At freeway speeds, the Element's engine still pulls well, although we had to be more careful in passing and merging maneuvers as top-end power is lacking. The standard five-speed automatic shifts down as needed, showing little hesitancy to let the engine speed rise, which is the secret to the Element's perceived power.
But the lack of any gear above five also means an engine speed of around 3,000 rpm at 70 mph, which is not the most economical way to cruise. The EPA fuel economy rating for the Element is 20 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, not particularly stellar numbers given the size of the engine, but not bad considering the size of the car.
Our car was a front-wheel-drive model. All-wheel drive is available, bringing fuel economy down by 1 mpg.
The suspension is tuned on the stiff side, making long road trips a bit uncomfortable. And the upright seats do not really contribute to lounging. But the airy interior won't make you feel cramped.
The stereo won't really take your mind off many grueling hours behind the wheel, either. This seven-speaker system uses four door speakers, two tweeters on the A pillars, and a subwoofer, reproducing music with a muffled, muddy sound. The subwoofer adds some oomph, though, good for bass-heavy music.
We spent most of our time in the car listening to music over the iPod connection, a USB pigtail in the glove box. The iPod menu on the touch-screen LCD made it easy to find music by album, artist, or track. The stereo includes satellite radio, too, and we found its interface equally easy to use.
In economy car fashion, the CD slot is hidden behind the LCD, along with a PC Card slot. This latter source is something Honda introduced years ago, and hasn't quite gotten over. To use it, you need a PC Card adapter for SD Cards, or some other memory source.
Although we were happy to finally see navigation in the Honda Element, the ancient system embedded into the dashboard was a bit of a letdown. iPod integration was a nice feature, but the audio system didn't sound particularly good, and the absence of a Bluetooth option shows that Honda hasn't really made the Element a real tech car.
As for performance, the little four-cylinder engine works surprisingly well with the bulky Element, giving it ready power, at least at low speeds. Fuel economy is only about average, as is handling. The Element is a unique-looking car, something we usually give props for, no matter what we think of the aesthetics. And the interior space is well-thought-out, too, but the side doors are problematic, with the rear doors locked in place by the fronts.
|Model||2010 Honda Element|
|Power train||2.4-liter four-cylinder engine|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||n/a|
|Bluetooth phone support||None|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio|
|Audio system||270 watt/7 speaker|
|Driver aids||Backup camera|
|Price as tested||$26,730|
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