2012 Honda Element Review and Prices

Last Updated: Dec 21, 2010

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2012 Honda Element Buying Advice

The 2012 Honda Element won’t make it to production. Honda announced in December 2010 that the 2011 Honda Element will close out the model run for this compact crossover SUV. Element was the original box on wheels and inspired a host of imitators.

This little wagon debuted for model-year 2003 as an appealingly innovative youth-oriented crossover but struggled to stay relevant in late middle-age. Slow sales doomed its first-generation run to a model-year 2011 conclusion. That’s not to say Honda won’t resurrect the Element after model-year 2012. What form it might take is the question.

Essentially a dorm room on wheels, Element was cosmetically freshened for model-year 2009 and was overdue for ground-up redesign. Element always had its drawbacks, but treated as a piece of recreational gear, its virtues were evident. If those appeal to you, you’ll likely find 2011 Elements hanging on dealer lots even as Honda rolls out 2012 versions of its other models. That spells great deals on leftover Elements with substantial reductions off prices that hovered in the low-$20,000 range.

The first-generation Honda Element blazed the trail for a boxy brotherhood that grew to include the Scion XB, Nissan Cube, Kia Soul, and, with some stretching, the Ford Flex. Sales were a healthy 67,500 during Element’s inaugural 2003 model year but steadily tapered off to less than 15,000 annually.

Indeed, by model-year 2011, the first-generation Element appeared to have satisfied the bulk of shoppers drawn to a low-cost compact wagon, one that offered all-wheel drive, laudable cargo versatility, and the notable ability to expose most of its interior via side doors that open like those of a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer. And it may have alienated some who discovered the drawback inherent in those side doors: you needed to open or close a front door before you could open or shut is corresponding-side rear door. That’s was an inconvenience when you want to employ this as an everyday four-door wagon. It’s no accident that every Element rival has four conventional side doors.    

Element was a crossover because it was based on the understructure of the Honda Civic compact car. It had a just-adequate166-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Honda had offered a manual transmission up until model-year 2010, leaving subsequent Elements saddled with a moderately responsive five-speed automatic. Element’s blocky shape cost it some highway fuel economy, while rivals had introduced powertrains with newer engineering and six-speed automatic transmissions that helped them to higher overall EPA ratings. With front-wheel drive, the 2011 Element was rated at 20/25 mpg city/highway. With AWD, the 2011 Element was rated at 19/24 mpg. Those ratings

By comparison, most front-wheel-drive rivals had fuel-economy ratings in the mid-20s or higher in city driving and around 30 mpg in the highway. And some similarly priced and powered compact crossover SUVs beat the AWD Element; the AWD 2011 Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tuscon, for example, rated 21/28 mpg.

Honda’s funky crate was always positioned to appeal to youth and budget-tending buyers who expected value and versatility. Model-year 2011 prices ranged from $21,605-$24,965, including Honda’s mandatory destination fee of $780. Every 2011 Element came with air conditioning, power front windows, and a height-adjustable driver’s seat.

Any future Element would almost certainly again be based on underskin engineering developed for the Civic and for Honda’s popular CR-V compact crossover SUV. Both are being fully redesigned for model year 2012, and Honda could well revive the Element using this new platform.

If Honda sees a market for a second-generation Element that bears some spiritual connection to the original version, look for the same basic, active-lifestyle approach, with front- and all-wheel drive and a utility-oriented body. No V-6 would be in the cards, but a four-cylinder with more horsepower would be welcome as long as it didn’t negatively impact fuel economy. Fuel economy could also play a role in Honda considering an Element with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain sometime during the second-generation. Element after all appealed to an alternative lifestyle, so alternative power would seem a natural fit.

2012 Honda Element Next Steps