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STYLING | 7 out of 10
Easily recognizable at any distance
Kelley Blue Book
Simple, convenient climate and audio controls
Spacious, accessible, and easy-to-clean interior
The Auto Channel
While the 2008 Honda Element has undergone very few changes since its introduction in 2003, its styling still inspires controversy with auto writers across the Web.
Car and Driver thinks the Element has “the exterior lines of the rough and tough Hummer, flavored with hints of the two-tone Mini.” The styling is “undeniably more adventurous” than typical SUVs, Cars.com says, particularly since “part of the lower body consists of composite cladding panels, which form a curious contrast to the painted steel portions.” That’s still true of LX versions: Kelley Blue Book writes that the Honda Element is "easily recognizable at any distance," and while the LX’s "unpainted plastic body panels" may not have the greatest visual appeal, they "cleverly and conveniently avoid the issue of scratching the surface during such activities as loading bikes or skis onto the roof rack." However, in 2007 Honda updated the styling of the Element, painting those panels on the EX versions, giving it "body-color fenders and door handles," according to Edmunds.
Moving up to the front-wheel-drive-only Honda Element SC brings a slightly different look, as it "sheds a bit of the original's overtly utilitarian duds for a new front fascia with projector beam headlamps, a lowered ride height," and "larger 18-inch wheels and bumpers actually painted to match the rest of the vehicle," according to Autoblog. Cars.com thinks that "it looks like a tuner shop had its way with things" on the Element SC, which is exactly the reaction that Honda hoped to receive. Cars.com reviewers characterize the headlights as "menacing," a term rarely used to describe anything on a Honda, and they also mention the "monochromatic ground effects" as an appealing sporty touch.
While the look of the Honda Element's exterior may not be for everyone, the form and the function of the interior create a harmonious blend of comfort and practicality. As Kelley Blue Book puts it, "the Element's interior is unlike anything else on the road"--and according to most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, that seems to be the point. Kelley Blue Book reports that "the Element's original concept, in fact, was touted as a 'rolling dorm room.'" Be that as it may, The Auto Channel says that, in the Element, Honda has provided a "spacious, accessible, and easy-to-clean interior," with the SC trim distinguished from the base trims with "special fabric on the seats, copper-colored bezels around the instruments and shifter with some exterior colors, copper-backlit instruments, and 'piano black' interior trim." Cars.com, though, finds "little to like in cabin quality and ergonomics" of the 2008 Honda Element, complaining that although the 2007 update "gave it new gauges and center controls," the dash still "has an industrial severity to it," with "upright facings and hard, dimpled plastics [that] feel too cold and trucklike." ConsumerGuide is a little more positive, finding that on the Element, Honda has crafted "simple, convenient climate and audio controls"; however, they add that the "hooded gauges are hard to see in some light conditions, and are partly obscured for tall drivers by steering wheel."
TheCarConnection.com’s team of SUV reviewers likes the original appeal of the Element. It’s a singular vehicle; part crossover, part sport-utility, part economy car, and part mini-minivan, its big virtues include big interior space, a flexible rear seat and cargo bay, and a funky appeal that's modern and fresh. The Element's unique shape has been dulled somewhat as a result of the tweaks meant to appeal to younger buyers, but the look is still like something you’d find on a shelf at Target. Inside, the hard plastics are at least washable, and the Element’s simple, straightforward layout of controls and upright shape gives it acres of functionality.
The 2008 Honda Element still sports unique styling inside and out—and while it’s not universally loved, it is functional.