2010 Honda Element Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
October 12, 2009

Ideally suited for a wide range of users with the common need to haul stuff, the 2010 Honda Element is a surprising fun and fuel-efficient.

TheCarConnection.com has studied up on what other experts from across the Web have said about the Element. But TheCarConnection.com editors have also driven the 2010 Element and report here with firsthand impressions and comparisons to other vehicles to help you make the best decision.

It's easy to misinterpret the tall, boxy 2010 Honda Element as an old-style sport-utility vehicle—or even a van of sorts—but it's no off-roader whatsoever and certainly more sophisticated than a cargo van. With on-road components and a very carlike driving personality, the Element is one of the best bets for those who like the utility of SUVs but prefer the safety, handling, and fuel efficiency of cars.

Last year there were some significant changes to the Element, involving styling updates on the outside, as well as new electronics and infotainment within. Updates last year included painted metal fenders, along with a new front grille, bumpers, hood, and headlights that made the Element's appearance a little crisper and more chromed. Overall, the appearance is a bit more awkward and less cute than before from the front, combining the original's Rubbermaid charm with something that seems to be trying for a class it ain't part of.

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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 2010 Honda Element LX and EX models—is a five-speed automatic transmission.

The combination gives the Element sprightly acceleration around town, though on the highway it can become noisy and needs a little more planning. The automatic transmission is also happier around town, where it shifts smoothly and decisively, while it's a little rougher at speed. Real-world fuel economy is good around town, but again probably as the result of the Element's bricklike shape, highway fuel economy isn't really much better than city mileage. EPA ratings are up to 20 mpg city, 25 highway with front-wheel drive. AWD is an option on the 2010 Honda Element, but the Element does just fine with front-wheel drive, and we'd recommend it only for those who get heavy snowfall.

Those who expect the 2010 Honda Element to drive like a truck will be surprised; with a car-based chassis that has struts up front and Honda's famed double-wishbone rear suspension, the Element possesses responsive handling and decent stability. 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.

Across the Honda Element model line, the interior includes a collection of nooks and crannies good for gear and all sorts of smaller items. EX and SC models get an overhead console with two compartments: one of them large enough for PDAs, the other good for sunglasses. The EX comes with a new convertible center console with a removable cooler/storage box. Although the Element is great for cargo, it isn't a great choice for those who plan to regularly carry backseat passengers; the cabin feels rather narrow and the seats are hard, while entry and exit are a bit challenging. Furthermore, the rear-hinged back doors can open only if the respective front ones are opened first.

For cargo, the Element is king among small vehicles. 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.

With top five-star and "good" ratings from the federal government and the IIHS in all frontal and side impact tests, the 2010 Honda Element is one of the safest vehicles in its class. The Element also comes with standard electronic stability control and has been a Top Safety Pick for previous model years. A three-star rollover score from NHTSA—the lowest the agency bestows for today's vehicles—is the only downside in this area and the product of the Element's tall, narrow body.

The 2010 Honda Element comes configured just right for its target audience—an odd mix of active young people, frugal empty nesters, and pet owners—with several trim levels. Base LX models are quite basic, but don't forget about air conditioning or power accessories, while uplevel EX and SC models don't omit digital music and other desirable features, including an iPod interface, USB connection, and MP3 compatibility. Those models get an upgraded 270-watt stereo system with seven speakers and a subwoofer.

Options on the base LX are limited, but 2010 Honda Element EX and SC models can be outfitted with a few more features such as a navigation system and a rear backup camera (very useful with this model). For 2010, Honda introduces a new Dog Friendly Element, a $995 option, which includes a pet carrier made of seatbelt webbing, an extendable ramp, an extra ventilation fan, a cushioned bed, and all-season floor mats.

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