What's New for 2011
For 2011, Honda drops the Element's SC trim, resulting in a streamlined model lineup with LX and EX trims only. The optional manual transmission and optional navigation system have also been discontinued. Honda says 2011 will be the Element's final year before it's discontinued.
Entering its ninth model year without a major redesign, the 2011 Honda Element compact crossover looks and performs pretty much as it did back when it debuted in 2003. For many vehicles, such a length of time would result in a bottom-of-the-barrel status for its respective vehicle segment. But the long-lived Element just keeps rolling along year after year, as if to prove the inherent goodness of its original quirky design.
Aside from losing the sporty SC model and EX-only navigation option, the 2011 Honda Element carries over with no content changes. However, it maintains a familiar set of strengths and weaknesses. We appreciate its user-friendly nature, space-efficient design, distinctive styling, four-wheel-drive option and room for four people and their gear. Loading cargo is a breeze thanks to the Element's swing-out rear doors and rear seats that can either be flipped up or removed. A small footprint and a boxy layout also help make the Element highly maneuverable in urban environments. The Element was always particularly dog-friendly, but Fido really loves it now thanks to the aptly named Dog Friendly package introduced last year with its fully enclosed kennel and related accessories.
On the downside, the Element's door layout can be inconvenient for rear passengers, and on the move it's hampered by unimpressive acceleration and fuel economy. As such, newer yet still distinctive competitors like the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and Scion xB might hold more appeal, while a host of more conventional crossovers offer more power, room and refinement. But for a shopper looking for a small crossover SUV with lots of cargo-friendly utility, the Element continues to be a fine choice.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Honda Element is a compact crossover SUV available in two trim levels: LX and EX.
The base LX comes with 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, keyless entry, a height-adjustable driver seat, folding and removable rear seats, a urethane utility floor and a four-speaker CD sound system.
The uplevel EX adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a center console with removable cooler/storage box, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a seven-speaker premium audio system with satellite radio and an auxiliary input jack.
The Dog Friendly dealer-installed accessory package adds a rear car kennel, a pet bed, a stowable ramp, dog-patterned seat covers, all-season floor mats, a spill-resistant water bowl, an electric fan and a bag dispenser.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2011 Honda Element is motivated by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 166 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque transmitted through a standard five-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, while all-wheel drive is available on both the LX and EX trim levels.
With a portly curb weight of about 3,500 pounds, the Element isn't very lively. In Edmunds testing, an EX model took a leisurely 10 seconds to complete the 0-60-mph dash. It isn't especially economical either. EPA-estimated fuel economy is below average compared to other four-cylinder compact crossovers (a matter of weight and this vehicle's space-efficient yet boxy profile) at 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for 2WD models. The AWD version of the Element offers slightly worse mpg at 19/24/21.
The Honda Element comes standard with antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, active front head restraints, front side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
The 2011 Honda Element has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous crash-testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) were a perfect five stars for frontal- and side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Element a highest-possible score of "Good" in its frontal-offset and side-impact collision tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Honda Element's cabin design is purposeful but compromised by trade-offs. There's only room for four, while its competitors can seat five or more. Getting in or out of the rear-seat area is an awkward two-step process because of the lightweight rear half-doors; the front doors must be opened before passengers can make their move through the small rear access. This operation can be annoying for drivers who regularly transport rear passengers. On the plus side, the Element's theater-style seating layout offers rear passengers generous room and exceptional views. A multitude of bins and pockets throughout provide plenty of storage options for small items.
Those same rear-hinged access doors shine when it comes to loading cargo from the side. With the Element's rear seats removed, there's an impressive 75 cubic feet of space available. Whether you're loading camping gear, sports equipment or the family pet, the Element's urethane utility floor allows for hose-out cleaning convenience when necessary. Dog lovers will be especially pleased with the EX's dealer-installed Dog Friendly package, which includes an enclosed kennel, pet bed, ramp and more.
The 2011 Honda Element won't win many street races with its modest four-cylinder engine, but it is smooth and entirely adequate for commuting and regular everyday use. On the move, the Element is surprisingly responsive and agile, though its ride is noticeably firmer than the average compact crossover. The Element's box-on-wheels shape also pushes a lot of air that generates a noticeable amount of wind noise at highway speeds.