2010 Honda Element EX 4WDPosted on July 6th, 2010
Dog-friendly accessories makes travel safer for man’s best friend
By Nina Russin
The Element is Honda’s toolbox on wheels for active lifestyles. Last fall, product planners added a “dog-friendly” edition for the upscale EX grade. The idea is to make travel more comfortable for dogs, with a rear kennel that keeps animals safe in the event of a collision.
A fan in back keeps the animals cool, while a ramp that stows under the kennel eases access and egress for older dogs who suffer from hip dysplasia. Washable covers on the rear seats and rubber floor mats make it easy to hose down the interior. It’s a great feature for buyers who load mountain bikes into the car, or runners who carry a little dirt from the trailhead with them.
A little help from Kati, Brent, Buck and Abby
This week, I had the chance to drive the dog-friendly Element around Phoenix and on a road trip to Sedona, Arizona. Since my husband and I are cat people, I asked my friends, Kati and Brent Steiner to help out. In addition to being duathletes, the Steiners are proud owners of two Jack Russell Terriers: Buck and Abby.
Clamshell-style doors in back allow the driver to open the rear glass separately. The rear cargo door flips down: a much easier arrangement for smaller drivers loading up the back. The dog ramp anchors on the cargo door and then angles towards the ground.
Since both of the Steiner’s dogs love riding in cars, it didn’t take any prodding to get them into the Element. Buck and Abby bypassed the dog ramp and leaped into the kennel.
Staying in the kennel was a different story. Buck and Abby are used to riding on the car seats so they can look out the windows: neither liked the idea of being confined to an area in back. Buck was especially unhappy, bounding out of the kennel as soon as we unzipped it. I suppose riding in a car kennel is something dogs have to get used to.
Both Kati and Brent loved the cargo-style side doors, which create large enough openings for loading in bicycles. And since both have modified their own vehicles to accommodate the dogs, they appreciated the seat covers and rubber floor mats.
Test drive to Sedona
Despite its tall, narrow profile, the Element is surprisingly stable on the highway. Standard sixteen-inch wheels provide a stable footprint for driving at speed. The four-wheel independent suspension is compliant without being mushy, and the variable power assist rack-and-pinions steering has decent on-center response.
Available all-wheel drive gives the Element four-season versatility. Ground clearance is just under seven inches: adequate for moderate snow and graded dirt rows. The Element doesn’t have the two-speed transfer case necessary for extreme off-road trails.
All grades come with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 166 horsepower. While the engine is adequate for most driving situations, it’s a bit anemic at higher altitudes. The five-speed automatic transmission downshifted frequently as we made our way from Phoenix at 1500 feet to Sedona, at 4500.
Fortunately, fuel economy doesn’t suffer. We used about eight gallons of gas for the first 200 miles of our drive, beating the EPA average by about a mile per gallon.
Visibility around the vehicle is quite good. While the Element suffers from the same rear blind spots as most high-profile cars, the rear kennel doesn’t interfere with the rear glass. A standard back-up camera provides a wide angle view to the rear when the driver shifts into reverse, making the car much easier to park.
The large front glass and low cowl offer excellent visibility to the front, while ample side mirrors help the driver monitor traffic to both sides. Over-the-shoulder visibility is good enough to monitor both lanes of traffic when entering the highway.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in a linear fashion without being grabby.
While wind noise isn’t a problem, there is quite a bit of road noise inside the cabin. It can be a challenge for both rows of passengers to converse on the highway.
The Element’s versatile interior is its biggest asset. In addition to making all interior surfaces easy to clean, designers did an outstanding job of packaging storage areas, power points, and bottle holders.
Second-row seats fold flat and flip up to the sides, or can be removed entirely.
Map pockets in the doors are deep enough to hold an atlas. All four passengers have access to cupholders large enough for twenty-ounce bottles. Rear cupholders are built into the seats, so they don’t interfere with the cargo area if the seats are removed.
A segmented shelf that extends across the instrument panel can safely hold cell phones and other portable electronic devices.
The gearshift lever is located to the driver’s right, next to the center stack, clearing up additional storage space in the center console. The center console bin includes a removable cooler box for stashing beverages.
Three overhead console bins hold sunglasses and garage door openers. Overhead reading lamps illuminate the car’s interior at night.
The large navigation display serves as a screen for the rear backup camera. Honda’s hard-drive navigation system is one of the best on the market: it calculates and recalculates routes very quickly. Audio and temperature controls on the center stack are easy to access from either front seating position. Standard XM satellite radio is a nice feature for buyers who take frequent road trips.
Gauges are easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. A digital display in the gauge cluster includes an ambient temperature meter. Redundant audio and media controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction.
The Element comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability and traction control.
Honda builds the Element at its East Liberty, Ohio assembly plant.
Likes: An affordable, versatile vehicle that meets the cargo needs for active lifestyles. Dog-friendly accessories make it easier and safer for dogs to travel with their owners.
Dislike: Road noise inside the cabin makes it difficult for both rows of passengers to converse on the highway.
Model: Element 4WD EX, “Dog-Friendly”
Base price: $25,585
As tested: $26,365
Horsepower: 166 Hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 161 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Fuel economy: 19/24 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $780 destination charge.
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