2003 All-Star: Small Sport-Utility

2003 All-Star Small Sport-Utility: Honda Element

What you're looking at here is the rolling redefinition of the small SUV. True, this booming category has been pulled and stretched already, courtesy of tiny crossovers, mini-trucks, and tall wagons. But the Element is the only small SUV to exploit fully the functional capabilities of its size while staying true to the rebel character of its breed. With its flat floor, center-opening side doors, and clamshell liftgate, the Element has a huge interior that offers unprecedented access. And something about its squareness recalls old-school Bronco IIs, Blazers, even G-wagens in miniature. Driving the Element is big fun: Its body control is exemplary, its gearshift and four-cylinder engine are tidy and slick, and its steering lets you know that you're driving something lasting and solid. So, while other carmakers' small SUVs are simply their mid-size SUVs reductio ad absurdum, the Element enhances and expands the very idea of the mini-ute. It's not a compromise of sportiness and utility, it's a maximization of those two attributes and the breakout SUV of the year. - Eddie Alterman

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