Next stop: Generation Y. Carmakers know that the 70 million Americans born between 1977 and 1994 are opinionated, shrewd, and fickle. A tricky group to market to, but one approach is to engineer a vehicle around what the next wave of car buyers actually do in their spare time. Which, in the case of an SUV, may be something other than driving to Home Depot and the mall. The Honda Element, based on the company's Model X concept vehicle, is about the fashion of high functionality. Its cartoonish, boxy design is made for road trips and other adventures. Eliminating the B-pillars and installing rear-opening "suicide" doors creates a huge cargo-loading area. Rubberized floors can be hosed down. This is the SUV for mountain bikers, campers, surfers?and those who'd like to think of themselves that way.
Toyota, meanwhile, has morphed the SUV into an urban cruiser. On the Scion bbX concept below, the rear cargo area is consumed by the amplifiers and subwoofers needed for 1,350 watts of sound. The Scion also features an LCD on the back of each headrest for DVD watching, and a center-console navigation system.
HONDA ELEMENT: USE IT
What: ber-versatile CR-V sister
When: December 2002
Angle: Two words?road trip
Price: $16,000 to $21,000
Like the Nissan Xterra, the original back-to-basics small SUV, the Element is packed with features for mountain bikers, windsurfers, and rock climbers. But the nerdier Honda is meant to run with an even younger crowd, who want versatility above all else. You can fold the rear seats against the walls for extra room, or lay them down flat for a makeshift bed. Rubberized floors can be hosed down, and the six-speaker stereo plays MP3s as well as old-fashioned compact discs. The Element's i-Vtec engine varies valve timing and lift depending on engine speed, which increases both power and efficiency.