I must admit that when Honda first started showing the "Model X" Prototype on the auto show circuit in 2001, I wasn't exactly inspired. Here's another confession - I'm not really keen on SUVs or the idea that everybody needs to be driving them; I prefer my cars small and nimble. Of course, I realize that a large portion of the American car buying public disagrees with me, but the idea of yet another sport utility vehicle entering the radar screen was enough to induce a bit of heartburn. And I was more than a little suspicious of Honda's stated target demographic with the Element.
2001 Honda Model X Concept
All the talk coming from the PR and marketing types was about how the Element was designed to appeal to active frat boys. Okay. Sure, at that time I was a few or seven years out of college, so maybe I was more out of touch with what the "younger generation" was up to than I would have liked to think, but I just couldn't see that sort of vehicle striking the chord Honda was hoping it would. It always seems to backfire when automakers start talking about their products using words like "hip", "edgy" or "cool".
To make matters worse, Pontiac had already infected us with their own eye-searing vision of "cool" and put it on the streets around the same time frame that the "Model X" concept was revealed. The Aztek gained immediate infamy as a 21st Century AMC Pacer, and with a similar marketing mantra, the Element seemed to be entering risky territory of its own.
Fast forward just a few years, and the Model X has spawned the Element, a surprisingly faithful interpretation of the concept vehicle. Though they bear virtually no resemblance, the Element is essentially a repackaged CR-V, which is an excellent baseline. While the CR-V is built in the UK, the Element is built here in the USA. This allows the Element to escape the import duties that are levied on the CR-V, and accordingly slots it into a slightly more affordable price bracket than the CR-V.
Even though the Element is Honda's spunkiest, most affordable sport ute, the target demographic seems to have largely ignored it so far. Scion's little breadvan supposedly has done a little better in that (Gen Y) segment, but most folks I see driving either vehicle are well beyond their beer bong days. Fortunately for Honda, this "miss" was possibly for the better. Based upon the Element's strong sales figures to date (frat boys or not), it seems that there is still a large group of people that need some aspects of sport utility vehicles, but don't want the extra tonnage, poor fuel economy, riverboat driving experience, and inflated pricetags of the major offerings. This is pretty much how we backed into an Element. I wouldn't say the Element was a perfect fit for us, but it was pretty clear it would be useful to us and at a transaction price of well under $20k for our 2WD EX, the price was easy to swallow.