The 2011 Honda Element isn’t much different from the 2010 version. It seems as though Honda has opted to sit on a pat hand with its small crossover, much as it did with its minivan, the Odyssey.
That means that the seven year-old, distinctive style of the Element remains in place, something that will elicit cheers from some and groans from others. It’s also a mixed bag in terms of performance--the Element has its strengths and its weaknesses.
There are only two notable changes for the 2011 edition. First, Honda has mysteriously scrapped the five-speed manual transmission. Now, all Elements come with a five-speed automatic. Second, the EX trim package now has a “dog friendly” option package. Dog lovers will appreciate the pet bed, fully enclosed kennel and rear ventilation fan, but it’s not an adjustment that will have an impact on most crossover shoppers.
Looking at the Element
The Element retains its unique styling for 2011. It’s a squared-off box of a vehicle with a small footprint and one-of-a-kind “suicide door” on both sides. There’s less plastic these days than when Honda introduced the Element, but it still maintains the same overall look and feel.
On the inside, the Element is equally unique. Only the SC version has carpeting. The LX and EX both have an easy-to-clean urethane floor. The seats are moisture resistant and wipe down easily, as well. It’s a crossover designed with active users in mind. The cabin is also surprisingly spacious for the four total passengers the vehicle can hold. It’s small, but it isn’t crowded. The instrumentation, trim and overall appearance of the interior isn’t problematic, but it isn’t memorable, either.
It’s hard to provide an assessment of the Element’s appearance. Those who like the boxy lines of the Element, Scion and other vehicles will adore it. Those who are more interested in a car-like mini-SUV probably won’t give it a second look.
Driving the Element
The Element has some things working in its favor in terms of performance. The steering is responsive and the Element is surprisingly agile. The suspension is ultra-taught, giving the driver a chance to really “become one” with the road.
That comes with a price, though. What you gain in performance, you lose in comfort. That same sporty suspension guarantees that you’ll feel every bump in the road and the Element isn’t that good at blocking road and wind noise.
The Element is powered by a 4-cylinder engine that pushes out 166 horsepower. However, the Element is heavy for its size and the engine doesn’t supply the “get up and go” for which most drivers will be hoping.
It doesn’t make up for that shortcoming with great fuel efficiency, either. The combination of the 4-cylinder and the five-speed automatic transmission allows the Element to get 25 miles per gallon on the highway and 20 miles per gallon in the city. That isn’t miserable, but it’s nearly identical to what the much larger Honda Odyssey with a powerful V6 manages.
The Element isn’t deficient in the performance department and there are a few things to really like about it. At the same time, it isn’t performing up to the class’ constantly increasing standards. Those who buy on performance alone will look at other crossovers. The Element will attract buyers by combining a good name brand and a history or reliability with its distinctive opinion.
Modifying the Element
One of the most surprising things about the Element is the fact that it can be converted into a very credible small wheelchair van. You might not think that an undersized four-seater would be up to that challenge, but the right series of conversions can create a small, unique option for those who need a wheelchair vehicle.
The suicide doors make it possible to arrange for wheelchair entrance and exit on either side of the vehicle. This is usually done with a powered ramp, but users may opt for a sprint-assisted or manual fold-out option, instead. In order to improve ramp angle and to make access easier, conversion pros will lower the floor (half-drop and full-drop modifications are possible) and will add a vehicle kneel system. The removable, multi-configuration seats make it possible to arrange the interior for maximum space and ease of access to either the front passenger seat or the driver’s seat.
If you’re looking for a mobility vehicle that breaks from the pack, the Element may be a good choice. If you don’t regularly deal with multiple passengers or cargo, it’s a unique alternative to big vans and “soccer mom” minivans.
Options for the Element
The Element comes in three different trim packages. The LX is the entry-level option, but it wouldn’t be fair to call it “stripped down.” It does have cruise control, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering and a four-speaker stereo that’s more than enough for the small vehicle.
The EX improves upon the base model with alloy wheels, a CD changer with steering wheel control, a handy overhead console and a center console with a removable cooler.
The SC combines interior trim upgrades, exterior enhancements (including a more attractive front grill and different paint schemes), larger wheels and a lower, tighter suspension. The SC is only available as a front-wheel drive option. The LX and EX are available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive configurations.
Safety and the Element
You may question the Element’s performance, but it’s hard to argue with its safety. Both the NHTSA and IIHS gave it top marks for safety in crash tests and it scored well in rollover resistance. Every Element comes standard with a full assortment of airbags, antilock brakes, stability control and traction control. Its responsiveness gives drivers a better chance of avoiding accidents and the 2011 Element hasn’t been involved in any recalls.
Final Thoughts on the Element
If you love the way the Element looks, you may be willing to ignore some of its deficiencies. If you’re not impressed with the design and style, you’ll probably want to consider other small crossovers. Wheelchair van users may be attracted to the Element as a smaller alterative to more traditional vehicles.