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by Steve Siler

Honda Element
2003 Honda Element

The Element is sort of an SUV, sort of a panel van, sort of a minivan, sort of a Gen-Y cruiser all wrapped into one funky package. One thing it is for sure is that it's unusual; you're guaranteed to get plenty of stares in this thing, at least that's how our experience has been. But they're not judgmental stares, they are inquisitive stares. And they come from all kinds of people.

Fact is, the Element appeals to all kinds of people. Just as the Chrysler PT Cruiser's appeal crosses all demographic categories, so does the Element. Sure, its techno looks take the old folks a little longer to "get" than the young'uns, but sooner or later, they all come around and start to like the boxy little thing. And that's a good thing, as it has a lot to offer.

The Element's interior is perhaps where it shines brightest. A completely washable interior features water-friendly seat fabrics and a rubber floor. The dash layout is superb, with well-laid-out controls rendered in funky materials and youthful design. The optional stereo, replete with subwoofer, is superb. The front seats fold down to meet the rear seats to form a chaise-like lounge in back, and a removable sunroof awaits you above the cargo area should you decide to take a nap under the sun. Love that.

As unusual as it appears inside and out, it feels very natural to drive the Element. The CR-V's tried-and-true mechanicals rest underneath the Element's jazzy skin. So rest assured that it will drive in a most docile and civilized way. Indeed, when it comes to urban travel, there may be no vehicle no more in its element than the new Element.