The 2008 Element remains unchanged from 2007. That’s an interesting decision on Honda’s part. Historically, they tend to make at least one or two significant improvements (or at the very least, attempts at improvement) every year.
Last year, they introduced the SC package. The year before, they rolled out the EX-P (which they eliminated the next year). They’ve made powertrain upgrades, design tweaks and other adjustments on an annual basis. We’ve come to expect constant improvement from Honda and the decision to roll out the 2007 Element for another year is somewhat disheartening--especially when there is room for improvement.
Looking at the Honda Element Wheelchair Van
The Element retains the same core styling that created a stir upon its introduction in 2003. It has a boxy, high-profile cabin and a short, stout nose. The vinyl fenders and composite bottom are still in place, although the old slat gray version remains attached to the entry-level SX trim level only (the others have feature color matching).
The interior is a lesson in minimalism. The Element has been sold as an active vehicle for active people. Honda has placed a premium on flexibility and function instead of focusing on aesthetics. The rear seats are easily removed, creating a surprising amount of cargo space that’s easily accessed via the twin cargo van-style doors on both sides of the vehicle.
Driving the Element Handicap Van
The Element has a split personality on the road. It’s a fun little crossover to drive around town and it performs admirably (in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations) when you’re dealing with the great outdoors or more challenging road conditions. The suspension is firm and responsive. The steering is communicative and honest. The 2.6-liter, four-cylinder engine gives the Element enough “oomph” for any situation you’re likely to confront.
On the highway, it’s a different story. That same firm suspension forces you to feel every pebble on the road. It’s a bouncy ride. The discomfort is then amplified by inferior soundproofing that does little to muffle road noise and a great deal of wind noise encouraged by the vehicle’s high profile.
These highway drawbacks have been a perennial problem for the Element and that’s what makes the decision to leave the vehicle unchanged a little mystifying. One would think that Honda would make resolving some of these problems a priority, instead of allowing them to continue without attention.
Modifying the Element For Wheelchair Access
Wheelchair users have generally found themselves driving converted full-sized vans and minivans. Those larger vehicles have had a stranglehold on the market because they were the only options that afforded enough interior space for appropriate access.
The idea of the small crossover Element serving as a wheelchair van probably never entered the minds of Honda’s designers. Its unique features combine to create an improbable outcome--a small vehicle that can actually do the job.
The cargo van-style doors are a key to the modification. They open wide enough to accommodate a side-entry wheelchair ramp. The high profile also makes the conversion possible. When combined with a lowered floor, there’s enough vertical clearance for a wheelchair user to utilize the Element. The large cargo area and removable seats make provide sufficient space for the wheelchair user to access the Element and to then make the move to front seat passenger’s or driver’s area.
Conversion manufacturers have discovered that adding an auto kneel in addition to the ramp and the lowered floor completes the bulk of a great conversion. That reduces the slope of the ramp to increase accessibility and safety. The process is topped off by making any additional interior adjustments. That may include the installation of tie downs or an EZ lock system, use of a transfer seat and the adaptations to van controls.
The Element conversion is a great choice for the right person. Wheelchair users who plan to have multiple passengers or who need to move a great deal of cargo won’t find it to their liking. Also, there is no way to power the Element’s doors, which means that the wheelchair user will need to be capable of handling them or will need to have a helper on hand at all times.
Options for the Element
The Element isn’t a feature-rich vehicle. Honda has emphasized function over creature comforts. While that’s been a fine decision overall, it’s made the process of establishing different trim levels problematic. The actual differences between the entry-level vehicle and improvements has always been rather slight. Last year, Honda began to use exterior options a significant part of separating the various packages.
In 2008, the Element again comes in three trim packages. The LX is the entry level vehicle. Its features include air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, power mirrors and a stereo with a CD player. The EX provides the buyers with color-matched exterior vinyl, alloy wheels, an upgraded sound system, and a few other slight improvements.
The SC package retools the Element for a more “urban” feel. The urethane floor gives way to carpet and the vehicle sits on 18-inch alloy wheels instead of the 16-inch wheels on the LX and EX. The SC has a sportier suspension and features a number of slight interior trim upgrades, as well.
Safety and the Element Wheelchair Van
The Element passed both insurance industry and government crash tests with flying colors. The vehicle comes standard with a full complement of airbags, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control.