By Steven Cole Smith, ORLANDO SENTINEL AUTOMOTIVE EDITOR
9:07 AM PDT, April 30, 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 is equipped with a special optional 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 new rear, and the front fenders are now made from metal instead of composite material.
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 pretty annoying when you try to close the front door before you close the rear door, which you can't. 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 mid-level 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.
Dog-wise, 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 floor mats, spill-resistant water bowl, electric ventilator fan, a tote bag, a leash and collar, a "Paw Print" dog tag, and a (ahem) doggie-doo bag dispenser.
On the road, dog package or not, the 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 four-cylinder, which has been around a little too long, matched to a five-speed automatic transmission.
The test Element had all-wheel-drive, which adds $1,250. That still doesn't make the low-slung Element a genuine off-roader, but adds to the beach-buggy image.
Personally, I prefer the Honda CR-V, but the Element has found a small but dedicated group of loyal fans. And that doesn't even count dogs.
Steven Cole Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2010 Honda Element EX
Base price: $19,815
Price as tested: $27,295
EPA rating: 19 miles per gallon city driving, 24 mpg highway.
Details: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive SUV with a 2.4-liter, 166-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission.
Copyright © 2013, Orlando Sentinel