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 Honda Element. TheCarConnection.com's editors have also driven the 2010 Element and report here with firsthand impressions and comparisons to other vehicles to assist you in making 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, Honda's brought significant changes to the Element that included a refreshed exterior and new a infotainment system within. The Element now wears conventional painted metal fenders in place of the now-gone plastic pieces and received an updated front grille, bumpers, hood, and headlights that made the Element's appearance a little crisper and more chromed.

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The Element is powered by a 2.4-liter inline-4 that generates 166 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque sending power to a five-speed automatic transmission. Honda offers LX and EX models in both front- and all-wheel drive, but SC models are only available in front-wheel drive. EPA estimates rate front-wheel-drive models at 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.

Underneath the Element's sheetmetal sits a car-based chassis that utilizes struts in the front and Honda's well-liked double-wishbone suspension in the rear. Its strong, four-wheel disc brakes are managed by an anti-lock braking system as standard.

The Element is one of the safest choices in its class with top five-star crash-test scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and "good" scores in front and side impact tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Unfortunately, the Element doesn't score well in rollover safety, earning the lowest score of three stars from NHTSA.

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2010 Honda Element

Styling

Not everyone will agree 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 those who don't think the Element is attractive find it 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 takes design cues from small crossovers, SUVs, minivans, and mashes them together in a boxy, upright wrapper.

Of last year's styling refresh, Car and Driver observed the Element is now more "urban-hipster chic" with its lower ride height, larger wheels, and body-color body panels replacing the bare plastic panels used before. The Element's new grille last year mimics that of the Honda Pilot, notes Motor Trend's reviewers, but the Element retains its instantly recognizable shape and style.

The design changes are an improvement, claims Autoblog, and Edmunds declares the sheetmetal refresh doesn't make the Element any less distinctive. TheCarConnection.com's editors agree.

Inside, the changes made to the Element's interior last year carry over to 2010. The basic architecture of the Element's interior remained the same as before, but Honda updated the utility's trims, materials, and switch gear. Cars.com reports EX and SC models can be optioned with an available three-compartment overhead storage unit.

The Element's simple and convenient HVAC and audio controls garner praise from ConsumerGuide in its coverage, but reviewer's point out hooded gauges in the instrument panel are partly obscured by the steering wheel for taller drivers and can be difficult to decipher in certain light conditions for all.

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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 it's remarkably responsive and agile. However, the Element's 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.

Car and Driver notes Honda's four-cylinder pulls hard considering its small displacement. Edmunds praises its smooth, peppy demeanor in city driving that makes it pleasant for daily commuting. The drivetrain combo produces sprightly city performance, though it becomes noisy and requires more planning on highway jaunts.

The Element's five-speed automatic is also happier around town, where it shifts smoothly and decisively, while it's a little rougher at speed.

Real-world fuel efficiency is good in city environs, but as the result of the Element's bricklike shape, highway fuel consumption isn't stellar. EPA ratings are up to 20 mpg city, 25 highway with front-wheel drive. AWD is an option on the 2010 Honda Element, but it does just fine with front-wheel drive. We'd only recommend it for those who get heavy snowfall.

Despite its exterior design, don't expect the Honda Element to drive like a truck. Beneath its skin sits a car-based chassis that relies on front struts and a rear double-wishbone suspension setup. The combination delivers responsive handling and decent stability, and Motor Trend praises the Elements sporty demeanor and versatility. Unfortunately, soft tires fitted to LX and EX trims conspire against the chassis's best intentions by producing lazy steering response. Being a tall, boxy, slab-sided vehicle, the Element is also prone to catching crosswinds, reports ConsumerGuide. At least the SC, with lower-profile tires and firmer sidewalls, possesses improved handling without giving up much ride quality—and it looks more sporty, too. Bringing everything to a stop on all models are standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.

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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. Edmunds reviewers believe the Element's lack of seating is its Achilles' heel, further exacerbated by problematic pivoting rear doors that get in the way when transporting young kids. To top it all off, hard seat padding doesn't make for comfortable, long journeys, says ConsumerGuide.

According to a wide range of impressions, Honda's choice of utilitarian interior materials are just average, but assembly quality is top-notch. Cars.com notes the Element SC's darker dashboard with piano black trim around vents and control panel isn't nearly as fussy as that in other trims. It's easy to clean out the Element, too, as LX and EX models come with a water resistant urethane-coated floor that can be cleaned quickly and easily, reports AutoBlog.

The Element's cabin is noiser than most might hope, says ConsumerGuide, and coarse pavement amplifies tire drone. It's boxy shape does it no favors either, producing an intrusive about of wind noise at speeds of around 65 mph and up.

For cargo, the Element is king among small vehicles. Chunky exterior dimensions make for 103.6 cubic feet of passenger space inside with ample legroom for rear-seat riders. The theatre-style rear seats also provide for great outward visibility and can flip up or lay flap for more utility or to convert into a bed. Better yet, they can removed altogether if you want. Properly arranged, the Element can fit a 10-foot surfboard or sleep two six-foot adults with the rear hatch closed, points out ConsumerGuide.

The clamshell back doors earn a number of comments both positive and negative, with Edmunds stating the doors swing a full 90 degrees outward to create an extra-large opening for easy loading.

Across the Honda Element model line, nooks and crannies litter the interior to stow all sorts of smaller items. EX and SC models get an overhead console with two compartments for storing larger items, like PDAs, and smaller items, like sunglasses. EX models now come with a new transforming center console that holds a removable cooler/storage box.

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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, the news is only made better by the Element's wide range of safety equipment.

The Element is one of few vehicles to ace both NHTSA and IIHS crash tests. Additionally, the Element earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick Award in 2009, with the organization citing its "good performance in front, side, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control." There is a downside, however, it its due to the Element's tall, narrow body. The Element gets just three stars—the lowest possible rating—for rollovers from NHTSA.

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 crash.

The 2010 Honda Element is also superior than most utility vehicles when it comes to outward visibility—again, probably 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, an uplevel EX, and sporty SC trims, but all of them include the basics like air conditioning and power accessories.

The boxy Element is well equipped in base trim. ConsumerGuide states the base LX model features a cabin air filter, cruise control, tilt steering, cloth seating, height-adjustable driver seat, and a stowable split/fold or flip-up rear seat. A four-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system rounds out the standard fare.

EX and SC models gain a more powerful seven-speaker 270-watt audio system with a dynamic linear-phase 6.5-inch subwoofer, auxiliary input, satellite radio, and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

The options on EX and SC models appeal to the tech-savvy crowd; voice-activated navigation, rearview camera, and a USB interface are among the most noteworthy. A removable storage cooler and overhead storage console can also be added, reports AutoBlog.

For 2010, Honda introduces a new Dog-Friendly Element. The $995 option includes a dog carrier composed of seatbelt webbing, a ramp, extra ventilation, cushioned bed, and all-season floor mats.

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