Basic Motoring

All Elements are powered by Honda's familiar 2.4-liter four-cylinder, with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The engine makes 166 horsepower and 161 pounds-feet of torque.

I drove the automatic in both the EX and SC, which pairs nicely with the four-cylinder. In normal driving, it consistently holds gears a few moments long, allowing drivers to wring out a bit more power than they could with an early-shifting transmission. Some of the transitions can seem abrupt, but the payoff comes in peppier low-speed acceleration — even with all-wheel drive, which adds some 135 pounds, or about 4 percent, to the Element's weight.

The gas pedal is quite touchy, something I've experienced in other four-cylinder cars. This could be a result of drive-by-wire throttle, which the Element now has. Drive-by-wire allows the gas pedal to produce acceleration electronically rather than through a mechanical linkage, meaning it can open the throttle a lot in the first inch or so you step on the accelerator. This can make comparatively low-powered cars act adequately around town. When you floor it, though, you might find that there's not as much additional power as you expect.

The Element has some of this effect, though its engine — one of the smoother four-cylinders on the market — keeps it from feeling like a complete turkey. Even with a full load of passengers, I had sufficient oomph starting from dead stops. In the front-wheel-drive Element, hard acceleration can produce a touch of wheelspin and even some torque steer — a tendency slightly abated in the all-wheel-drive Element.

Onramp acceleration can best be characterized as leisurely. The engine revs high and drones loudly, but the car never seems dangerously slow. Driving solo, I had adequate power to merge onto the expressways near our Chicago offices. No doubt steep inclines or extra passengers could tip the balance.

Despite its wind-catching shape, the Element stays planted on the highway. The transmission kicks down with minimal delay, delivering acceptable, if noisy, passing performance. Bringing things to a halt are standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes. The pedal in my test car felt sure-footed, though not as strong as many Hondas I've driven. Shorter drivers, take note: The pedal's a bit high off the ground, and there is no power-adjustment feature to reposition it.

Depending on the transmission and driveline, highway gas mileage ranges from 23 to 25 mpg — on the low end, but not drastically so, for this segment. Note that these ratings are lower for 2008 thanks to the EPA's more-realistic testing procedures. Real-world mileage between an '07 and '08 Element should remain unchanged.

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