This article from the other day pretty much sums up everything I love about my 2003 Element. http://www.core77.com/posts/61976/The-Honda-Elements-Unsung-Interior-Design-Brilliance
It has been the perfect car for dirty/muddy/snowy weekend adventures with the dog, a move across the country (and a few more local moves after that), and day-to-day driving. At 15 years and 200k miles old, though, it's starting to develop some "quirks" that aren't doing any favors to my peace of mind or my wallet. The plan is to drag it over the finish line through the summer, squeezing in as many skiing and camping trips as I can before sending it off to the great used car lot in the sky this fall.
If I was in this position a few years ago I would have simply found a newer, lower mileage Element. But each year they're fewer and farther between, and the newest you can do is a 2011 (which is, in reality, the same basic car as my 2003 with some cosmetic changes.) I'd like to find something I can keep for a decade. A car that's already seven years old probably isn't the best bet. Knowing that a box-on-wheels with a rubber and plastic interior no longer exists, I'm looking for the following:Must-haves- AWD/4WD -
All-wheel is preferred, whether it's full-time or responsive. I feel like I'll end up with a lot of car I don't need with a 4x4, but I often find myself in chain-control areas and really
don't want to screw with them. AWD coupled with a good set of snow-capable tires has been all I've ever needed to get around safely, and legally, in the Element.- Reliability -
Tough to match Honda here, but they don't really have anything in their line I want anymore (for reasons we'll get into in a moment.)- Cargo Space -
Okay, the only real matches are minivan, larger SUV, or Sprinter (I wish.) Enough space for a few pairs of skis/boards, a dog bed, or possibly some slightly cramped car camping will suffice. Bikes and maybe a cargo carrier can go on a roof or hitch rack.Like-to-haves- Ground clearance -
This was my only gripe with the Element's geometry. I'm in the snow and mountains a lot. While it has plenty of clearance for your average fire road or camping trail, there is a good amount of digging involved to get it on the road after 6+ inches of snow falls overnight.- Uniquity -
This is where my odd design sensibility and irrational desire to be contrarian begins to show itself. I loved the boxiness of the Element. It was inherently utilitarian and the last of its kind to prioritize inward use over outward sleekness (minus Jeeps, which I can't stand driving.) It was gracefully ugly. It was a mutt. Nearly everything that has come since in the small SUV/crossover category has moved toward an identical aesthetic -- let's round off every corner imaginable before we give it some swoopy lines, interior be damned. Take off the grille and headlights, and they're all the same in my eye. Not to mention everyone
With all that in mind I have been gravitating toward AWD wagons. They seem to be a good balance of cargo-capable and daily-drivable without going full SUV. I also don't mind a modern aesthetic on a wagon the way I do on an SUV, either. Being more car-like, they're better suited to the look. A Subaru Outback is the obvious choice, but it fails mightily on the uniquity scale. Everyone out here that didn't go for the aforementioned ugly crossover opted for the Outback.
After that you move into potentially expensive Euro territory. VW is out because screw them. The Audi Allroad is fun to drive but expensive to maintain and fails on ground clearance. So far, I'm left with the Volvo XC70 (hooray for boxes!) or V60 Cross Country wagons as the front-runners. Any other suggestions, possibly from someone who has experience, good or bad, replacing an Element?