Under the hood is the same 2.4L i-VTEC inline-four-cylinder engine found in the original Element, though it now makes 166 hp and 161 lb-ft of torque. It can be mated to a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission and can be had in 2WD or AWD forms on the LX and EX models and 2WD only on the SC model. When the front two 16-in. wheels only are driven, the 2009 Element gets an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway with the automatic transmission, while AWD models get 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway regardless of what transmission they're mated to. The base LX model is only available with the automatic transmission, but both the EX and SC models can be equipped with either the auto or the manual gearbox. SC models get a stiffer suspension, a faster steering ratio, a lowered ride-height and 18-in. wheels. Honda's Maintenance Minder system monitors the Element's health and alerts the driver when it needs maintenance, although Honda says the Element will go 100,000 miles or so without any scheduled maintenance.

Honda's reputation for safety is well-represented in the Element. While test results aren't yet available for the 2009 model, the 2008 Element received five-star front- and side-impact ratings for all passengers. Up front, both driver and passenger have dual-stage front airbags with weight sensors in the passenger's seat and position sensors in the driver's seat to calibrate airbag deployment for maximum protection and minimal impact on the occupants. Front seat passengers also get seat-mounted side-impact airbags. Both front- and rear-seat passengers get side-curtain airbags, which the vehicle can adjust for optimal protection in the event of a rollover. Other features include LATCH anchor points on the rear seats for child seats, as well as active head restraints for front seat passengers. The front end of the vehicle is also designed to absorb as much energy as possible in a collision with a pedestrian to minimize injury to the person.

The base model 2WD Element LX with the five-speed auto will start at $20,845 including destination charge. Adding AWD will cost you an extra $2,045 on the LX but only an extra $400 on the EX. Equipping an EX or SC models with a navigation system will add another $1700 on to the price tag. The top-level SC model starts at $23,840 with a manual transmission and $24,640 with the automatic.

The Element is still as quirky as ever, but for 2009, it's even more functional -- and that's never a bad thing.

2009 Honda Element
Base Price $20,175-$25,185
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD/AWD, 4-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.4L/166-hp/161-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 5-speed manual; 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 3515-3648 lbs (mfr)
Wheelbase 101.4 in
Length x width x height 169.9-170.4 x 71.6 x 69.5-70.4 in
Headroom, f/r 43.3/38.0 in
Legroom, f/r 41.0/39.1 in
Shoulder room, f/r 57.1/52.2 in
Cargo volume 25.1 cu.ft
EPA City/Hwy Econ 18-20/23-25 mpg
CO2 Emissions 0.88-0.97 lb/mile