Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The dash gauges are large and clearly labeled with white text against a black background. Perimeters of the gauges are highlighted with a thin red border which gives a bit of a race-look. A large speedometer dominates the center with smaller tachometer and temp/fuel gauges flanking the left and right, respectively. Engine information is limited to trip meters, odometer, and oil life.
Customizing the seating position is with a knob to adjust height and lever to set seatback angle. Nonetheless, I was able to find a comfortable position for the duration of the test drive. Even on longer drives, the seating position remained comfortable. One notable positive feature for taller drivers is the cavernous roofline providing ample headroom for the giants out there. If I had one complaint, it would be access to the built-in seatbelts: once seated, they are hard to grab because they’re located lower than my shoulders (and I’m not tall!).
The HVAC system works quickly to cool down this large green house vehicle, and controls are very clearly labeled with white on black text or icons. The lack of a B-pillar in combination with the suicide rear door makes ingress and egress from the rear seats an easy task (even for my 300+ lb friend) as well as making it easy to load cargo.
166-horsepower … not much by today’s standards, just about right for the Element. Carting 5 guys to lunch (okay, one weighed as much as two!) never strained the 2.4 liter i-VTEC engine. Honda’s drive-by-wire system is amazing. It’s perfectly weighted and feels just right. Stepping on the gas has a resultant linear feel to acceleration. When I was in the PT Cruiser (which is not drive-by-wire), the pedal action seemed too light and the engine seemed like it was catching up to the pedal stroke rather than being tied to it. Nice job, Honda! Braking is excellent … linear and strong. I was exiting the freeway and accelerating prior to slamming on the brakes as hard as possible (from about 85mph)… no drama, no ABS. Just smooth and controlled braking.
The SC version is 20mm lower and a firmer suspension setup than the standard Element. Something you can definitely feel. Driving on the freeway the steering has good on-center feel and tracked well, but needs a little more tweaking to give it better feel for non-freeway driving. As it stands, if feels a little numb compared to other cars I’ve driven. Flooring it at times seemed to awaken the torque steer demons from within as I wrestled with the steering wheel’s desire to turn. It’s a tall vehicle and I refrained from pushing the limits. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to tip over just rounding a turn at moderate speeds. Included are the normal electronic safety gizmos (Electronic Brake Distribution, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) along with Traction Control) that will keep you upright and help maintain control should vehicle dynamics turn south rapidly. Handling is flat when actively turning due to the front and rear sway bars in combination with the firm dampers, but feels like it wants to push out of the turn. Perhaps this is the nature of this boxy beast.