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Honda Element Good or Bad?
April 15, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Honda Element for bicycle hauling, car camping, road tripping, and general use?

I'm thinking about buying a new vehicle to support my interests in getting out and doing stuff. I'd like to haul bicycles (inside, preferably), drive down dirt roads, do some car camping, be able to sleep in my vehicle, haul stuff, and so on. It needs to be comfortable enough for long road trips and also reasonably affordable and easy on gas.

My current leading candidate is the Honda Element with all-wheel drive. If you own one I'd really appreciate hearing what you think of it. I'm also open to suggestions for other vehicles. Thanks!
posted by LastOfHisKind to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The Element is a fantastic vehicle for bicycle hauling. I know two cyclists that love theirs.

Unless you have a strange bike setup or are over 6' tall, you can wheel the bicycle straight into the back vertically with the seats removed / tilted up, without removing wheels or lowering the seatpost. The Element can hold ~5 bikes this way if you use moving sheets inbetween them to avoid scratches and take out both rear seats. You can carry 3 bikes with sleeping bags, clothes, other gear easily.

In terms of driving, it is a bit underpowered and visibility isn't so great. Fuel economy could be better. But I say these things as a sedan driver, not an SUV driver.
posted by meowzilla at 9:00 AM on April 15, 2010


Not an Element owner, but an "I've seen them on Edmunds.com" and considered buying one.

The thing that killed it for me-- you cannot open the rear doors without opening the front door. This is fine if you are generally only going to have passengers in the front two seats, but if you were ever going to put kids in it, it'll be a pain to have to open the front passenger door to open the rear passenger door.

At least that's what I thought they were saying...
posted by gregvr at 9:03 AM on April 15, 2010


>easy on gas.

I have not driven a Honda Element but I've driven similar vehicles. I think you can forget about 'easy on gas'.


posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 9:11 AM on April 15, 2010


My husband is a cyclist and he has an Element. It really is perfect for the bikes. The amount of cargo space is crazy - even when I had a big SUV we couldn't just slide the bikes in standing up like we can in the Element. He goes on cycling trips that include camping and has no problem fitting all the gear plus a friend or two inside.

It's also the only vehicle we've seen where our Great Dane can stand comfortably and we can still see over her in the rear-view mirror.

While the fuel economy isn't fantastic, I don't think it's bad for an AWD vehicle that can haul tons of stuff. It gets an average of 24mpg.

The back seats lay flat if you want to sleep on them, or you can fold them up to the walls (or remove them completely) and stick an air mattress in. I'm pretty sure sleeping in the back is the reason they put the big moonroof way back there.

Oh, and the stereo is really good.

Admittedly, visibility isn't great, particularly when you have the seats up against the walls. And while the suicide doors can be good when you're cramming stuff in, they can also be a little awkward with passengers, especially if you're all trying to get out in a cramped parking lot. But for us those things were acceptable when you considered the utility of the rest of the vehicle.

Meowzilla said it was a bit underpowered, and that's probably true. My husband and I both favor cars with manual transmissions, and when we test drove the Element we tried both and found that the manual transmission helped with that feeling a lot.

Overall we like it, and I can't think of a better car for hauling bikes. Nothing beats not having to remove wheels or lay them down on top of each other.
posted by thejanna at 9:21 AM on April 15, 2010


I have not driven a Honda Element but I've driven similar vehicles. I think you can forget about 'easy on gas'.

My Dad had one. They're medium on gas. They get between 19-24 in my experience. Not awesome for an compact, okay for something big. They're great because you can hose them out and they have a lot of room. They're comfy enough though as an adult who rode in the back seat sometimes, I found the visibility back there pretty awful. I think the newer models took care of that some. It's pretty boxy which means driving in high wind is a little interesting, but otherwise I liked it generally speaking.
posted by jessamyn at 9:29 AM on April 15, 2010


I've had an Element for 7 years, I'd buy another. gregrv is correct, you can't open the rear doors without opening the front. On earlier models, the front seatbelt attached to the rear door, so I also need to take the belt off before I can open the rear door. I've never found this to be that big a problem, but I don't have kids.

I got the all wheel drive, but I'm not sure how useful it is. It's "automatic all-wheel drive," which means the rear wheels drive when the front wheels start to slip. But I don't know if the rear wheels ever helped in any of the snow or mud I've been in.

I love it because of the flexibility. Since the rear seats fold down, fold up, or can be removed, I can carry a bunch of stuff. The only thing that won't fit is 4x8 sheet goods. I've napped in it a few times, it's not a bed but it's better than nothing.

22-24 mpg, which isn't great but beat the 8 mpg my previous car got.

I don't care what others say, don't hose it out.
posted by Marky at 9:34 AM on April 15, 2010


I bought an 04 model new, my roommate bought an 07, I believe. We both love ours, and I constantly fill mine with gear for camping, LAN party setup, LARPs, etc. My primary use of it is to haul bins of props & garb to recreation events, and I can get through muddy park trails while chick full of gear without an issue, even snow. It's also a bonus in snow storms, and when doing bulk shopping, gardening, etc.

I was recenly gifted with the tent that is designed to attach to the back (full tent, not the cabana), but I have not had a chance to try it yet. It's definately geared for people who are active outdoors.
posted by GJSchaller at 10:07 AM on April 15, 2010


My SO has a '04 Element. As a duck hunter he loves it because he can stuff the vehicle full of gear, car-camp out at refuges overnight (something he couldn't do in the cab of a pickup truck) and haul home mud-covered decoys, soaked waders, dead birds and a smelly dog without worrying about the interior getting thrashed. He would have completely ruined any car with carpeted surfaces by now—even with custom-fitted mud mats—but the entire interior of his Element cleans up easily with a wet rag and 409 and looks as new as it did six years ago.

Honda's AWD is on-demand, it only locks the wheels when it senses slippage in one of the front wheels (I think it locks the wheel diagonal to the one slipping as opposed to all four). It's not for real off-roading or Subaru level off-roading but it has served perfectly well in muddy dirt parking lots and moderate snow.

He's getting 26mpg on the freeway so long as he regularly uses cruise control. He's got a leadfoot on city streets so no usable estimate there. He's a big guy, says the driving position is very comfortable on long drives (those hunting refuges are up to 5 hours away) but the ride is noisy. When I drive the Element (I'm 5'), the dash is too far away to reach and the steering wheel feels angled up like in a school bus. It accelerates much faster than my first-gen CR-V but handling feels heavy and tank-like, comparatively. I haven't had any issues with visibility but I do prefer my CRVs sightlines (which are ridiculously huge). The space inside the Element is huge, it's much bigger inside than it looks from the outside and all doors open amazingly wide making it very easy to load/unload.

As a passenger, I find his Element moderately noisy at freeway speeds: there's a lot of wind and road noise in the interior (a Honda failing in general) but not so much as to impede conversation or find wearying. The ride over all seems hard with road surface transmitted to the riders inside: I'm jolted by potholes in the Element that my CRV rolls over without comment. I've noticed lately that his Element's doors are rattling in their frames over bumps which is likely due to the combination of the lack of B pillars and the rubber seals getting old.

Getting in and out of the Element's front seats is very easy, it is neither too tall nor too low. The front doors are huge and can swing out quite a ways. However, getting out of the back seats can require assistance from someone outside: a front door has to be opened before the short back door can open. In tight parking slots, it's very difficult to swing the front door wide enough to clear the arc the back door needs to open, as a result our 12 year old often just climbs between the front seats and exits out a front door (the spacing between the front seats is wide enough that I can easily crouch-walk between them). The seating in the back is also elevated a few inches compared to the height of the front seats which makes for a great view of the road for the car-sick prone riding in back but also feels sort of weirdly exposed.

Mechanically, it's been sound. He's put 130K on it in six years and it hasn't required anything beyond the maintenance schedule recommended by Honda.

Hope that helps. SO says another Element would be on the short list if he had to replace the one he has now.
posted by jamaro at 10:24 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd say it would depend on how many people you want to be able to bring on said camping trips. The Element is a good vehicle for its size and weight, but if you're only planning on bringing 1 or 2 other passengers, another small SUV that gets better mileage might fit the bill (Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox, Subaru Forester, etc.) Just make sure the seats come out or flip forward, as opposed to flipping down, and you'll definitely have enough room for bikes, with a lot less weight. (You might want to bring a bike to the dealership to test.) The main problems with the Element are its hugeness and its relatively poor mileage.

My husband and I have pretty much the same desires as you for a vehicle, although we probably have a smaller budget than you (we can afford used cars in the $10k price range). If you're buying new, the Element will probably hold its value well, so that might tip the scales in its favor for you. We're on the other end of that spectrum, so the high residual value of Hondas meant that all the used Elements were ridiculously poor deals: we're getting a manual 2003 RAV4 with 80,000 miles on it, from before the Runaway-Car Years, for about $1000 under what Edmunds quotes, and for just about what we would have had to pay for a used 2004 Element with nearly 150,000 miles on it. So if you're buying REALLY used cars like us, a stick-shift RAV4 from '02-'03 might end up being a really good buy (the control chip to the automatic transmission was faulty during these years, so I would stick to stick-shift here). If you're buying only slightly-used cars, you might want to check the reviews on 1-2-year old models from some of the domestic makers: a lot of their models have improved dramatically in recent years but they still depreciate much faster than Hondas. Really, I would only consider the Element if you're buying a brand-new, not just new-to-you, new car. Even then, its mileage is so poor compared to so many other cars in its class that I would seriously consider a few different models even if they lacked the cargo-space versatility of the Element.

And do you *really* need AWD? AWD will end up costing you, both in terms of MSRP and in gas mileage. I grew up out in the sticks, in the foothills of a mountain range. I drove down dirt roads and all over snow-covered roads in a 1994 Saturn SL and never had a problem. Unless you're planning on actually driving your car off-road, you aren't likely to need the AWD option. In fact, here in Pittsburgh, most of the winter accidents I see involve at least one AWD vehicle -- I think having AWD makes people think they're immune to the laws of physics. Realistically, a 2WD vehicle will perform adequately in almost all on-road conditions as long as it's properly equipped (snow tires and/or chains in winter conditions).
posted by kataclysm at 10:35 AM on April 15, 2010


Also: the Element seats 4, there's no 5th set of seat belts.
posted by jamaro at 10:47 AM on April 15, 2010


Not sure if the size is there, but just for comparison maybe look at the Kia Soul.
posted by Doohickie at 11:03 AM on April 15, 2010


I love mine. One of the best things about it is that I can put 10' lengths of material in it from the hardware store and the back will still close.

I took it to burning man and lived in it for a week. It was perfect.

My only caveat is that, while I sleep in it perfectly with the back door closed, if I was a tall man, I might not be as comfortable (I can fully stretch out and lounge, but I am 5'2").

The double doors are great for using the Element as a cabana. I can have them all open for great access and airflow.

I am going to get a bike rack, as I don't want to have to take the seats out or put them up every time I want to take my bike.
posted by Vaike at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2010


I don't have a Honda Element, but I do own a CRV which I saw recommended as an alternative for higher mileage.

Three things:

1) the CRV (at least, my 2003 model) does not get much better mileage, maybe 26mpg freeway.
2) the CRV cannot be slept in comfortably. I am 5'4" tall and cannot stretch out with the seats folded all the way to the front.
3) the CRV does not have enough room to fit more than one bicycle inside comfortably. Same goes for kayaks, though you didn't ask :)

When we bought the CRV, we also tried out a Toyota RAV4 of similar model years. The Toyota's interior quality seemed better, but the back seats were less roomy and the RAV4 also suffered the lack of sleeping room in #2 above.
posted by dwbrant at 1:14 PM on April 15, 2010


Another happy Element owner here. I have 06 2WD manual, it's a great car. Very comfy on long trips. I love the roomy interior, not just the storage space but the headroom and legroom. They are by no means fast, nor do they handle particularly well but that's not what you buy one for. I've got 60K on mine without a hint of trouble. I've moved twice in mine, carrying an amazing amount of stuff (including bikes) and driven it on few long road trips.
My only caveats:
- Visibility is not great, there is a very thick pillar between the front door and the windshield and big blind spot on the passenger side. Small cars sitting just behind you on the passenger side can disappear. This is probably no worse than a lot of cars but my previous cars were a WRX and a Toyota truck.
- Handling is a bit mushy. Depending on what you're used to this can take a bit of adjusting. Again my previous cars was a WRX wagon with a racing suspension, so that's my very subjective take. I have no experience driving anything similar so I don't have anything to measure against.
- They are not fast. I've had mine up to about 85 and that's really faster than I like to drive it. 65-75 is fine, beyond that it starts to feel a bit floaty. It really is a big cube on wheels, and it feels like it.

The upside is it turned from an angry, too fast, pass everyone kind of driver to a slow down and enjoy the ride kind of driver.
posted by doctor_negative at 3:02 PM on April 15, 2010


I own an Element. It's good for biking, but it's unreasonably ideal for scuba diving. You get a tailgate to set up on, it's enclosed, and it can haul twice as much cargo as you would expect.

The lack of a fifth seat has be cause for annoyance, and it could be better on gas, but I'd be hard pressed to replace mine with anything but another Element.
posted by SemiSophos at 3:07 PM on April 15, 2010


We have one and love it - it's my daily driver on a 45 mile commute. Working off things people said above:

It's loud, but I only notice that when I'm in my wife's car.

The flexibility from the ability to fold up the rear seats is nice. There's been more than a few times where I go to pick up a large purchase and the people from the store helping load it think it's never going to fit, and it does. Easily. It's much larger than it appears. Visiblity does suffer when the seats are folded up, though.

I'm 6'2" and I can sit in the back seat. Comfortably. The rear seats are slightly elevated, so I can still see out the windshield as well.

We have a 3-1/2 year old and a 5-month old. No problems getting them in and out - in fact, because of the extra space, I can climb in the back and strap them in to their seats if it's raining, instead of standing outside the car and getting soaked.

The suicide doors have only been an issue in tight parking spaces. A little careful planning can help with that though.

Despite the rumors, hosing it out is not recommended - this coming from our dealer. There are some electronics at/near floor level and, while you probably would be okay, you could also very easily short things out.

The dashboard shelf (for lack of a better way to put it) is handy - I kept my iPod and a GPS unit there.
posted by neilbert at 6:18 AM on April 16, 2010


Kinda late to add, but I have driven both an automatic and manual transmission elements, and their is a NOTICEABLE difference. The automatic felt sluggish and the 5 speed was severely more peppy, its also quite easy to drive, Honda's have great clutches.
posted by token-ring at 7:44 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


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