COAL: 2006 Honda Element – Quirky and Fun Box on Wheels


Once my wife and I started a family, we replaced her aging Honda with my 2004 Honda Civic, and I went shopping again. I ended up with the most unusual vehicle I’ve owned, but one that I loved dearly: the iconic Honda Element.

In Kermit green.

The now-discontinued Element is a vehicle full of colliding ideas. Famously, the inside lacked any carpeting; Honda instead lined the floor and lower panels with a tough rubber material. This led to many thinking the thing could just be hosed out, [but doing so could lead to trouble.](

Likewise, the back seats were dubbed “stadium seating,” as they were higher than the front seats. This allowed for great visibility for passengers out the front, but the small windows on the back doors limited visibility there. These back seats could fold flat and then be “hung” against the walls, opening up the back of the Element in a truck-like fashion, which was great, but the process was difficult to do smoothly without practice, and the seats were heavy for some owners to hang them comfortably.

Then there were the doors.

With the Element, Honda eliminated the B-pillars with its rear-swinging back doors. When the front and back doors were both open, it made for a *huge* opening for kids, pets and cargo to enter and exit. However, the back doors couldn’t be opened without the front ones opening first, and the front seat belt was anchored to the back door. To let out a back seat passenger, the driver had to not only open their door first, but unbuckle or risk being squeezed rather harshly by their restraint.

(Mercifully, this was changed in 2007, when Honda incorporated the seat belt into the front seat.)

But for me, all of these headaches were worth it. The Element, for all of its quirks and oddities was an extremely flexible vehicle. While the backwards-opening rear doors were heavy and difficult to deal with in tight parking spots, it made getting a car seat in and out easier than in any other car we’ve owned except for our minivan. If I wanted to go biking or needed to move items, I could fold up the seats or pull them out altogether, turning the Element into a mini cargo van:


Of course, all of this space meant the Element looked a little bit like a work van, but I still like the looks, especially on models where the quarter panels were painted to match the sheet metal. It was comfortable — albeit a little noisy — on long drives and offered great visibility and a nice vantage point for the driver.

Under the boxy body, the Element was more or less a bigger CR-V, the crossover that vastly outsold the Element every year it was on the market. The i-VTEC four-cylinder engine found under the hood managed the weight of the Element without much fuss, and owners could opt for two-wheel or all-wheel drive.

Honda infused the Element with some funk, and as such, high-end models got exaggerated trim options and the upgraded sound system with optional sub-woofer was pretty crazy for something used by many as a family car. I still miss it.


I owned the Element for just a couple of years. My wife drove it some, and we ended up trading it in when we got her Odyssey after the 2004 Honda Civic met its demise. The multi-car dance left me shopping with a little cash in my pocket, but every time I see one of Honda’s little boxes on the road, I smile and wave.