Bottom LineMy girlfriend has already decided that her next new car will be an Element, and I wont try to talk her out of it. I will encourage her to look at the competition: The Nissan Xterra, the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the Scion xB, the Saturn Vue and others. Some of the competitors offer greater gas mileage than the Elements 22 city/26 highway EPA estimate. Some offer better performance.
In terms of style, its a matter of taste. I love the retro PT Cruiser, hate the bland Vue, and laugh at the macho Xterra. The Scion xB and Element fall into the same quirky styling class, but the Elements greater utility makes the look more genuine, less of a pose.
Even though the Element is ruggedly built, you still need to take care of it. Though the Element I drove had only 5,000 or so miles on the odometer, the floor under the gas pedal was already showing significant wear -- a good set of floor mats would help avoid that. The painted surfaces on the exterior of the Element need the same care as any other cars, and the composite surfaces need to be kept clean to avoid discoloration and pitting.
Sometimes you have to think outside the box. Then again, thinking inside the box can result in a pretty great box. The Element is the thinking persons box.
See the 2005 Honda Element Photo Gallery for more pictures of the Element.