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The tall, boxy 2011 Honda Element is no rugged off-roader, but it sure looks like one. With a look that takes after that of old-style sport-utility vehicles—even channeling cues from traditional vans—combined with a certain cargo sophistication and city-savvy maneuverability, 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.
Inside, the Element is best described as no-nonsense. There are lots of hard plastics, and even the cargo floor is covered with a rubberized, easy-wipe surface, so there's no pretending it's snooty or luxurious. Utility is strongly represented up front, even, with a tray-like shelf built right into the instrument panel.
The 2011 Element has modest technical specs: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 166 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque; front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive; and running gear that's evolved in part from the Civic and CR-V parts bin. Performance is good in the city with the five-speed automatic, but it feels a little winded on the highway. And the Element gets better fuel economy if you simply stick with front-wheel drive, and it does just fine that way; we'd recommend all-wheel drive only for those who get heavy snowfall. But what's surprising is that the 2011 Element doesn't drive like a truck; its car-based underpinnings shine through, with responsive handling and decent stability.
The 2011 Honda Element has a box-on-wheels design that imbues it with a lot more interior space than models that take up more parking space. And with its suicide-door (front-hinged front door and rear-hinged back door) setup, high roof and low cargo floor, it's seriously spacious. Yet some might be surprised to see that the emphasis in the Element's packaging is on cargo and versatility, not back seats and passenger space. While most other vehicles of the Element's size have five seats, the Honda seats just four, and the two backseats are quite small. In fact the Element 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.
Throughout the model line, the interior includes a collection of nooks and crannies good for gear and all sorts of smaller items. EX 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.
The 2011 Element comes with a rather basic set, though options like premium sound and a nav system can be had, along with a Dog Friendly Element package. Top crash-test ratings and a good set of safety equipment complete the Element's "get 'er done, safely" mindset.
- Carlike ride and handling
- Maneuverability and compactness
- Versatile interior
- Huge, easy-clean cargo area
- Overall value
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- Engine noise
- Instrument-panel materials
- Inconvenient rear doors