way to get around. And it sold.

Honda Civic Hybrid

by Jim Bray Monday, May 22, 2006

It isn't as noticeable on the road as Toyota's Prius, but Honda's new Civic hybrid is a fine little vehicle that can save you some gas money if you drive it right.

On the other hand, since it looks mostly like the other versions of the four door Civic, it doesn't make a political statement the same way the Prius does, so if you're looking to get noticed for your social responsibility, this may not be the car for you.

That would be a shame, because this Civic does a nice job of sipping gas while providing a comfortable and efficient ride for a family and its stuff.

The Honda Element

by Rod Cleaver June 9, 2003

It isn't very often that an automobile manufacturer introduces a new model that creates a new automotive segment.  Honda designers did just that, with the funky looking 2003 Honda Element.  With outside-the-box thinking, they created what may be the boxiest vehicle on the road today.

The new 2003 Element doesn't just look different; it actually delivers on the promise of truly being different.  According to Honda, the Element is designed to provide maximum utility for buyers who want room, and versatility for their recreational equipment. The irony of it could well be that the utility offered by the Element is being appreciated more by a broader segment of buyers, rather than the Gen X crowd which was the original target.  In fact, I have learned that the first Element sold in Canada was to an office cleaning business.

The Element is built on the Honda CRV platform, however, the measuring tape shows the Element is a foot shorter than the CRV, but manages to surpass the CRV in width and overall interior volume.  The interior headroom is overwhelming and imparts a sense of spaciousness that requires some getting used to. The utility of the interior is perhaps a benchmark in the industry. The folding and removable rear seats allow for up to 64 different seating arrangements. The rear seats can actually fold up off the floor to allow extra storage space. The facility even exists to fold the seats down to create a pair of sleeping platforms for those overnight camping trips. A rugged interior is another feature of the Element. The seat fabric is water-resistant, and instead of carpet, the floor is covered with a hard, scratch-resistant, urethane-coated material that can be wiped down.  

When seated in the driver's seat, you realise that the utility theme carries over from the vehicle exterior. Seating position is excellent with a typical SUV elevated view of the roadway. Unlike other mini SUVs, the Element does not use hard plastic in order to achieve its rugged interior. Dash area and door panels are covered with a rubber-like material that appears as though it will stand up to all kinds of punishment from every day use. The instrument cluster consists of three large easy to read circular gauges, with silver rings on the outside. All other major controls are easily reached and operated.  The gearshift lever mounted in the centre stack of the dashboard reminds me of the old Alfa Romeo Spiders with the same style shifter. The 270-watt audio system, with 7 speakers in our Y package Element delivers great sound quality and offers adjustable bass, treble, mid range, and a sub-woofer. The abundance of useful storage bins and compartments is another pleasant surprise.

Back to the vehicle exterior, where the styling is perhaps the most provocative feature of the vehicle. Love it or hate it, there is nothing else like it on the market. The rugged dent resistant exterior body panels are set in a 2-tone colour scheme that adds to the overall uniqueness of the exterior.

A noteworthy feature concerning the vehicle's exterior design is the use of so called "suicide doors," meaning that the doors open outward from the vehicle centre.  With the elimination of the "B"pillars between the Element doors, Honda reinforced the door frames, and the upper and lower rails around the door openings, so as to maintain good crash protection.  When open, the suicide doors create a gapping wide hole on either side of the vehicle that allows for unprecedented access to the interior cabin, permitting large bulky objects to be moved in and out of the Element with ease.

In everyday use, the suicide rear doors required some mental adjustment to get used to. The front doors have to be opened in order to allow the rear doors to be opened.  However, should there be any occupants in the front seats, you must ensure that their seatbelts are unbuckled before you heave away on the rear door, as the seatbelts are anchored to the rear door frames. The other downside is the amount of parking room required to open both doors to allow sufficient room to enter and exit the rear of the vehicle. The clamshell rear hatch opens in two sections. The upper section, which is hinged to the roof, opens up out of the way, while the lower half is a tailgate-type door that folds down.  The low lift-in height allows for easy loading and unloading of cargo.

The Element is powered by an I-VTEC, 2.4-liter, inline-4 producing 160 horsepower and 159 lb./ft of torque. Power is adequate for most driving situations, but the Element is no sports car. Still, the adequate power is available across the rev range, and the boxy Element never feels underpowered. Engine noise is virtually non-existent at highway speeds, and only during high RPM downshifts does the inline-4 make itself known.

The Elements tall boxy design does not lend itself well to cross winds, but it is easily controlled with the precise steering and refined chassis handling that we have grown to expect from Honda. The overall ride on the highway was smooth and quiet, which was surprising, given the vehicle's cubic shape.

The Element is available in 2 trim levels, a base model, and a more fully equipped Element Y Package. The base model Element features AM/FM/CD stereo, air conditioning, power windows, mirrors, and locks.  The Y package adds premium seat fabrics, a metallic-accented floor covering, and a 270-watt audio system with subwoofer and inputs for other digital audio sources such as an MP3 player.

 A choice of either 5 speed manual, or 4 speed automatic transmissions, are offered on either trim level, however All Wheel Drive is offered only on the upscale Y trim level, and is only mated to the 4 speed automatic transmission.

 From our first hand experience with this vehicle on the road, Honda has hit the mark once again. There is nothing else on the road that is remotely similar to the Element, and the amount of attention garnered on one trip down to the Niagara region shows that there is sizeable public interest in this product. Just how many Elements Honda will sell will more than likely boil down to how many Elements Honda can ship to these shores.

 Prices for the 2003 Element start at $23,900 for 5-speed transmission base model, and $25,600 for the top of the line "Y" model with the manual gearbox. An automatic gearbox is a $1000 option, and the 4-wheel drive model lists at $28,900.

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