2011 Honda Element Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 9, 2011

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2011 Honda Element Buying Advice

The 2011 Honda Element is the best car for you if there’s a role in your life for a quirky cube with wheels.

The 2011 Honda Element represents the final model year for the original box-shaped crossover; decreasing sales mean there won’t be a 2012 Honda Element. The 2011 Element  pares back its model lineup and no long offers a navigation system – signs of Honda’s lowering expectations for this aging and decreasingly popular compact crossover. Except for a mild model-year 2009 facelift, the 2011 Element is the same shipping-container-shaped wagon introduced as a 2003 model. It again comes in front- or all-wheel drive and starts in the low-$20,000s. For its size, Element has always been among the roomiest vehicles on the road. But it’s not among the most fuel-efficient in its class and is compromised by an odd side-door arrangement that in effect prevents back-seaters from getting in or out without cooperation from someone in front.

Should you buy a 2011 Honda Element? We initially reported that the 2012 Element would kick off this crossover’s second-generation design. But Honda has decided to cut its losses and not spend to develop and launch a second-generation version. Element introduced America to the high concept of a tiny motorized carton, breaking from the gate like a champ in 2003, recording 67,500 sales in its first model year. Demand declined steady each year since, and Element sales were on a 14,500-unit pace for calendar 2010. Partly, it’s because this is an aging novelty act. And rivals have fielded some tough competitors that pick up on Element’s cubist vibe without its problematical design touches, such as the French side doors. Bottom line, it’s clear the 2011 Element’s design appeals to a shrinking number of buyers. If you’re among them, a Honda dealer ought to reward you with a great deal.

2011 Honda Element Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 Honda Element styling is unchanged, though the sporty-trimmed SC model is dropped, leaving behind base LX and uplevel EX versions of this slab-sided four-seater. A blunt nose, upright windshield, and tall roof give Element the look of a small van. It’s slightly longer overall than the key competitors it helped inspire, the Kia Soul and Scion xB. But at 70.4 inches, its roofline is five inches taller than any rival’s, so cargo-volume is class-leading. Remove the rear seats or fold them out of the way, then raise the liftgate and lower its companion tailgate, and you can roll in a couple of bicycles, wheels attached.   

On the downside, every rival has four conventional side doors. Element, by contrast, uses long front doors in combination with quarter-sized rear doors hinged at the back. Open both, book-like, and you expose a large portion of the interior for beach-party fun and campsite convenience. But overlapping edges mean the rear doors don’t work independently of the fronts. You can’t open a rear door unless a front is already open and can’t close it unless a front is already shut. It’s a safety feature, but really complicates rear-passenger loading and unloading.

That towering roof makes for fantastic passenger head room all around, but only the driver and front passenger gets true seat comfort. Built with storage options in mind, the back seat is has firm and relatively thin padding. That makes it simple to fold flat to mate with the tipped rear seatbacks to create a sleeping surface, easier to into fold up and lash against the sidewalls for more cargo room, and light enough to invite easy removal altogether. It’s kind of like rearranging the furniture in your dorm room.

Except for their wheels, the 2011 Element LX and 2011 Element EX models are virtually indistinguishable visually. Both use the same size tires on 16-inch wheels, though the EX comes with alloys and the LX uses steel wheels with wheel covers. Gone for model-year 2011 is the Element SC model, which affected a “street custom” look with lowered ride height, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a monochromatic exterior color scheme.

Mechanical: The 2011 Honda Element is mechanically unchanged. Its sole engine remains a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 166 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration is adequate at best and labored when you’re haulin’ three buds onto the freeway or up the mountain. Honda clipped what wings Element possessed when it dropped the five-speed manual transmission after model-year 2009. That leaves only a five-speed automatic transmission that saps much of what verve this engine possesses. Towing capacity is a modest 1,500 pounds.

To create the Element, Honda basically applies this wagon body to the understructure of the Civic compact sedan. That’s what qualifies Element as a crossover; what makes it eligible to be considered an SUV is availability of all-wheel drive (AWD). The 2011 Element is in fact the only one of these new-age boxes to offer AWD. It’s available as an alternative to front-wheel drive on both 2011 Element models and is as basic as system as basic they come. It simply senses front-wheel slip and automatically shuffles power to the rear wheels until traction is restored. There’s no low-range gearing or front-rear torque locking; Element is certainly not intended for off-roading. Rather, AWD is on hand as an all-weather grip enhancer.

With the weight of the engine over the wheels that also propel them, front-wheel drive Elements furnish capable movement off the line, aided by standard traction control, which automatically modulates engine and brakes to prevent tire slip. All versions of the Element actually are quite nimble at around-town speeds and have a tidy turning circle. Fast cornering, however, triggers copious body lean and increasing degrees of noseplow.

Several prime rivals, including the xB and Soul, have four-wheel disc brakes that give them more confident stopping performance than the Element, which uses a front-disc/rear-drum-brake setup. However, an antilock system for better control in emergency stops and an antiskid system to midigate sideways slides is standard on all 2011 Elements.

Features: The 2011 Honda Element subtracts the previously available navigation system, and the USB iPod connectivity and rear backup camera that came with it. The navigation system was a voice-activated unit available on EX and SC models.

The Element was never available with Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone connectivity, but loss of the nav system and especially the attendant USB interface puts it further behind the newer competition in the race to attract tech-savvy young people. The 2011 Element LX continues with a basic four-speaker single-CD audio system that doesn’t even include an auxiliary input jack for digital music players. The 2011 Element EX’s more-powerful audio unit includes an auxiliary jack and comes with steering-wheel controls, seven speakers, including a subwoofer, and XM radio capability.

All 2011 Elements include among their standard equipment air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, remote keyless entry, and a rear window wiper/washer. Cruise control and manual driver’s-seat height adjustment also are standard. The front windows are power operated. The rear-door windows manually hinge open a few inches for ventilation. No sunroof is available.

Though all its main rivals seat five passengers, none has more cargo room than Element’s 74.6 cubic feet. To achieve that, you’ll need to remove the Honda’s rear seats, but there’s still a generous 25 cubic feet of open space with the rear seats in passenger configuration. Those seats also cinch up along the sidewalls. The discontinued Element SC model came with fancier cabin trim, as well as floor carpeting. The 2011 Element LX and EX models continue with washable rubberized flooring and water-resistant seat fabric.

2011 Honda Element Prices back to top

Prices for the 2011 Honda Element increase $300 for the surviving LX and EX models, leaving a price range of $21,605-$24,965. (All base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination charge; Honda’s fee for the 2011 Element is unchanged at $780.) By comparison, prices for the 2010 Element lineup started at $21,305 and topped out at $26,365 for the EX model with AWD and the navigation system; the XC came with front-wheel drive only and listed for $25,100.

Note that Honda offers no factory options, instead equipping each model in a lineup with a set collection of features that escalates as you ascend the price ladder.

The 2011 Honda Element LX is priced at $21,605 with front-wheel drive and at $21,855 with AWD. This is a pretty stripped vehicle, unavailable with such amenities such as sunvisor vanity mirrors, front seatback pockets, a center console, and cabin map lights.

The 2011 Honda Element EX price is $23,715 with front-wheel drive and $24,995 with AWD. To the LX model, the 2011 Element EX adds the features mentioned above, and also comes standard with a second 12-volt power outlet, an overhead storage compartment and seatback bungee tie-down cords, a front center console incorporating a removable cooler, and front-seat armrests.  

2011 Honda Element Fuel Economy back to top

Element’s square shape has always been an aerodynamic albatross. And at more than 3,500 pounds, it’s kind of porky for a compact crossover. There’s only so much aerodynamicists could do to smooth a boxy shape. So with no changes to styling or powertrain, 2011 Honda Element fuel-economy ratings are unchanged from model-year 2012.

With front-wheel drive, the 2011 Element is rated at 20/25 mpg city/highway. With AWD, the 2011 Element is again rated at 19/24 mpg.

Direct competitors must concede the added security of AWD to the Element, but with front-wheel drive, automatic transmission, and similarly sized engines, most rival wagons have higher fuel economy ratings – generally in the mid-20s or higher in city driving and around 30 mpg in the highway. Even some similarly priced and powered compact crossover SUVs beat the AWD Element, however; the AWD 2011 Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tuscon, for example, rate 21/28 mpg.

2011 Honda Element Release Date back to top

The 2011 Honda Element went on sale in fall 2010.

What's next for the 2011 Honda Element back to top

Who really knows? Honda points out that it sold more than 325,000 Elements in the U.S. since its introduction in December 2002 as a 2003 model. This wagon never was an expensive investment for the automaker, but even the advantages of platform sharing have their limits once production volumes fall below a certain level. And Element’s platform sharing opportunities were about to become quite intricate.

To save money on the most expensive engineering and components, Honda wisely based the Element on those already developed for its Civic compact car. However, today’s first-generation Element actually traces its architecture to that of the 2001-2005-generation Honda Civic. It stayed with that basic understructure when Civic was fully redesigned for model-year 2006. Now, Honda is set to introduce another all-new Civic design for model-year 2012. That left Element a couple of design generations behind its donor vehicle.

Honda wouldn’t have been compelled to follow lock-step with an all-new 2012 Element when it introduces the 2012 Civic. Lag-time of a model year or two wouldn’t have been at odds with the carmaker’s history when it comes to niche models -- as the first-generation Element amply demonstrates.

A few industry observers had been floating the notion that Honda might not continue with a second-generation Element. We admit we believed this proud automaker wouldn’t be comfortable with the appearance that it was retreating from a market segment it invented. And that may still prove correct; Honda very well may field a second-generation Element, though perhaps not for model-year 2012. When, and what shape it might take, is the mystery.

The other major Honda built off the Civic platform is the highly successful CR-V crossover, and it’ll also be fully redesigned for model-year 2012. The 2012 CR-V is sure to look sportier than the outgoing 2007-2011 generation, though its need to appeal to mainstream buyers leaves room for the kind of funky alternative represented by the first-generation Element.

If Honda considers a redesigned Element a appropriate counterpart to the next-generation CR-V would it carry forward with a square-cut design to maximize interior volume and compete with the Soul, Cube, xB, and other carton-shaped crossovers? Or would Honda substitute a rounded body, sacrificing some utility in the name of less-polarizing styling? And what about those French doors? Can an Element be an Element without them, or did they cost more sales than they brought in?

In any event, pricing would remains a sensitive matter. That may rule out a diesel engine option but it might not preclude a gas-electric hybrid version using Honda’s low-cost Integrated Motor Assist technology, perhaps with the plug-in technology the automaker is set to introduce during calendar 2012.

2011 Honda Element Competition back to top

2011 Scion xB: The market for jiggy little crossovers is a fickle one. Buyers tend to flit to the newest entry. That’s one reason the Kia Soul, introduced for model-year 2010, is the top-seller among a competitive set that includes the Element, xB, and Cube. But thoughtful shoppers realize this five-seat wagon from Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion division is the best-driving vehicle of the bunch. And it’s neck-and-neck with the Element for packaging efficiency. A model-year 2011 facelift gives it a slightly more aggressive air, but styling remains an acquired taste. Scion calls the xB an “urban utility vehicle” but it’s really a compact front-wheel drive wagon with a 158-horsepower four-cylinder and a base price of $16,670 with the five-speed manual transmission and $17,620 with a four-speed automatic. The 2011 xB is rated 22/30 mpg with either transmission.  

2011 Kia Soul: This five-passenger four-door hatch is frankly not as dorky-looking as the others in this group. But it’s also the least fun to drive and the one that cuts a few corners in interior materials quality.  However, style and attitude rule in this class and Soul’s keen pricing and an equipment list brimming with the entertainment and communications features young buyers value make it a strong entry in the segment. Soul follows the four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive formula. The base model has 122 horsepower, comes only with a five-speed manual transmission, and rates 26/31 mpg; it starts around $14,000. Uplevel models have 142 horses, come with the manual or a four-speed automatic, and rate 24/30 mpg. They start around $16,200. Soul won’t be redesigned before 2014.

2011 Nissan Cube: The runt of this litter, Cube is smaller inside and out that the Honda, Scion, Kia, but shows them a thing or two about op-art attitude. Cube came to the U.S. for model-year 2009 with an asymmetrical window arrangement and bulldog-in-sunglasses front end. It’s avant-garde and fun to drive, thanks to a substructure borrowed from the highly competent Nissan Versa compact car. Passenger space is good but cargo versatility lags the others in this group. AWD isn’t offered but the powertrain is relatively advanced. The only engine is a 122-horsepower four rated at 25/30 mpg with a six-speed manual transmission and 27/31 with the continuously variable automatic. A special-order stripper model starts just over $15,000, but “mainstream” Cubes have a base-price range of around $16,000-$22,000. No big changes to the Cube before model-year 2013 or so.