My 2008 Element EX AWD with 5 spd manual does all I need it to. I replaced a '04 Jetta because I wanted 4WD for the winter road conditions and I needed space to haul stuff- but did not want a pickup truck. The Element along with a lightweight aluminum trailer when needed satisfies all needs. Upon delivery from dealer, I noticed a leak of clear fluid on my garage floor... turns out it was from the rear differential, and they promptly replaced it and I've had no problems since. Feels stable in slippery conditions, and has good power. I've consistently averaged 25 mpg summer, 22 in winter. Smoothest manual transmission I've ever driven.
Access into the sides and back is great. Very comfortable for me and wife and daughter and we are all big. The bungie cord systems attached to the back of the seats are great to secure items.
Visibility is poor- big pillars in front and with someone in the back it's tough- I've cut many people off changing lanes- sorry but I can't see ya! Haven't yet had any use for the rear sunroof- why can't it be closer to the passengers? Braking is adequate at best. Speakers a bit tinny.