It's been five years since we last tested a Honda Element, and our opinion of the Honda CR-V-based sport/utility has been one of consistent appreciation for the Element's relatively sporty driving demeanor and versatility, but with some reservations about its quirky styling. The Element beat out the Suzuki Aerio in our High-Roof Hi-Jinks comparison; since then, it's received a significant update for the 2007 model year and now Honda refreshed its boxy 'ute for 2009.
The most obvious change to the 2009 Honda Element is right up front, where the grille has been restyled to mimic Honda's new bold chrome ring look first seen on the redesigned 2009 Honda Pilot. The new Honda face has been met with mixed reactions, but Honda is pressing forward with it here and on other models. Honda has also restyled the front fenders and squared the wheel arches all the way around. Other than the fresh nose, the Element's easily recognizable look and shape remains, thankfully with much less black plastic than our first testers had back in 2003. A rear skylight previously found on top-shelf Elements has been discontinued.
Inside, the 2009 Element retains its reconfigurable seats and garden-hose-ready upholstery, but it has been updated with all the latest gadgets. New features include Bluetooth connectivity, Honda's satellite-linked navigation system with voice activation, a rearview camera for automatic transmission models and USB digital media connectivity. While the base LX model comes with only a four-speaker stereo with a CD player, the EX and SC models get a 270-watt, seven-speaker audio system that will read MP3 and WMA CDs, comes standard with XM Satellite Radio and steering wheel controls and features a 6.5-in. subwoofer located at the bottom-center of the dash.
For the first time, 2009 Element EX and SC models will come with a navigation option. The dash-mounted system features a 6.5-in. screen that controls the nav and audio systems. In addition to a hidden single-CD player behind the screen, the system also can play MP3 and WMA music files from a compact flash card or from an iPod or other portable music player through an auxiliary input. The nav system comes with voice activation that can recognize and enter building numbers, street names, and cities for you.
Element SC models get an exclusive center console with a built-in auxiliary audio input jack, EX models get a new console with a built-in cooler, and LX models gets a basic console. Element EX and SC models also pick up a new overhead storage system, which is based on Honda's Railport Vehicle Personalization System. The three-compartment storage area is modular and can be reconfigured based on individual customer needs. SC models also get exclusive Piano Black trim, copper-colored highlights, unique fabrics, and a floor covered with carpet rather than rubber.