Full 2009 Honda Element Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Honda Element receives a Pilot-style grille and loses some of its plastic body cladding. There's also an available voice-activated navigation system with a back-up camera on EX and SC models, and the rear skylight has been discontinued.
One definition of "element" is a small but significant presence of an abstract quality; another is a substance or primary constituent that can't be broken down into a simpler form. Both meanings describe the spirit of the 2009 Honda Element compact crossover SUV, a back-to-basics interpretation of the compact crossover genre. Having made its debut way back in 2003, the Element's tall, funky-looking body has become a more common sight these days, particularly in regions where outdoor activities reign supreme. Despite its advancing age, this quirky but useful cube on wheels remains an appealing vehicular solution for the young and young-at-heart alike.
The Element has prospered due to its inherent practicality and likable nature, along with an attractive starting price just over $20,000. The boxy cabin has space aplenty for four adults (that's the Element's maximum seating capacity), and its cargo-van-style side doors open wide for easy loading and unloading of bulky cargo. To maximize utility, the Element's rear seats may be folded or removed entirely, and its hose-out textured urethane flooring makes for easy cleanup after a day of surfing or a week of camping.
For 2009, the Honda Element marries these friendly attributes to a mildly refreshed exterior with some new high-tech toys inside. Three Element models are again available -- the basic LX, uplevel EX and sporty SC -- with the latter two featuring an optional new voice-activated navigation system that includes a rearview camera and USB digital media connectivity. Enhanced interior storage is also on tap for the latest Element.
While the 2009 Honda Element is certainly worthy of consideration for shoppers in search of a versatile compact utility vehicle, there are other compelling vehicles that occupy this niche. Those looking for a similarly funky alternative would do well to check out the less-expensive Scion xB, and if you're open to more conventional designs with easier rear-seat entry and exit and greater seating capacity, the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester or even Honda's own CR-V might serve you better. Power is another consideration. The Element's lone offering is a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, while many competitors can be had with considerably more juice under the hood. The Element remains a solid choice, but it demands some compromises in return for its impressive versatility.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Honda Element is a compact crossover SUV available in three trim levels: LX, EX and SC. The Element LX and EX are available in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations, while the sport-tuned SC is front-wheel-drive only.
The base LX comes with 16-inch steel wheels, a urethane utility floor, moisture-resistant seats, folding/removable rear seats, a height-adjustable driver seat, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, keyless entry and a four-speaker CD audio system. The midlevel EX adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a three-compartment overhead console, a center console with a removable cooler/storage box, a cargo-area 12-volt power outlet, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a seven-speaker audio system with MP3 capability, an auxiliary input jack and satellite radio. Finally, the street-smart SC trim features a lowered sport suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, a custom grille, a monochromatic paint scheme with body-color bumpers and roof sections, passenger-area carpeting, an exclusive center console design, piano-black interior trim pieces, unique fabrics and copper-colored gauges.
Available on EX and SC models is a voice-activated navigation system with a rearview camera and a USB audio interface.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2009 Honda Element is equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 166 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, with a five-speed automatic optional. Front-wheel drive is the default configuration, while all-wheel drive is available on the LX and EX models. EPA-estimated fuel economy is somewhat lackluster by current four-cylinder compact crossover standards, ranging from 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for automatic-equipped two-wheel-drive models down to 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined for manual-shift all-wheel-drive models.
The Element comes standard with antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, active front head restraints, front seat side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. The Element has earned a perfect five stars in government crash-testing for frontal and side-impact protection. It also received a highest possible "Good" rating from the IIHS for both frontal-offset and side-impact collisions.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2009 Honda Element seats only four -- a disadvantage compared to other compact SUVs -- but rear passengers enjoy ample room and excellent visibility thanks to the theater-style seating. Cargo capacity is also exceptional: With the rear seats removed, the Element can accommodate an impressive 75 cubic feet of gear. The Element's unique pillar-less access doors make side loading a snap, though their design can be a hassle for transporting people -- the front doors must first be opened before rear occupants are allowed in or out. This can be particularly inconvenient if the rear seats are used regularly.
The four-cylinder Honda Element won't win many stoplight drag races, but it delivers peppy enough performance for most daily tasks. The four-wheel independent suspension endows the Element with surprisingly responsive and agile handling, though its ride is noticeably firmer than the average compact crossover, especially in SC trim. At highway speeds, a fair amount of wind noise is produced by the Element's ungainly physique.