2010 Honda Element Review

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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.

Review continues below

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.

7

2010 Honda Element

Styling

Not everyone will agree that the 2010 Honda Element is good-looking, but style-conscious shoppers with an eye for utility will like what they see.

The 2010 Honda Element still makes a style statement that's unlike any other. Even for those who don't think the Element is attractive, it's hard to argue with the beauty of its stark functionality.

Most reviewers appreciate the Honda Element for its high-utility form, though it's tough to single out particular details. The 2010 Honda Element falls somewhere between the small crossover/SUV/minivan segments and boasts an upright, boxy shape. Last year the Element received a slight styling refresh, from which Car and Driver observes, "Honda has retooled its Maytag-square Element to be more urban-hipster chic, with a lower ride height, bigger wheels, and body-color bumpers." Motor Trend reviewers note that "the most obvious change to the 2009 Honda Element is right up front, where the grille has been restyled to mimic Honda's new bold chrome ring look first seen on the redesigned 2009 Honda Pilot," although they are thankful that, "other than the fresh nose, the Element's easily recognizable look and shape remains."

Though the new styling elements are relatively minor, Autoblog finds them significant enough to report that "the new Element is certainly an improvement over the outgoing model, at least in the looks category." Edmunds declared that the Honda 2009 Element "remains one of the most distinctive and useful shapes on the road," and TheCarConnection.com's editors agree.

Slight styling changes were made to the Honda Element's interior for 2009, and those carry over for 2010. Changes are basically limited to slightly different trims, materials, and switchgear, though the basic interior design remains the same. Most reviewers appreciate the Element's style inside, as ConsumerGuide praises the "simple, convenient climate and audio controls." Autoblog reports that "the Element's interior includes new color combos, titanium-look accents, and switchgear designs," while Cars.com notes the availability of "a new three-compartment overhead storage unit" on the EX and SC trims. The only major complaint regarding the interior comes from ConsumerGuide, which points out that the "hooded gauges are hard to see in some light conditions, and are partly obscured for tall drivers by the steering wheel."

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2010 Honda Element

Performance

The 2009 Honda Element isn't exciting to drive, though it's more responsive than you might expect.

The 2010 Honda Element sure doesn't look like it handles well, but a wide range of reviews read by TheCarConnection.com attest that this tall vehicle is remarkably responsive and agile. However, the boxy body pays a price on the highway, with disappointing fuel economy.

Across all three trims, the Honda Element comes with a single powertrain combination: a 166-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. The engine itself is capable enough, and Car and Driver notes that the "four-cylinder Honda powertrain pulls hard for its size." ConsumerGuide also mentions the "adequate power" from under the Honda 2009 Element's hood, "though automatic versions are slow to gather speed from a stop." Edmunds praises the Honda Element's "reasonably peppy around-town response" that features "enough smoothness to make everyday commuting a pleasant enough experience."

Fuel economy remains a disappointment for the 2010 Honda Element. Blame the poor aerodynamics, but EPA ratings don't get any better than the 20-mpg city, 25-mpg highway ratings for the front-wheel-drive 2010 Element.

While the 2010 Honda Element handles well, according to reviewers, they didn't rave about it. Motor Trend praises the "relatively sporty driving demeanor and versatility." On the positive side, ConsumerGuide says the Honda Element is "nimble for a tall box," although reviewers warn that "their slab-sided body is subject to crosswind wander at highway speeds," and that "the ride still can be stiff and jiggly on patchy pavement and washboard surfaces. SCs are particularly rough, due to their sport suspension and 18-inch tires." Overall, Car and Driver comments that the 2009 Honda Element "basically handles like a Civic wearing a TV box."

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2010 Honda Element

Comfort & Quality

Passenger comfort isn't a top priority in the 2010 Honda Element, but it succeeds in cargo-hauling and versatility.

Build quality is excellent in the 2010 Element, as can be expected from Honda, but most reviews read by TheCarConnection.com point to compromised passenger comfort and interior materials that feel too basic.

While most other vehicles of the Element's size have five seats, the Honda seats just four, and the two backseats are quite small. A number of reviewers gripe about this, but it isn't the only complaint. ConsumerGuide appreciates the "ample room, but [the] hard seat padding [up front] is not conducive to long haul comfort." Edmunds touches on the capacity again; their "editors believe its primary weakness is a lack of family friendliness—there is seating for four people only and the backward-pivoting rear doors can be problematic when frequently transporting children."

On the positive side, the cavernous interior affords generous amounts of space, and Cars.com notes the availability of "103.6 cubic feet of passenger space...which [beats] its competitors." In the rear seats, ConsumerGuide reviewers love that the "leg room is ample even with front seats set fully aft," while Edmunds points out that the "theater-style rear seats provide plenty of legroom and visibility."

And of course, cargo capability doesn't get any better than what you have in the 2010 Honda Element, especially with such a small parking footprint. Versatility is the key here, and it's a word repeated frequently in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. ConsumerGuide points to the fact that, "with the seats suitably arranged, Element can tote a ten-foot surfboard or sleep two six-footers with the hatch closed," as well as the "useful 25 cu. ft. of cargo space behind the split rear bench, whose sections stow quickly but are difficult to remove or install." Edmunds says that the Honda Element boasts "a level of versatility that bests that of many other small wagons or compact SUVs."

The clamshell back doors earn a number of comments both positive and negative, with Edmunds stating that the "doors pivot backward a full 90 degrees," creating "an extra-large portal through which to easily load" various cargo items. The cabin also offers generous storage space, and Autoblog points to the "new three-compartment overhead console available" on the 2009 Honda Element.

According to a wide range of impressions, the interior materials are nothing special in the Honda Element, but assembly quality is top-notch. ConsumerGuide attests that the "cabin materials are utilitarian but show good assembly quality." Other reviewers generally agree, and Cars.com notes that the Honda Element "SC's dashboard is darker and less fanciful" than those on other Elements, as it features "piano-black trim around the center control panel and vents, as well as on the steering wheel." One practical element of the interior can be found on the floor, where Autoblog states that the Honda 2009 Element features a "water resistant urethane-coated utility floor that quickly wipes down and seat fabric that resists moisture" on the LX and EX, while the Honda Element "SC has a carpeted passenger area."

Cabin noise levels aren't as hushed as you might hope, though. ConsumerGuide says that "tire noise is evident on coarse pavement, and [the] Element's boxy design is subject to intrusive wind rush at about 65 mph."

10

2010 Honda Element

Safety

The 2010 Honda Element is a high achiever in safety, with rollover potential the only subject of worry.

The 2010 Honda Element does surprisingly well in safety for a vehicle that looks more than a little quirky. With excellent scores in the major crash tests and a wide range of standard safety equipment, it's nearly all good news.

The Element is one of few vehicles to sweep both the IIHS and NHTSA crash tests; it earns the IIHS's highest possible score, "good," in both the frontal offset and side impact tests. In NHTSA testing, the 2010 Honda Element wins perfect five-star ratings in all impact tests, including front and side impacts. In addition, the Element garners a Top Safety Pick Award from the IIHS in 2009, with the organization citing the Honda Element's "good performance in front, side, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control." The Element's relatively poor rollover rating from NHTSA, a mere three stars—due to its tall, narrow body—is its only downside.

Honda makes sure that the 2010 Honda Element is well equipped with safety features too. Edmunds predicts that the latest edition of the Honda Element "should also be safer than ever, thanks to new safety equipment including standard stability control and optional side curtain airbags." Autoblog notes that the Element "is equipped with dual-stage, dual-threshold supplemental restraint system (SRS) airbags for the driver and front passenger." Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com also invariably mention the rollover capabilities of the airbags, as Motor Trend points out that "both front- and rear-seat passengers get side-curtain airbags, which the vehicle can adjust for optimal protection in the event of a rollover."

For outward visibility, the 2010 Honda Element is also better than the typical utility vehicle—again, probably a positive that's the result of its boxy shape. ConsumerGuide notes that the "SUV-tall driving stance and short nose offer a panoramic feel, but the roof pillars slice into visibility aft and over the shoulders." On EX and SC trims, a rearview camera is offered.

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2010 Honda Element

Features

The 2010 Honda Element caters both to buyers who want to keep it basic and those who want a few more extras.

The 2010 Honda Element appeals to an odd mix of active young people, frugal empty nesters, and pet owners. As such, the lineup includes a bargain-priced LX model, as well as uplevel EX and sporty SC trims, but all of them include the basics like air conditioning and power accessories.

The boxy Element vehicle is pretty well equipped even in base form. ConsumerGuide states that the base Honda Element LX features "air conditioning, interior air filter, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, cloth upholstery, front bucket seats w/height-adjustable driver seat, [and a] stowable split folding or flip-up rear seat." A four-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system is also standard fare on the Honda 2009 Element in LX garb.

Moving up to the more expensive versions, Autoblog notes that the Honda Element "EX and SC feature a 270-watt high-output audio system, an AM/FM tuner, CD player with MP3/WMA4 capability, auxiliary audio input for MP3 players or other audio devices, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, seven speakers including a dynamic linear phase 6.5-inch subwoofer (located in the bottom center of the instrument panel)." XM Satellite Radio is also standard on the upscale versions of the 2010 Honda Element.

The options on EX and SC models appeal to the tech-savvy crowd; voice-activated navigation and a USB interface are among the most noteworthy. The 2010 Honda Element offers quite a bit in the way of optional features, including the usual goodies that you would expect in this category. Cars.com notes that "a rearview backup camera [and] USB hookup for an MP3 player" are available on the Honda Element EX and SC and come with the navigation package. Rounding out the options list on this Honda 2010 Element, according to Autoblog, are "a removable storage cooler and an improved overhead storage console on select models."

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Styling 7.0
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