By Steven Cole Smith, Tribune Newspapers
April 29, 2010
If the Dog Friendly badges don't tip you off, the thick rubber floor mats with a dog-bone pattern should: This 2010 Honda Element comes with a special option package that should appeal to dogs — and, presumably, their owners.
It's a nice feature and a good way for Honda to generate a little buzz for the Element, which received a mild redesign for 2009 but still looks and feels sort of dated. That redesign included a new nose and rear, and the front fenders are now made of metal instead of composite.
The Element remains true to its original mission, though: It's a boxy, slightly quirky little sport ute designed to appeal to "active lifestyle" customers, who presumably like lots of room, don't care much about styling and spend a lot of time rolling around in the mud. Hence, the rubber mats and moisture-resistant seat upholstery.
Central to the Element's quirkiness are rear side doors that open front to back, which can make for a big, wide opening but can get annoying when you try to close the front door first; you can't close the rear then. These clamshell doors are an alternative to minivan-like sliding doors, but I'm not a fan.
More valuable are the dozens of versatile configurations for the front and rear seats that adjust to carry people, property or both. It kind of gives the inside of the Element a delivery-van feel, but not as much as the industrial Ford Transit Connect. Helpful in the test car was the very user-friendly navigation system and the 270-watt sound system. Seats are spongy but comfortable. There's a lot of headroom; good legroom.
The entry level is the Element LX, and at the top of the line is the pseudo-sporty SC. Our test vehicle was the midlevel EX, with a navigation system and all-wheel drive, which listed for $26,295. Add the aforementioned Dog Friendly package, which costs $1,000, and the price is $27,295.
Dogwise, this is what you get for your grand: Dog Friendly emblems, rear kennel and organizer, pet bed, a ramp, dog-pattern seat covers, dog-bone pattern floor mats, spill-resistant water bowl, electric ventilator fan, a tote bag, a leash and collar, a paw-print dog tag and a doggie-doo bag dispenser.
On the road, dog package or not, Element has a stiff ride, and under acceleration there's a lot of road noise and more vibration than we've come to expect from a Honda engine. The only one offered is a 2.4-liter, 166-horsepower 4-cylinder, which has been around a little too long, matched to a 5-speed automatic transmission.
The test Element had AWD, which adds $1,250. That still doesn't make the low-slung Element an off-roader, but adds to the beach-buggy image.
Though I prefer the Honda CR-X, Element has found a small but dedicated group of loyal fans. And that doesn't even count dogs.