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Expert reviewers at TheCarConnection.com consulted what the most authoritative auto critics have written about the new Honda Element to produce this conclusive review of the new Honda Element. TheCarConnection.com editors also drove the Element in order to interweave our expert opinion and help you make the right decision on a new vehicle.
The Honda Element soldiers into 2009 with some noteworthy changes: styling updates on the outside, new electronics and infotainment within. The 2009 Honda Element remains a unique vehicle, being equal parts crossover, SUV, economy car, and upright utility van. Its chunky exterior dimensions translate into a cavernous interior that swallows bulky items with ease. The easy-to-use rear seats contain two passengers comfortably, flip up for more utility, lay flat to create a sleeping area, or can easily be removed altogether.
If you've been keen on the Element but felt it lacked features and polish, 2009 might just be your year. Painted metal fenders replace the plastic units, and finally navigation, USB/MP3 connectivity, and a backup camera are optional inside. The new front grille, bumper, headlights, and hood give the 2009 Honda Element an awkward Max Headroom appearance from head-on, replacing the original's Rubbermaid charm with something that seems to try too hard.
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 166 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque propels LX, EX, and SC trim levels. Sending the power to the front wheels in all three trims—or all four wheels in 2009 Honda Element LX and EX models—is a five-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual. The manual shaves about $800 off the Element's purchase price but is only available on the SC and 4WD EX models.
Honda's i-VTEC valve operation gives the four-cylinder sprightly acceleration even with an automatic; around-town performance is more than adequate, though passing on the highway can be noisy and requires planning. Perhaps another penalty to the Element's bricklike shape in the wind, real-world fuel economy in high-speed cruising isn't much better than city mileage in the Element, according to TheCarConnection.com's experiences with the vehicle. AWD is an option on the 2009 Honda Element EX and LX, but we'd recommend it only for those who frequent icy roads, as the Element's front-wheel drive and standard traction control handle most slippery conditions with aplomb.
A car-based chassis with struts up front and Honda's famed double-wishbone rear suspension give the Element confident, easy handling. Soft tires on the LX and EX models make for somewhat lazy steering response; firmer rubber and shorter sidewalls on the SC are an improvement, without much of a ride penalty, and look more athletic. Braking is strong and easy to modulate; four-wheel discs with ABS are standard.
The biggest changes for the '09 Honda Element are on the inside. Adding to the impressive collection of storage nooks and crannies is a new overhead console for EX and SC models that includes two large storage bins that can hold CD cases as well as a smaller stash for sunglasses. The EX comes with a new convertible center console with a removable cooler/storage box. The Element still isn't the right vehicle for those who frequently carry backseat passengers, however, as the rear-hinged back doors can open only if the respective front ones are opened first.
De rigueur for this segment is digital music capability, and the 2009 Honda Element now finally competes with its Scion rivals. Uplevel EX and SC models now feature a glovebox-mounted USB interface for iPods and other MP3 players; in those models sound is piped through a 270-watt stereo system with seven speakers and a front center-mounted 6.5-inch subwoofer. We find the system to be better than average, but wish for both more bass and treble response.
Optional on 2009 Honda Element EX and SC models with the automatic transmission is a Honda-Linked Navigation System. It includes a rear backup camera that is great for identifying kids or bikes in the way. Voice recognition is included in this option and helps users enter street numbers, names, and cities.
The 2009 Element is also one of the safest vehicles in its class, with top five-star and "good" ratings from the federal government and the IIHS in all frontal and side impact tests. The Element also comes with standard electronic stability control and earns a place as an IIHS Top Safety Pick for '09. The only downside is a three-star rollover score for this unusually narrow and tall vehicle.