Introduced in the United States in 2003, the Honda Element arrived after two years as a concept vehicle called the Model X. It was designed by several young engineers who wanted to develop a versatile vehicle that fit a young crowd’s outdoor interests — skiing to cycling, camping to recreating at the beach.
The small sport utility vehicle with its unique box-like style was an immediate hit. Its initial marketing gimmick was two-fold. With its “suicide” doors and second seat configuration, cycling enthusiasts could transport a bike or two width-wise in the cabin.
Likewise, when bikes and other cargo were removed from the Element, the base model’s interior could easily be cleaned — with a garden hose. All of the indoor was plastic or rubber and thus easily washed.
The base model is still “washable.” But most of the Element’s seven trims now have upgraded cloth seats and other standard features are not the best for garden-hose applications.
The Weekly Driver Test Drive
In previous years of testing the Element, I drove the utilitarian vehicle in more inclement conditions. It was one of the first cars I reviewed in 2004. At the time, its box-like and two-tone exterior got a lot of attention.
This time around, there were no long treks, and nothing during my week with the car was out-of-the ordinary. With Nissan, Kia and Scion, among others now in the box-car selling business, the Element no longer stands out as an oddball.
The best features are the rear doors, which open to 90 degrees. Unfortunately, the rear doors, reminiscent of “suicide doors” of yesteryear, don’t open unless the front doors are opened first. But when the rear doors are opened, a cavernous area is offered.
The spacious cabin is complemented by ideally placed shelves, trays and variously sized compartments. There’s also a large push button for the glovebox.
Front seats are comfortable and situated for good front and rear vision; Back seats aren’t as nice and back-seat passengers feel a lot of bumps.
Instrumentation is straight-forward, with good-sized dials and buttons.
Head and leg room are good, but not great considering the spaciousness of the rest of the cabin.
Halogen headlights and power side mirrors are nice, but the exterior remains largely the same as previous recent years. Rear tailgate opens to smallish cargo areas when the seats are up.
Like its predecessors, the 2010 Element isn’t about speed. It’s about functionality, and that’s what the Element does best. It gets down the road without worry. For its size, it has a tight turning radius and braking is firm.
The Element isn’t particularly quiet, with wind rush and other road noise particularly noticeable at freeway speeds.
Storage compartment layout.
Expected better gas mileage averages.
Side doors can’t open unless front doors open.
Facts & Figures: 2010 Honda Element
Acceleration: 0-60 mph (8.6-10.8 seconds, depending upon transmission).
Airbags: Driver and front passenger front and side and front and rear side curtain.
Antilock brakes: Standard.
Fuel economy (EPA estimates) 20 mpg (city), 25 mpg (hwy).
Government Safety Ratings (stars): Frontal crash (driver 5, passenger 5); Side crash (driver 5, passenger 5); Rollover (3).
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $26,020.00
Price As tested: $26,730.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/unlimited miles.
Web site: www.honda.com.
What Others Say:
“This boxy, small SUV has responsive handling, but the ride is very stiff and choppy, and road noise is pronounced. The large roof pillars compromise outward visibility, and the driving position is awkward.The spacious interior has a washable, plastic-covered floor.” —- Consumer Reports.
“The Element isn’t so much an SUV as a motorized gear tote for active lifestyle’ types. It sacrifices some convenience to rear doors that don’t open independently of the front doors. Neither posh comfort nor serious off-roading are on its agenda either. It is, however, a roomy and adaptable little wagon with Honda’s expected solid workmanship.” —- Consumer Guide.
“With its box-shaped interior, wipe-clean floor and removable seating, the Element offers plenty of practicality at a reasonable price. However, it’s utilitarian wrapper may put off buyers for whom SUV ownership is as much about style as it is about functionality.” —- Edmunds.com.
The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:
“There’s no such thing as a bad Honda, but the Element doesn’t really shine in any area, like the Accord, Fit and Ridgeline. It’s a workhorse that’s really not for off-road treks. It’s a versatile but far-from-stylish SUV with good cargo capabilities and keen modified suicide doors. Better gas mileage averages would add to its utilitarian appeal.”
Article Last Updated: May 3, 2010.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.