2011 Honda Element Review

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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
December 23, 2010

If you need to haul stuff more than people, and don't want to part with maneuverability and fuel-efficiency, the 2011 Honda Element is a great choice.

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.

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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.

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2011 Honda Element

Styling

The 2011 Honda Element remains one of the most useful shapes on the road, but not everyone will agree it's good-looking.

The 2011 Honda Element has a look that borrows elements from rough-and-ready off-roaders and traditional full-size vans—along with smaller delivery trucks—but the end product is something stylistically unique. Even for those who don't think the Element is attractive, it's hard to argue with the beauty of its stark functionality.

The Element received a number of minor yet noteworthy changes for model-year 2009, including new infotainment systems inside and a number of exterior changes including a new grille, hood, and headlights that seemed to make the appearance a little crisper than before. However it lost a little of its Rubbermaid charm when the much-loved rubber-like front and rear bumper treatment was replaced with body-color bumpers.

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.

Review continues below
7

2011 Honda Element

Performance

The 2011 Honda Element handles a lot better than you might expect, but its performance isn't at all exciting.

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.

There's no manual gearbox offered, but the five-speed automatic transmission works well with this flexible four. The combination gives the Element sprightly acceleration around town, though on the highway it can become noisy and needs a little more planning. The transmission is smooth and decisive around town, but a little rougher at speed.

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.

Those who expect the 2011 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 make for somewhat lazy steering response but contribute to a smooth ride. Braking is strong and easy to modulate; four-wheel discs with ABS are standard.

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2011 Honda Element

Comfort & Quality

Cargo-hauling and versatility are amazing in the 2011 Honda Element, but passenger comfort takes second stage.

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.

Build quality is excellent in the 2011 Element, but with compromised passenger comfort and hard function-over-feel interior materials, it can feel a little too basic for some tastes. Cabin noise levels aren't as hushed as you might hope, though.

Review continues below
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2011 Honda Element

Safety

Rollover concerns for this tall vehicle are the only blemish in an otherwise top-notch safety record.

The 2011 Honda Element might put cargo and versatility on top, but it's a very safe place for human occupants.

The Element has top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in all categories—frontal, side, and rear impact, and roof strength—and has been again named a 2011 Top Safety Pick. And although the Element hasn't been tested with the completely revised methodology and ratings system that the federal government is using for 2011, the 2010 model earned top five-star ratings under the old NHTSA system—though three-star rollover ratings were the only concern, the result of its tall, narrow body.

For those with checklists, it's all there: Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are standard, as are side airbags and side-curtain bags with rollover protection.

For outward visibility, the 2011 Honda Element is also better than the typical utility vehicle—again, probably a positive that's the result of its boxy shape. Though a rearview camera is available in EX trims.

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2011 Honda Element

Features

The 2011 Honda Element excels in cargo-friendly features, but other luxuries and connectivity features get mostly left behind.

The 2011 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 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 Honda Element EX models can be outfitted with a few more features such as a navigation system and a rear backup camera (very useful with this model). Last year, Honda introduced 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.

2011 Element EX models get an upgraded 270-watt audio system with aux input, steering-wheel controls, seven speakers, and a subwoofer; and XM Satellite Radio is featured in these models. Other options in the EX appeal to the tech-savvy crowd. The highlight is a voice-activated navigation system, which includes a USB interface. However we note that this system now feels woefully out of date.

The clamshell back doors, from a feature standpoint, can be both a positive and negative. When it comes time to haul a big-screen TV, the huge opening they afford will be appreciated; but you must open your front door in order for rear passengers to open theirs, so sometimes it doesn't feel any better than a two-door vehicle.

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2011 Honda Element

Fuel Economy

While the 2011 Honda Element isn't one of the greener picks on the market, it's very lean and efficient considering what it can carry.

With the automatic transmission, the 2011 Honda Element comes with EPA ratings of 19 mpg city, 24 highway with all-wheel drive, or 20/25 with front-wheel drive.

Real-world results have tended to be toward the high end of those figures—provided you don't cruise at too high of a speed as the Element's brick-like shape isn't so wind-cheating. But in The Car Connection's last weeklong driving experience with the Element, over 250 miles of mostly highway driving, we managed 25 mpg.

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November 5, 2015
2011 Honda Element 4WD 5-Door EX

Outstanding design, reliability and utilitarian vehicle.

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I've had a 2004 Element EX since 2007 and have been extremely pleased with it - so much so that I got this 2011 for my daughter. These vehicles are the perfect combo of utility, ruggedness, reliability and... + More »
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Styling 7
Performance 7
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