- Carlike driving demeanor
- Highly versatile interior
- Logical, substantial controls and displays
- Slick and capacious cargo storage
- Lots of vehicle for the money
- Engine noise
- Materials, especially dash surfaces
- Awkward front seatbelts
- Rear doors can't be opened on their own
The 2009 Honda Element is a relatively efficient, remarkably convenient small utility vehicle that's easy to drive and configurable for multiple tastes and uses.
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.
2009 Honda Element
The 2009 Honda Element wins over practical fashionistas with its quirky styling and practical interior.
There's nothing else quite like the Honda Element on the road today, which makes this hard-to-categorize offering from Honda one of the ultimate niche vehicles. While you would be hard-pressed to call the 2009 Honda Element any adjective approaching attractive, it's difficult to argue with its versatility-enhancing design elements.
Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com appreciate the 2009 Honda Element for what it is—although putting your finger on exactly what the Honda Element is can prove difficult. Edmunds describes the Honda Element as "a compact, car-based SUV that comes in three trim levels: regular LX, the upgraded EX and the special SC." The 2009 Honda Element falls somewhere between the small crossover/SUV/minivan segments and boasts an upright, boxy shape. The exterior receives some minor updates for 2009, and Car and Driver observes that "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."
Not all reviewers—or consumers, for that matter—love the styling of the 2009 Honda Element, but TheCarConnection.com agrees with Edmunds when they declare that the Honda 2009 Element "remains one of the most distinctive and useful shapes on the road."
The interior of this Honda 2009 Element, like the exterior, receives little in the way of styling changes. Reviewers generally appreciate the virtues of the Honda Element's interior, as ConsumerGuide praises the "simple, convenient climate and audio controls." Other reviewers agree that the interior layout is functional, and that functionality is joined by some new styling elements for 2009. 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."
2009 Honda Element
The 2009 Honda Element doesn’t offer much in the way of driving excitement.
The 2009 Honda Element doesn't look particularly agile, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that it can hold its own on the road. The one area where that high-drag, boxy silhouette hurts is in fuel economy, which is very disappointing.
The three-trim Honda Element lineup comes with just one available powerplant, which Edmunds lists as a "2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 166 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque." 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." In terms of acceleration numbers, ConsumerGuide reports that "a test manual-transmission 2WD LX did 8.8 sec 0-60 mph."
Although Honda 2009 Element buyers won't have any engine choices, they can choose from between two different transmissions, as well as two drive-wheel configurations. According to reviewers at Edmunds, "a five-speed manual transmission is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional" on the 2009 Honda Element, while the Honda Element "LX and EX are available in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations," although the sportier "SC is front-drive only." Motor Trend also points out that "the base LX model is only available with the automatic transmission, but both the EX and SC models can be equipped with either the auto or the manual gearbox." Expert reactions to both transmissions are positive, with ConsumerGuide remarking that "manual models have smooth, low-effort shift/clutch action," and while most reviewers praise the automatic gearbox, ConsumerGuide does report that Elements so equipped "are slow to gather speed from a stop."
Given the numbers for the 2009 Honda Element's engine—four cylinders, low power output—you would be forgiven for expecting solid fuel economy. Unfortunately, you would be sorely mistaken, as the EPA estimates that manual-transmission Honda Elements get just 18 mpg city and 23 highway in either FWD or 4WD. Automatic models are only slightly better. Blame the poor aerodynamics on the 2009 Honda Element for its poor highway fuel economy.
Nothing in the 2009 Honda Element's handling or ride quality jumps out at you, for better or for worse. 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." Motor Trend also praises the "relatively sporty driving demeanor and versatility," while Car and Driver comments that the 2009 Honda Element "basically handles like a Civic wearing a TV box." Unfortunately, ride quality isn't superb, and ConsumerGuide warns "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."
2009 Honda Element
Comfort & Quality
The 2009 Honda Element trades some passenger comfort for a remarkable degree of utility and cargo capacity.
Honda has built a reputation on impeccable quality, and that carries over into the 2009 Honda Element. Comfort, on the other hand, isn't the best, and some competitors really outshine the Honda 2009 Element in this regard.
In an unusual move for any non-sportscar, the 2009 Honda Element "seats only four," according to Car and Driver. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com express much disappointment at the lack of a middle rear seat, and that isn't the only complaint about the seating arrangements. 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."
The passenger situation in the 2009 Honda Element may not be ideal, but cargo capacity doesn't get much better than what you'll find inside the Honda 2009 Element. Versatility is the key here, and it's a word repeated frequently in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. Edmunds says that the Honda Element boasts "a level of versatility that bests that of many other small wagons or compact SUVs." 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."
Those same clamshell doors that draw fire for poor passenger accommodations earn praise for their utility, as Edmunds states that the "doors pivot backward a full 90 degrees," and in the process "creates an extra-large portal through which to easily load" various cargos. The cabin also offers generous storage space, and Autoblog points to the "new three-compartment overhead console available" on the 2009 Honda Element.
Interior materials are nothing special on the Honda 2009 Element, but as one would expect, they are put together quite well. 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."
Despite the Honda Element's top-notch build quality, cabin noise levels aren't as hushed as you would hope. 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."
2009 Honda Element
With the exception of rollover concerns, the 2009 Honda Element is tops for safety.
The 2009 Honda Element may look a bit quirky, but when it comes to safety, it’s all business. The Honda Element excels in crash tests and offers a wide range of standard safety equipment.
Very few cars manage to sweep both the IIHS and NHTSA crash tests, but the 2009 Honda Element is one of those rare breeds. The Honda Element earns the IIHS's highest possible score, "good," in both the frontal offset and side impact tests. In NHTSA testing, the 2009 Honda Element also wins perfect five-star ratings in all impact tests, including front and side impacts. In addition, the Honda 2009 Element garners a Top Safety Pick 2009 award from the IIHS, which cites the Honda Element's "good performance in front, side, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control." The only cause for concern on the 2009 Honda Element is its poor rollover rating from NHTSA, a mere three stars, due to its tall, narrow stature.
In case those stellar crash-test ratings don't convince you that the 2009 Honda Element is a safe vehicle, Honda packs a wide array of safety features into this Honda 2009 Element. 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 Honda 2009 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."
Another critical element of overall safety is the field of view afforded the driver, and the Honda Element does an above-average job in this regard. 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." Fortunately, an available rearview camera should help increase driver awareness to the rear of the Honda Element.
2009 Honda Element
The 2009 Honda Element caters to younger buyers with plenty of tech-savvy features.
The 2009 Honda Element is targeted at a decidedly younger demographic than most vehicles, and features are an important selling point when for buyers in their mid-20s. As such, the 2009 Honda Element offers quite a few high-tech features to appeal to this tech-savvy crowd.
Standard features vary somewhat across the 2009 Honda Element lineup, but TheCarConnection.com's research shows that this Honda 2009 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 2009 Honda Element.
The 2009 Honda Element offers quite a bit in the way of optional features, including the usual goodies that you would expect in this category. Chief among those "regular" options, according to Autoblog, is the "Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System with Voice Activation," which should help ease the burden of interfacing with the system. 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 2009 Element, according to Autoblog, are "a removable storage cooler and an improved overhead storage console on select models."