I developed a bond with my Honda Element which I hadn't with any of my other vehicles. It's like my adventure buddy. I don't actually speak to the Element, for which the neighbours are grateful, but when I think of it, it is fondly, let's just put it that way.
When my small pickup died, I discovered that small pickups were no more, and that, ironically, as large as pickups had become, the minibench option was no more. Jump seats or 4 door now, those were the options. With two dogs, jump seats were not going to work. And with a desire to go as small as we could for our set of circumstances and activities, 4 door was not going to work. My days in a pickup truck were over.
We started looking at small SUVs, like Foresters and the Element. We decided we wanted to lease, and quickly discovered that the only thing we could afford was the Element. Fortunately, this did not feel like a limitation. We were very enthusiastic about the vehicle, and continue to be so.
For starters, we are active people with recreational gear that comes in various shapes and sizes, from snowboards to bicycles to backpacks. And I mentioned the two dogs. The Element's 60 different seating/cargo configurations allow you to always have the best of both worlds, creating just the amount of cargo space you need, preserving as much passenger room as possible. Having said that, the back seat has a cup holder console in between the seats and no third seatbelt, so you are pretty much maxed out at 4 passengers anyway.
When you get to your adventures, loading and unloading is a cinch thanks to clamshell doors on both sides with no post separating them (essentially each side opens up to create a bay door, and horizontal clamshell doors on the back. In fact, if you were to encounter inclement weather and decided to wait it out, with everything open (except, say, the sunroof) you are essentially hanging out in a gazebo. I am imagining this scenario with the back seats left behind at home, mind you. Which raises an important point: maximum cargo space.
The Element's back seats flip up to the sides or entirely out with ease. When they're out, you'd think you were in a cargo van. This has a lot to do with the height of the interior. I haven't tried loading a sheet of plywood, but it looks to me like it would fit.
You've no doubt heard about the Element's washable interior, and it does need to be mentioned. Adventures can get messy, and dogs are by nature messy, so the ability to wipe down all the surfaces including the upholstery, is fantastic. The hosing down idea, by the way, is a myth. Honda does not advocate that, as it would risk shorting the electrical system.
My only two complaints, and I accepted them willingly at the dealership, is power and luxury. This vehicle does not offer some of the finer things its competitors do, like heated seats or power sunroof. It feels almost old-fashioned in that way. And its towing capacity is fairly low, okay for a small ATV perhaps, but no RVs or boats.