Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: Intro
One of the outcomes of the SUV boom of the latter part of the 20th century was that practically every permutation of the Sport Utility Vehicle concept saw the light of day as some sort of a production model. Some were wildly successful, others were merely interesting footnotes. Honda’s Element, falling somewhere in between, was definitely on the interesting side and it was one of the most functional vehicles introduced into the space.
A core group of young research and development engineers at Honda worked up the basic idea for the Element back in 1998. The concept was to create the ideal vehicle for urban-based outdoor adventurers, with an eye more toward hauling toys for outdoor sports. Kind of a hybridization of the pickup truck and the SUV, Honda’s Element was designed specifically to get dirty and be easy to clean.
With a floor covering made of urethane, you could almost hose dirt out of the Element. The fabric employed on its seats was particularly durable, water resistant and stain resistant to boot. Its side opening doors created unobstructed access to the interior, so the Element was easy to load and unload. There was no central ‘B” pillar obscuring access.
First shown at the 2001 North American International Auto Show, the Element went on sale in December of 2002, as a 2003 model. Its production run lasted through but one generation—as the compact SUV was discontinued after the 2011 model year.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2003 - 2011
Based on the platform underpinning the Honda Civic, the Honda Element offered versatility, car-like driving characteristics, and of course Honda’s reputation for reliability. In addition to the four doors opening opposite each other a full 90 degrees, the rear seats were removable. With them out, the Element offered up to 75 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
The 2003 model came with a 2.4L inline four-cylinder engine capable of producing 160 horsepower and 161 foot-pounds of torque. Available in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive iterations, the Element was offered with a choice of a four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual.
The all-wheel drive system was Honda’s “Real Time” four-wheel drive setup, which primarily fed torque to the front wheels. If they began to lose traction, engine output would then be routed to the rear wheels hydraulically. While not ideal for extreme offroad situations, the system was useful on sand, in snow, and for other “soft road” situations. In other words, don’t attack the Rubicon trail in an Element, you’ll get stuck. But if you have to deal with something like a muddy two-lane to get to your favorite fishing hole, you should be OK.
Properly equipped, the Honda Element would tow 1500 pounds.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2003
The 2003 Honda Element came to market in two states of trim; “DX” and “EX”. Standard equipment for the DX included; 16-inch steel wheels, intermittent windshield wipers, privacy glass, a rear window defogger, and an intermittent rear window wiper.
The bucket front seats and the rear seats were upholstered in cloth. The driver seat was height adjustable. The rear seat back split folded and offered a reclining function. Rear seat passengers benefited from their own ventilation ducts.
The Element offered power door locks, and power windows with one touch operation for the driver’s window. Cruise control, front and rear comforters, front and rear door pockets, and 12V front power outlets were all included in the base price. The Honda Element’s tilt adjustable steering wheel communicated with a power steering rack.
The instrument panel featured a clock, a tachometer, and a low fuel level warning indicator.
The safety and security suite was comprised of a set of child seat anchors, four disc brakes, an engine immobilizer, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, electronic brake force distribution, and height adjustable head rests front and rear.
The 2003 Honda Element EX offered all of the above, but substituted 16-inch alloy wheels and added a manually-operated glass sunroof. ABS, power operated exterior mirrors, cruise control switches on the steering wheel, interior air filtration, air conditioning, a cargo area light, front and rear reading lights, and dual vanity mirrors in the sun visors were also fitted.
The audio system used seven speakers including a subwoofer, a 270W amplifier, and an AM/FM/in-dash single-disc CD player with CD MP3 playback capability.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2004
For 2004, Honda added a third Element trim line called “LX”.
The 2004 Honda Element LX was equipped much like the 2003 Element EX, however it did without the premium audio system, the power mirrors and the new features added to the EX for 2004 to further differentiate the model. Most notably, these were keyless entry, a passenger seat armrest, and bungee cord fasteners for the driver side front and rear seat backs.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2005
Model year 2005 saw the demise of the DX trim level, leaving only LX and EX.
For the 2005 Honda Element LX standard features included power windows and door locks, the urethane utility floor, a set of removable and folding rear seats, waterproof front seat fabric and a height adjustable driver’s seat. The 2005 LX also offered power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioning, and a single-disc CD player.
The 2005 Honda Element EX came with all of those features plus; a set of 16-inch alloy wheels, a 12V power outlet in the cargo area, remote keyless entry, waterproof rear seats, front armrests, satellite radio, the 270-watt audio system, and side airbags.
A removable rear sunroof was paired with all-wheel drive for all Element models.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2006
The 2006 Honda Element EX-P debuted. The “P” stood for “painted”. The Element EX-P was the first Honda Element to eschew the contrasting fender, bumper and door handle treatment introduced with the model back in 2002. Other than that, the EX-P was equipped identically to the standard Element EX. Quoted horsepower was reduced to 156 due to the SAE’s new testing procedures. Actual output remained unchanged though
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2007
The Element EX-P of 2006 presaged a wholesale adoption of painted fenders and door handles across the board for the 2007 Honda Element lineup. Because of that, the EX-P nomenclature was dropped. However, another new trim line was added—Element SC.
With those developments, the 2007 Honda Element hierarchy consisted of “LX”, “EX”, and “SC”. Standard equipment on Element LX included 16-inch steel wheels, variable intermittent windshield wipers, privacy glass, a rear window defogger, swing out rear quarter windows, a manual glass rear sunroof on all-wheel-drive models, and a rear window wiper.
The driver seat was height adjustable and the passenger seat would fold flat. The rear seat back split folded and would recline. Remote power door locks, power exterior mirrors, and power windows with a one-touch function for the driver were also included in the base price. Cruise control, front and rear cup holders, front and rear door pockets, and a 12V front power outlet were standard features as well. The tilt adjustable steering wheel housed switches for the cruise control system.
There was also interior air filtration, air-conditioning, and a cargo area light. The instrument panel contained a clock, a tachometer, and a low fuel level warning indicator. An AM/FM in-dash single-disc CD player head unit fed the four-speaker audio system.
The safety and security suite for the 2007 Honda Element LX included ABS for all four disc brakes, emergency braking assist, electronic brake force distribution, stability control, traction control, and tire pressure monitoring. The model was also fitted with front and rear head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags, a passenger airbag occupant sensing deactivation system, child seat anchors, and an engine immobilizer.
All of the above held true for the 2007 Honda Element EX as well. Further, that trim line added 16-inch alloy wheels, Captain’s chair front seats, an overhead console with storage, a center console with a removable cooler/storage box, audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel, and a seven-speaker audio system with audio and video inputs feeding a 270W amplifier. The head unit was an AM/FM/in-dash single-disc CD player with CD MP3 playback capability and XM satellite radio. It also featured an auxiliary input port for portable audio devices.
The 2007 Honda Element SC built upon the Element EX offering with the addition of 18-inch alloy wheels, front reading lights, front and rear floor mats, and a slightly lowered suspension system to improve handling. Further, it got projector beam halogen headlights, a center console, and—carpet in the passenger compartment (an Element first!).
Engine upgrades for all Element models increased power output by 10 horsepower to 166. A new five-speed automatic transmission replaced the four-speed automatic
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2008
The Honda Element went into 2008 largely unchanged.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2009
A mild styling update added a grille resembling the one fitted to the Honda Pilot. EX and SC got a voice activated navigation system, and the rear sunroof was axed.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2010
Introduced at the 2009 Chicago Auto Show, the Honda Element’s Dog Friendly package included a fully enclosed (via high-strength netting) kennel for the cargo area and stocked with a cushioned bed and a built-in water bowl. The package also incorporated an extendable ramp (which stowed under the kennel when it wasn’t deployed) to make it easier for older and smaller dogs to enter and exit the cargo compartment. Other “elements” of the package included a rear ventilation fan, rubber floor mats, and dirt- and water-resistant second-row seat covers.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: 2011
The SC trim line, manual transmission and navigation system were axed for model 2011. Other than that, the Element went into its last year of production unchanged.
Honda Element Used SUV Buyer’s Guide: Summary
After nine years of production the Honda Element was laid to rest. The model changed very little over its lifetime, so pretty much any year you get will be set up primarily the same as any other year. That said, if it’s in your budget, the 2007 models and later had the more powerful engine and the five-speed automatic transmission, so they’d be where we’d start looking.
There was a windshield problem in 2003 and 2004 models, which actually resulted in the filing of a lawsuit against Honda. Unevenness in the windshield flange surface could cause the windshield to crack. Honda remedied this situation by providing warranty replacement of windshields in 2003 and 2004 model Honda Element models for six years or 60,000 miles.
Other than that, the models have proven pretty robust and should prove slightly above average in terms of reliability. There have been other recalls issued, an Internet search for “Honda Element” recalls, incorporating the model year of your interest will net you the list pertinent to the object of your affections.
Similarly, a vehicle history report run against the VIN of any particular car you’re seriously considering will also help you make a sound purchase decision. As always, when shopping for a pre-owned automobile of any kind, a pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional independent Honda mechanic is a must.
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