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.

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

Below is the official press release from Honda for the 2009 Honda Element.

Restyled 2009 Honda Element Offers New High-tech, Functional Features

Available features now include a navigation system, a removable storage cooler and an improved overhead storage console on select models

TORRANCE, Calif., Oct. 29, 2008 - The restyled 2009 Honda Element entry-level SUV builds on its spacious and versatile character by adding a more chiseled exterior appearance and a refreshed interior design with an expanded selection of available high-tech and functional features. Manufacturer Suggested Retail Pricing (MSRP1) starts at $20,175 for the 2009 Element 2WD LX, plus a destination and handling charge of $670.

For 2009, Honda has enhanced each of the three unique Element styles that range from the rugged and simple Element LX, to the more refined Element EX, to the sporty Element SC. Available new features on the Element EX and SC include the Honda Satellite-linked Navigation System2 with Voice Activation and a rearview camera (automatic transmission-equipped vehicles only); USB digital media connectivity; and improved overhead console storage areas with modular compartments.

Significant exterior styling changes include a new front grille and bumper design, restyled front fenders (now metal, previously composite material), a new hood design, squared wheel arches, and new headlight and taillight configurations.

"The Element's key strength is a spacious, versatile and rugged interior that adapts quickly and conveniently to people and cargo," said Dick Colliver, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co., Inc. "For 2009, the enhancements strengthen the totally unique original concept with more refinement and functionality."

New interior changes include new, brighter color schemes with titanium-look side linings, new fabric patterns, and revised switchgear designs and meter graphics. A restyled low-profile center console is standard on the Element LX.

The Element EX adds a new convertible center console with a removable cooler/storage box while the Element SC retains its exclusive center console. For additional storage, the Element EX and SC are equipped with a modular three-compartment overhead console based on the Railport(tm) Vehicle Personalization System, expanding the vehicle's hidden storage versatility compared to the previous version. The new overhead console includes two large storage bins that can accommodate CD cases and similar items and a rear storage area for sunglasses.

The 2.4-liter i-VTEC(r) 4-cylinder engine is available with either a standard 5-speed manual transmission or an available 5-speed automatic transmission. Real Time 4WD(tm), available on the Element LX and EX, enhances all-weather traction. The Element LX and EX continue to be available in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive configurations, while the sport-tuned Element SC continues to be available exclusively in two-wheel-drive. EPA city/highway fuel economy ratings3 range from 20/25 for two-wheel-drive models with an automatic transmission to 18/23 for manual transmission models with either two-wheel-drive or Real Time 4WD.

Versatile and Accommodating Interior with Available High-tech Features

The interior provides seating for four people along with a cargo area that quickly adapts to large items with its flip-up rear seats that fold flat, fold up and to the side, or can be removed altogether (64-plus seating arrangements). The Element LX and EX have a water resistant urethane-coated utility floor that quickly wipes down and seat fabric that resists moisture; the Element SC has a carpeted passenger area. Air conditioning with micron air filtration is standard on all models.

The Element LX has a 4-speaker AM/FM audio system with a CD player. The Element EX and SC feature a 270-watt high-output audio system, an AM/FM tuner, CD player with MP3/WMA(tm)4 capability, auxiliary audio input for MP3 players or other audio devices, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, seven speakers including a dynamic linear phase 6.5-inch subwoofer (located in the bottom center of the instrument panel). XM(r) Satellite Radio5 is standard on the Element EX and SC. The Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System becomes an available feature for 2009 on the Element EX and SC (automatic transmission models only), and includes a rear backup camera and a USB audio interface6. The navigation system features a 6.5-inch motorized display that opens and closes for access to an internal single-disc CD player and a digital audio card reader that can play MP3 and WMA(r) files from CompactFlash(r) cards. The navigation system contains more than 7 million points of interest and can control the audio system. The voice recognition is capable of recognizing and entering numbers, street names and cities.

Numerous storage bins and beverage holders provide places for cell phones, CDs and super-size drinks. Available storage areas include: a large three-bin tray above the glove box (ideal for mobile phones and portable music players); a modular 3-compartment overhead storage bin (EX, SC); seat back storage (EX, SC); six hooks for strapping down bikes or other bulky gear; and door storage pockets on all four doors.

Exclusive Element SC interior appointments include passenger-area carpeting, a center console with storage, piano black trim pieces and unique fabrics and patterns. The center console provides an enclosed storage area in the vehicle and integrates the auxiliary audio input jack and two beverage holders. Meter styling color on all Element SC models is copper-hue, replacing the blue backlit illumination on the other models.

Restyled Exterior with Stronger Character Lines

For 2009, exterior styling changes to the front of the vehicle provide a more substantial and bolder look. Changes to the front fascia and side profile involve a new hood line that follows a continuously horizontal plane extending from the A-pillar to the front of the vehicle. The new design replaces the downward slope that began mid-fender on the previous models and results in a more vertical front appearance. Steel front fenders replace the composite body panels on all models (the rear fenders retain composite construction). The new grille design provides a consistent appearance similar to other Honda truck models. The rear skylight, previously exclusive to Elements equipped with RealTime 4WD, has been discontinued. The Element SC provides an exclusive appearance with street custom-inspired styling with a lowered stance and exclusive premium features. The Element SC's exterior styling exhibits a performance-oriented attitude with a monochromatic color scheme and exclusive features that include custom front and rear painted bumpers, large alloy wheels, custom grille, and a lowered stance. The lowered stance is achieved by lowering the ride height and by using uniquely shaped painted side sills and slimmer roof moldings.

Refined Chassis Design

The Element's fully independent suspension uses a front MacPherson strut design and a rear compact double wishbone design for responsive handling and a comfortable ride. A 101.4-inch wheelbase contributes to a compact exterior size and an ultra-tight turning diameter of 34.9-feet (36.9-feet, Element SC) provides maneuverability in tight places.

Chassis safety highlights include Vehicle Stability Assist (also known as Electronic Stability Control) and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. Vehicle Stability Assist helps sense oversteer and understeer, and can adjust brake pressure at each wheel and/or reduce engine power to help restore the driver's intended course. Electronic Brake Distribution helps to balance braking forces depending on dynamic loading. Brake Assist helps apply full braking force in some emergency braking situations. A Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) alerts the driver when tire pressure is significantly under-inflated.

Element LX and EX models are equipped with 16-inch wheels (steel on LX, alloy on EX) with all-season P215/70R16 tires. Additional LX and EX standard features include power rack-and-pinion steering and front and rear stabilizer bars (30.0x4.5 mm tubular front / 21.0 mm solid rear). The Element SC adds 18-inch alloy wheels, P225/55R18 tires, exclusive spring and damper tuning (30 percent firmer), a lowered ride height (approximately 0.7 inches) and increased rear stabilizer bar size (25.0 mm, solid). Compared to Element LX and EX, the solid front stabilizer bar is 25 percent stiffer and the rear stabilizer bar is 30 percent stiffer. The steering rack also provides a 6 percent faster ratio (2.94:1 compared to 3.26:1).

Efficient Powertrain

An all-aluminum, 2.4-liter, DOHC i-VTEC engine produces 166-horsepower at 5800 rpm and 161 lb-ft. of torque at 4000 rpm. The Element's i-VTEC system combines Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC(r)) and a cam position-adjusting Variable Timing Control (VTC) system to enhance low rpm torque while extending high rpm horsepower. The result is a broad torque curve that starts early at low RPM's while still delivering high-RPM horsepower.

The five-speed manual transmission features a lightweight and rigid aluminum die-cast housing. Multi-cone synchronizers used on first through fourth gears contribute to a smooth, fluid shift feel while reducing throw distances. Inside, the instrument panel- mounted shift lever facilitates quick, direct gear changes. The five-speed automatic transmission (available) delivers exceptional smoothness, economy and intuitive shift points. Grade Logic Control minimizes "gear hunting" on hilly roads.

Available on Element LX and EX, the Real Time 4WD system aids traction in snow, rain and sand. Real Time 4WD sends power to the rear wheels when the front wheels experience traction loss.

The vehicle maintenance schedule is calculated by the Maintenance Minder(tm)7 system. Maintenance Minder automatically indicates when to have standard service performed based on actual driving conditions (tracked by the ECU) and minimizes the guesswork in determining standard or severe use conditions for maintenance interval purposes. The display indicates when to change the oil, air filter, transmission fluid, spark plugs or coolant, as well as when to rotate the tires. The Element requires no scheduled tune-ups for 100K+/- Miles.

Honda Safety

The Element is equipped with dual-stage, dual-threshold supplemental restraint system (SRS) airbags for the driver and front passenger. The airbags are designed to minimize the potential for airbag injury while providing head and chest protection for the occupants in the event of a frontal collision. The front airbag system features front passenger seat weight sensors and a driver seat position sensor designed to further enhance occupant protection.

Seat-mounted front side airbags help safeguard the driver and front passenger from side-impact injury. An innovative Occupant Position Detection System is used to assure that the passenger's side airbag has a clear path for deployment. In the event that a child (or a small-statured adult) leans into the deployment path of the side airbag, a seven-segment "antenna" system built within the seat back signals this condition to an electronic control unit (ECU) and the passenger's side airbag is switched off.

Both rows of occupants are protected by Honda's Side Curtain Airbag with rollover sensor system. The side curtain airbags deploy from modules in the headliner in the event of a sufficient side impact, providing a significant level of head protection in the window area. In the unlikely event of a rollover, a roll rate sensor and multiple G-force sensors determine the rate of roll and deploy the side curtain airbags accordingly.

Both front seat belts have automatic tensioners and load limiters that work together to help protect the driver and front passenger in a collision. A LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) child-seat mounting system is standard for the two rear seat positions, allowing two outboard child seats to be installed. For pedestrian injury mitigation, design features in the front of the vehicle can help absorb energy in the event of a collision with a pedestrian to help minimize injury. New for 2009, active front seat head restraints have been designed to help reduce the severity of neck injuries in the event of a rear impact.

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