The Honda Element through the Years
The Honda Element is a small crossover SUV designed for the “active lifestyle” crowd. With a unique cube-shaped styling and an emphasis on function, it developed a loyal following. Somewhere along the line, it also became a surprising wheelchair van option. The small SUV has become an increasingly popular choice for those who would like a small, stylish wheelchair vehicle and who can manage without many of the amenities found in larger mobility vehicles.
The 2005 Element followed the 2004 template quite closely. Honda added side airbags to the earlier plan and offered improved sound system. The base LX trim package added power mirrors and cruise control, but Honda made few other alterations.
Honda sold the Element as either an LX or a slightly upgraded EX model. Both used a 2.4-liter 5-cylinder engine and either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission. Both options were available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive variations.
Honda changed the Element lineup in 2006 by adding the EX-P trim package. The new variation included all of the EX features along with a number of exterior improvements, including color-matched fenders and special paint color options. Otherwise, the Element was virtually indistinguishable from the previous year’s model.
The EX-P experimented lasted only one model year. It was gone in 2007, replaced by the Element SC. This new alternative trim package made the Element slightly more comfortable for in-town use. Honda also improved the Element’s transmission, adding a well-tuned five-speed to the mix for those buyers who went with the automatic option. Many buyers who were somewhat turned off by the ultra-plain Element were impressed with the SC, helping the vehicle to continue its impressive sales run in 2007 and 2008.
The Element remained virtually unchanged in 2009, with the exception of a new front grille. In 2010, Honda eliminated the manual transmission as an option and offered new interior features including a special package of extras for those who regularly travel with their dogs.
An Overall Assessment of the Honda Element
In some ways, the Element is a “love it or hate it” vehicle. It has a very unique design that appeals to some but that turns off others. In terms of performance, it is surprising peppy and handles better than one would think.
The Element is not a luxury ride, though. Features are quite limited compared to other vehicles in the Honda family and the driving experience features the kind of bumps and shakes you would expect from a vehicle designed for those who like to spend their weekends shooting the rapids or rock climbing. It is a practical vehicle that just so happens to be wrapped up in a design that stands out in a crowd.
Honda has not made much of an effort to introduce technological or mechanical advancements in the Element. Nonetheless, performance is adequate and the Element has demonstrated sufficient levels of reliability.
The Honda Element as a Wheelchair Van
It is unlikely that the design team at Honda thought of the Element as a potential wheelchair van. However, the crossover caught the attention of conversion experts due to its high profile and cargo-van style side doors. This combination of height and pillar-less “suicide doors” made it possible to transform the Element into a stylish wheelchair van.
The conversion involves dropping the Element’s floor (which limits wheelchair van buyers to the front-wheel drive option), removing two passenger seats and potentially switching out the stock driver’s seat for a more accessible option, and installing a side-entry ramp.
Those interested in the Element as a wheelchair van should note that the doors are not modified to open automatically and that most conversion manufacturer models use a spring-assisted side ramp. Those who have limited ability to handle the manual doors will want to consider other vehicle options. Those who want something small, sporty and different–and who do not have many passenger or cargo needs–may enjoy a modified Element.
Is the Element Right for You?
If you like the Element’s unique styling and can deal with a relative paucity of extra features and luxury, it could be a great choice. It performs adequately, gets relatively decent gas mileage and has been a reliable performer. Just remember, this is a crossover that has been sold with optional kayak racks and most variations feature an easy-to-clean rubber floor instead of carpet. The Element is built with a certain demographic in mind and those who do not fit it may find themselves somewhat frustrated by the crossover cube.
If you are in the market for a wheelchair van, you will need to be sure that the small Element will be a good match with your driving needs and that you can successfully manage the manual doors and a non-powered ramp.