2011 Honda Element Review
By KBB.com Editors
What's Significant About This Car?
In an initiative not unlike that of Toyota's Scion xB, American Honda introduced the Element (December 2002) to what it perceived would be a demographic somewhat different from its mainstream buyer. Described in its launch material as a "rolling dorm room," the Element - with wide-opening cargo doors and wipe-down floors - was all about your more basic instincts, while priced at the low end of Honda's new car showroom. Much to Honda's surprise, buyers - like those for the xB - came from across the consumer spectrum. Activity-oriented 20-somethings showed interest, but so did their 60-something grandparents. Surfboards and snowboards were easily accommodated, as were headboards and armchairs. And if the Element wasn't as expansive as your apartment, at least it could handily move your apartment. The fun, however, has to end sometime, and for this generation of the Element it's the 2011 model year.
You'll Like This Car If...
If you enjoy the benefits of a sport utility (some sport, some utility) then you'll enjoy the ownership experience of an Element. With a wide-open interior housed within a very small footprint, the Element is perfect for getting out of town - and beautiful for maneuvering in town as you head out. Add an affordable entry point, great resale value and economy of operation, and you have a very sensible choice.
You May Not Like This Car If...
If you like organic design or inefficient packaging, you may not buy into all the 2011 Honda Element has to offer. Also, while the interior's versatility has substantial appeal, there are those that would rather simply go with a roof rack, locating all adventure gear away from the interior. For those, the Element's functionality may not be all that important, nor that attractive.
Last year the Element introduced a "Dog Friendly" package that was, well, dog friendly, with an extendable rear access ramp, padded dog bed, etc. This year it's a "Buyer Friendly" package, with LX and EX variants suffering little in the way of price hikes. Last year's SC trim has been discontinued, as has a manual transmission.
Driving the Element
Despite its relatively high profile, the 2011 Honda Element benefits from a car-based, all-independent suspension (not unlike the CR-V's) and relatively low (3,500 lbs., 2WD) curb weight. With 166 horsepower...
driving through its 5-speed automatic transmission, performance is adequately responsive in town and relaxed on the highway. Additionally, that high profile allows for a relatively high, SUV-like hip point, making in-town maneuvers - with enhanced visibility - that much easier. On the open road the ride is supple, and its front weight bias improves any sensitivity to side winds you might suffer when piloting the conventional billboard or barn door.
Flip-up rear seats
In the Element it's all about utility, and nothing makes loading and unloading easier than a wide-open space with wide-open access. The Element's rear seats, which fold flat and flip up, allow hauling bikes or bedrooms equally easy. And in combination with the front seats, the entire package can be made into a bed, giving you a poorly lit nighttime environment not unlike that in W Hotels.
Real Time 4WD
The Element's raison d'etre is supporting personal activity. When that activity takes you to a ski slope or up a logging trail, having the security of Honda's Real Time 4WD makes the task that much easier - and allows you to save your nervous energy for skiing and/or logging.
2011 Honda Element Details
When discussing the 2011 Element's interior, it's not so much what Honda put in it; it's what you and your family or friends can put in it. We know a cyclist that loves being able to put her bike in upright, with both wheels still attached. And we've met a couple with a tandem, and while the front wheel of the tandem comes off, the balance of the bike fits - with the fork located over the center console. Flip-up rear seats, a tailgate for tailgating and wide-opening cargo doors make loading - and unloading - an absolute snap. If you're dirty, the seat's FXC (Fabric for Extreme Conditions) will easily clean-up, and the Element's vinyl flooring will easily wipe clean. In short, it's all about livability - yours, theirs and the Element's. With all that's good, the design elements - controls, instrumentation, etc. - are quite clearly from a Bush administration; they're not exactly the newest-looking out there.
It's a box. And while over its product cycle Honda's "box" has enjoyed some refinements - new colors, painted quarter panels, etc. - there is no denying that its underlying element is also its most front-and-center: A two-box architecture that looks like little else on this vehicular planet. At introduction the front fenders and rear quarter panels were left in their natural plastic, which was - we're sure - a nod to the design team and not the consumer. Now, those surfaces are painted, but that paint does little to improve the starkness of the overall shape. We don't give significant notice to the Element only because we're now - over eight years later - familiar with the Element. We should also note its high hip point and (relatively) unimpeded greenhouse are big pluses while navigating the urban maelstrom.
The 2011 Honda Element LX comes comprehensively equipped, with A/C, 4-speaker AM/FM/CD, cruise control, power windows and remote entry. Upgrade to the EX (a roughly $2,000 step) and Honda provides 270 watts of audio, XM radio, MP3/WMA capability, an auxiliary input, seven speakers and alloy wheels. All of that, of course, is added to the essential goodness that comes standard - space (some 75 cubic feet with the rear seats removed), numerous storage bins, cup holders, tie down hooks and door storage pockets on all four doors. And in keeping with the dorm room descriptive, the EX features a convertible center console with a removable cooler/storage box.
If you're going out, you might as well have a plan for coming back. And few things allow that more easily than Honda's Real time 4WD, providing you the (relative) efficiency of front-wheel drive when that's what you want, and the traction of 4WD when that's what you need.
The once-optional 5-speed auto is now standard. To that end, most other options are in the category of accessories: Racks, the Dog Friendly Package, etc.
Under the Hood
Honda's all aluminum DOHC 2.4 liter four - shared with the CR-V - has a commendable reputation for responsive power, good low end torque (aided by Honda's i-VTEC variable valve timing) and smoothness of operation. Nothing exotic, but when pitching a tent in the middle of the Mojave you're really not looking for sophistication; ever try camping in a Gallardo? And its fuel economy - 20 city/25 highway - is fully competitive with other car-based crossovers, even those with less apparent utility. Add legendary long-term reliability, and it's a wonder anyone drives anything else.
2.4-liter in-line 4
166 horsepower @ 5800 rpm
161 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy:
20/25 (automatic, FWD), 19/24 (automatic, 4WD)
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