More power is always a good thing -- especially if it was in short supply to begin with. This is the big news about the updated '07 Honda Element, which gains ten very needed horses (up to 166 from 156 last year) as well as a new SC sport package to complement the power uptick.

The Element -- a boxy-looking five-door, four-passenger "whazzat?" designed to appeal to active lifestyle Gen X and Gen Y types -- continues to be one of the most distinctive vehicles on the market. It's not handsome, maybe -- but it has a friendly, low-key personality that's an appealing contrast to today's frantic, stress-crazed world of vehicular one-upmanship. It is pleasantly unpretentious, inexpensive -- and extremely versatile. Unusual features include drop-down, ambulance-style fold-down cots for beach parties or camping trips, a removable rear sunroof, backward-opening rear doors (and a pick-up truck-like split-folding tailgate out back), waterproof seats and a rubberized, "hose it clean" interior.

If you are old enough to remember good-natured oddballs of the past like the '73-'74 VW Thing and the Subaru Brat of the early-mid '80s, you will recognize a kindred spirit in the Element -- albeit one with modern amenities and safety upgrades, as well as a lot more cargo room (70-plus cubic feet with the back seats down).

As before, the Element comes in both standard front-wheel-drive and optional all-wheel-drive forms -- though the new SC sport package ($22,695 with manual transmission; $23,495 with five-speed automatic) is not available with AWD. Probably this was decided upon to maximize the performance potential of the SC, since the extra weight of the AWD equipment (as well as the inertial load) would have slowed it down a bit. All '07 Elements -- not just SCs -- do get the up-rated 2.4 liter, 166-hp engine, however.

So, how does it run?

"Fast" isn't really the right the word -- but "strained," at least, no longer applies. The '07 Element now has the legs to be comfortable in other-than-city traffic; up to 70 or so mph, there is pull to match the noise of the engine as it runs through its rev range. No rocket ship; but it does move. The original Element sometimes didn't -- especially AWD-equipped, automatic versions. At higher altitudes (I got to drive one in the Tahoe, CA area at around 6,000 feet) the thing could be downright wheezy -- very much like its ancestor-in-spirit, the old VW Thing. Even down in the flatlands, the original Element often struggled; at 3,100-plus pounds without people aboard and the aerodynamic profile of a dumpster, it was just too heavy for the overmatched four-cylinder engine to deal with.

The 5-speed '07 SC's 0-60 time of around 9 seconds flat (vs. 9.3-9.6 seconds for an '06 Element with the less powerful engine, AWD and automatic transmission) tells the story. It may not seem like that much of an improvement -- but when you've only got a narrow window to attempt a pass (or are facing a short on-ramp that doesn't give you a lot of time to build up some speed) those extra couple of tenths can make all the difference.

You can even get a little rubber on the 1-2 upshift, if you're good with your clutchwork.

Other "elements" of the new SC package include a lowered suspension and an 18-inch wheel and tire package -- in addition to onyx black and copper or titanium interior trim and an iPod jack in the storage cubby. SC models also get a different grille treatment, body-colored exterior trim, projector beam headlights -- and unique paint treatments, including "Rootbeer Metallic."

Also: Everything that comes standard on the $18,900 LX (and mid-level EX), including air conditioning, keyeless entry, premium audio with MP3 capability, etc. is part of the SC's equipment package. There are no major options.

The only things you don't get and can't have are the AWD system -- and the removable rear sunroof, which is bundled with the AWD. (Honda might give some thought to offering the sunroof as a stand-alone option; it certainly ought to be available on top-of-the-line SCs -- AWD or no AWD.)

Another upgrade for '07 are side-impact and full-row curtain air bags -- now standard on all trims -- as well as a tire pressure monitor, ABS brakes and electronic stability control.

As far as pros: The SC's lowered suspension and considerably more aggressive, stiff sidewall performance tires noticeably reduce body roll when cornering and give the vehicle a more precise feel as you cut the wheel. And hipsters looking for a more custom look (or the basis for a custom Element street ride) will probably like the SC's down-low stance, too. Black out the windows, install a thumping stereo rig -- and you're pretty much there.

On the con side: The SC's ride is pretty harsh, which is to be expected given that much of the standard suspension's give and travel have been taken out. In a city/urban environment, with pothole-laced roads, this might get old real quick. Be sure your tailbone likes the SC as much as the rest of you -- before you make the commitment.

Also, there's price -- and practicality -- to consider. Given that base LX and mid-trim EX Elements also get the more powerful 2.4 liter, 166-hp engine -- and given you can get an Element so equipped for as little as $18k or so -- the non-SC Elements seem more in keeping with the "affordable fun" ethos of the original concept.

That said, it's nice that Honda has expanded the range (more choice is always welcome) as well as upped the power across the range. Four years out of the gate, the Element's still fun, it's still affordable -- and now that it can make it to 60 mph in decent time, it's able to play safely in traffic, too.