As a big box on wheels, the Honda Element has long been a friend of the outdoors-loving folks with active lifestyles. Standing nearly six feet tall, it has fold-up, removable seats, a hose-out floor, double sliding doors, and 74.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Now, with the 2010 Dog Friendly package, you can take Rover along, in comfort and safety (for him and for you).
If you look closely you can see the cute Dog Friendly logos on the driver’s side and rear of the car. One is a paw. And dogs should LOVE this car. Features include a nice soft-sided car kennel with a spill-proof water bowl. And there’s a ramp that stores underneath it, so no jumping or lifting is needed. There’s a fan in back to keep the air fresh for canine and human.
In the passenger area, the second row seats wear a dog-pattern cover that appears to be fur and drool resistant and the floors feature thick black rubber mats with a bone pattern. It’s really an amazing package perfectly suited to this car.
The Element is a fine product on its own, although it is hardly new. Originally debuting in 2003 with gray plastic panels along the sides, the car has become more refined looking over time, now with nicely matching colored panels. The 2009 model got some subtle styling tweaks that give the body a more integrated look.
Inside, the car really shines as a traveling module. With a nearly upright windshield, you feel like you’ve got room to spare in front of you as you sit in chair high seats looking out over the road ahead. The dash and door shapes look formidable but with large radius curves are gentler on the eyes than an overly edgy SUV design. It feels strong but not tough—no attitude.
Dual sliding side doors give minivan utility, but mean there are no coat hooks, as I discovered when I was bringing my shirts back from the dry cleaners. The rear seats are positioned high and far back with limo quality legroom.
There are lots of places to stash stuff in the doors, console and even a long roof console. The center console features an insulated cooler box between the seats that lifts out and is perfect for carrying a six-pack to the party.
Elements come in three levels—LX, SC and EX. The top-level EX is the only one on which you can order the $995 Dog Friendly package. The LX provides all the basics, the SC is the urban cool, sporty model—lowered with 18-inch alloys and other hip touches—and the EX offers the most complete list of standard equipment.
The LX and EX offer optional four-wheel drive, and with the EX you can have a Navigation system, which includes a USB port for your iPod.
My Omni Blue Pearl EX tester listed no options (except the Dog Friendly package, of course) but did include four-wheel drive and the Navigation system, making it as fully equipped as you can make an Element. I enjoyed the 270-watt AM/FM/CD Audio system with its seven speakers, including a big subwoofer in the front console.
All Elements use the same 166 horsepower, 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine running through a five-speed automatic. With front MacPherson struts and rear double-wishbone suspension the ride is firm but quite comfortable for a 3,648-pound box. LX and EX ride on 16-inch alloys—nice chunky six-spoke ones on the EX—compared to the cooler 18’s on the SC.
Fuel economy isn’t bad considering the size of the car. With four-wheel drive my tester rated 19 City, 24 Highway—it goes up a mile per gallon with two-wheel drive. The EPA further decrees a 6 for both Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas scores. Honda makes cars with higher EPA numbers, but none of them can do quite what the Element does. Of course you get Honda’s legendary reliability with this Ohio-built car.
The Element offers active and passive safety. You get Vehicle Stability Assist standard to keep you on the road and all the useful airbags and crush zones you need if a crash becomes unavoidable. U.S. Government tests for frontal and side crashes award the car a full five-star rating.
Prices start at $21,305 for an LX with two-wheel drive, including shipping. My top-of-the-line EX with four-wheel drive, Navigation and the Dog Friendly package came to $27,290.
The Element is showing its age and may be close to retirement, but it represents a unique opportunity for you and your four-legged friends to enjoy outdoor living. It is not the quietest or softest riding car around, but it is invigorating and turns on a dime with its 34.9-foot turning radius. Bark!