Even after a nine-year production run, the Honda Element sport-utility remains one of the most distinctive and useful shapes on the road. It's relatively short — typically 7 inches shorter than Honda's own Civic sedan — and surprisingly tall. But behind that cubist philosophy was a level of versatility that set it apart from many other small wagons and compact SUVs.
As a used vehicle, the Element is easy to recommend thanks to its spacious interior, smooth four-cylinder power, crisp and balanced handling, and Honda's reputation for reliability. Should you decide on this versatile Honda, you'd likely have little trouble finding plenty of nice ones to choose from given the Element's lengthy production run and its popularity. That said, we'd still advise potential buyers to focus on the 2007 and newer versions, which offer more power as well as more safety features.
Most Recent Honda Element
The Honda Element was a compact, car-based SUV produced from 2003 to 2011. Conceptually, Honda intended it to appeal to outdoor sports enthusiasts, such as surfers and cyclists. Yet many were also sold to city dwellers who appreciated not only how easy it was to park but also its generous room for four adults or cargo. There was essentially just a single generation because the Element never saw any big styling or mechanical changes.
As opposed to a conventional four-door setup, the Honda Element featured access-style rear doors that pivot backward a full 90 degrees. Without a side roof pillar to intrude, opening both side doors creates an extra-large portal through which passengers or bulky cargo can be loaded. The rear seats provide plenty of room and can be configured in multiple ways. Remove them and there's an impressive 75 cubic feet of cargo space to play with.
At its debut, the Element had a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 160 horsepower that was matched to either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. The Element was available in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. Initially, just base DX and loaded EX trim levels were offered, though subsequent years brought the midlevel LX as well as the sporty SC.
The early notable changes included the debut of the LX in 2004, side airbags for the EX, and the availability of satellite radio in '05 and available monotone body treatment and a re-rating of the engine's output to 156 hp in '06.
The most significant upgrades took place for 2007, when the Element got 10 more horsepower, a five-speed automatic, standard stability control and the SC trim level. The latter featured a lowered suspension and unique styling tweaks. Two years later, a navigation system and rearview camera became available, while 2010 brought the Dog Friendly package that featured an enclosed kennel with a cushioned bed and water bowl. For 2011, the Element's last year of production, the trim levels were reduced to just LX and EX, and neither a manual transmission nor a navigation system was available.
In reviews, we found that the Honda Element offered reasonably peppy around-town response with enough smoothness to make everyday commuting pleasant. From behind the wheel, the Element felt just as tall and boxy as it is, but the steering offered positive feedback and the wide stance kept it stable even during aggressive or evasive maneuvers.
The wide opening provided by the unique clamshell side doors is useful, but when ferrying rear passengers they can be a bit of a hassle. To open the rear doors, the front doors must be opened first, leading to some annoyance for the front occupants because they must always open their doors to allow people in or out of the backseat. If you don't carry rear passengers often, however, this will probably be a nonissue.