2010 Honda Element
Base price: $20,525 – $25,585
As tested: $26,365
MPG: 19 city/24 highway
- Highly versatile –maximizes space
- Excellent for camping, biking, dogs
- Honda reliability, resale, safety Available AWD
- Dated styling is past its freshness date
- Anemic performance, noisy, choppy ride
- Disappointing fuel economy
By Jim Prueter
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Honda Element. It’s rather cute for a mutt — a mix of minivan, utility vehicle and station wagon. Shaped like a brick, the “trucklet” has been around since 2003, and is getting a bit past its freshness date, even with updates for the 2007 and 2009 model years.
Its popularity has transcended generation lines; Element’s drivers are as likely to have blue hair because of age as because of dye, streaked with pink or green.
But buyers attracted to the Element have always chosen it for function rather than style. Its utilitarian virtues are perfect for those who flip the fold-against-the-side rear seats to increase cargo capacity for mountain bikes, camping gear, hauling furniture from IKEA or a drum set for the band. Even the front seats and rear seats fold to make a bed, of sorts.
Or you could just be into dogs, and many people are, so much so that they buy vehicles with their four-legged friends in mind. We see them everywhere, some doing the sensible thing by keeping them safely gated off behind the rear seat in a wagon or utility vehicle, while still others recklessly endanger the lives of both their pets and themselves by allowing them to roam freely about the vehicle.
According to BarkBuckleUp.com, who campaigns to educate people on traveling safely with pets, even in an accident of only 30 miles per hour, a 60-pound unrestrained dog can cause an impact of 2700 pounds slamming into a car seat, the head of a passenger or the windshield.
Unrestrained pets can also distract the driver and cause accidents. Following an accident, an unrestrained pet could escape, get hit by another vehicle or cause another accident. Accordingly, they have concluded that 81 percent of people who own pets and travel, do so with their animals and that fully 98 percent of those do not travel properly restrained.
Seizing that opportunity, Honda has introduced a unique package, available on EX models only, called the Dog Friendly Element. It is the only vehicle on the market designed especially for owners who travel with their pets.
The Dog Friendly Package adds an additional $995 to the base price of test Element EX AWD (all-wheel drive) and includes three distinctive “Dog Friendly” emblems, one each on the front fenders and again on the rear liftgate.
Behind the second row of seats is a bolted-in, soft-sided dog kennel with see-through mesh sides, a zippered front and a padded bed. Inside the kennel is a deep-dish spill-resistant water bowl and, to the side, an electric fan to keep your pet cool.
For dogs that are too old or for some other reason unable to jump onto the lowered bottom half of the liftgate, a two-piece aluminum walk-up ramp stows neatly under the kennel in the cargo compartment and slides easily into place.
Once the liftgate is completely closed, however, the kennel sits below the rear and side windows and your pet is unable to look out.
The second row gets a special dog-patterned seat cover that’s water, dirt, mud and hair resistant. There are latches on the seats to buckle up to three dogs, using special dog harnesses. The harnesses are not included in this package but can be purchased separately at pet stores.
A kennel organizer, thick rubber “Dog-Bone” patterned floor mats, leash and collar in small or large size, paw print dog tag and a tote bag completes the package. Nearly $1000 seems like a lot; you might be better off buying a kennel and putting it back there and rigging your own type of ramp if necessary, but there are those who will certainly be attracted to the entire package.
Absent the Dog Friendly Package, our Honda Element was the normal EX issue, with the standard 166-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a five-speed automatic transmission. The engine is buzzy, especially under full acceleration, which is anemic at best. Along with a choppy ride, the boxy design returns a lot of wind noise on the highway. Handling for this tall, short wagon pays off in tight parking spaces and a bit of extra room in the garage. We averaged a disappointing 21 miles per gallon, but Element is surprisingly pudgy at 3641 pounds, 437 pounds more than an Accord LX sedan.
Element is offered in three models: front-wheel drive LX ($20,525), EX ($22,635) and SC ($24,320). All-wheel drive is an additional $1250 on both LX and EX models, standard on SC. All Elements are essentially two-door models with rear clamshell doors that can only be opened when the front doors are opened first. Dropping off kids at school requires front seat occupants to exit the vehicle and open the rear doors first. And since the rear doors open in the opposite direction, they can be difficult to use in parking lots.
Inside, the front seats are well bolstered, comfortable and sit high for excellent visibility. Honda says there are 64 different seating configurations. Controls are simple, well located and easy to read and use, but the dash is entirely comprised of hard molded plastic with an economy look and feel.
Standard safety equipment includes driver and passenger front and side airbags, side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, anti-lock braking system with brake assist and electronic brake distribution, stability control and LATCH system for child seats. Element earned the highest government safety rating of five stars for both front and side crash tests and was named a Top Safety Pick for 2010 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.