Out of all the cars I've driven in my lifetime, only one made me consistently grateful for the effort put in by its designers. That car is the decidedly unsexy but fantastically utilitarian Honda Element, first released in 2003. A friend of mine owned one, and started lending it to me when I first got my dogs, allowing me to easily haul them out to the countryside.
First off the suicide doors make it super easy to load not only dogs, but cargo and people.
Once you load and unload a four-door car without a B-pillar, you'll wonder why all cars aren't designed this way.
You could also leave all four doors open wide when chilling out.
The unique design of the rear seats made the interior unbelievably flexible. The seats could be folded completely flat, meaning you could use one as a sort of couch when parked.
The rear seats were also designed to swing up and out of the way, giving you an absurd amount of floorspace for cargo.
They could also be removed altogether.
Though I never used the car in this manner, all four seats can be made to lie flat.
You'll also notice the floor is rubberized. This made it super easy to clean out after your dogs have tracked mud into it.
The Element became a big hit with dog owners, winning a "Dog Car of the Year" award in 2007, and Honda noticed. At the 2009 New York Auto Show they rolled out a "Dog Friendly" package for the Element.
It included an integrated bed and restraint system;
a lipped, recessed spill-proof water bowl;
a ramp to make loading and unloading easier for smaller or older dogs;
dog-friendly seat covers for the rear seats;
and in a somewhat cutesy move, they also upgraded the pattern on the rubber flooring.
They also included a ventilation fan for the rear.
Sadly, the Element was discontinued in 2011. As cool as its interior design features were, most consumers in the market for a small SUV weren't willing to pay for them; lower-priced and inferior offerings from other carmakers proved to be winning competitors. There were also rumors of internal strife at Honda, with their own CR-V apparently chosen to have its sales efforts focused on over the Element. As proof of this, note that the CR-V was updated every four years on average, whereas the Honda brass didn't allow a major redesign of the Element even once.
Ron Paulk—a man who knows a hell of a lot about making the interior of a vehicle useful—was recently in the market for a used vacation vehicle and settled on a Honda Element. He found that the car was so in-demand that they now sell, used, for more than the original retail price! And even so, they sell so fast that Paulk lost out on four of them before finally snagging one. Here he shows it to you and explains why he chose the Element: