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#4

in 2009 Affordable Compact SUVs

Avg. Price Paid: $12,252 - $15,476
Original MSRP: $20,275 - $25,770
MPG: 20 City / 25 Hwy
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2009 Honda Element Performance

This performance review was created when the car was new. Some links may no longer point to an active page.

The 2009 Honda Element isn't the sportiest or most nimble SUV, but you can place confidence in the car's satisfying engine and ride quality.

  • "A car-based chassis with struts up front and famed double-wishbone rear suspension give the Element confident, easy handling. Soft tires on the LX and EX models make for somewhat lazy steering response; firmer rubber and shorter sidewalls on the SC are an improvement, without much of a ride penalty, and look more athletic." -- The Car Connection
  • "Honda Element is no speed demon, but it does offer peppy performance, with enough smoothness to make everyday commuting a pleasant experience." -- Edmunds
  • "While the Element is no rocket ship, horsepower has been improved with the addition of high-lift camshafts and high-flow intake and exhaust systems. Still, at highway speeds and on mountainous roads, the Element can take a bit of time to regain its momentum if a driver lets up on the accelerator and then tries to resume speed. ... I felt and heard abrupt impacts of potholes, and the ride came across as louder than expected on concrete highway expansion cracks and uneven sections of pavement." -- MSN
  • "No speed demon but also not a slouch, the Element feels zippy. As usual with smaller engines, your driving style should guide transmission choice: For those looking to extract as much speed and performance as possible from the economical four-cylinder, the manual transmission is a good choice; drivers who prefer less involvement and ease of use should opt for the competent automatic." -- Forbes

Acceleration and Power

According to most, the 2009 Honda Element's engine is competent, but not exuberant. The SUV's sole powerplant is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 166 horsepower. Honda's variable valve timing, called i-VTEC, is intended to reduce vehicle emissions and increase engine efficiency and gas mileage.

By compact SUV standards, Honda's i-VTEC technology seems to work well. According to the EPA, the front-wheel drive 2009 Element should achieve 20/25 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission and 18/23 city/highway with a manual. The all-wheel drive model rates at 19/24 city/highway with the automatic and 18/23 city/highway with a manual.

  • "The Element's 2.4-liter engine is very smooth for a four-cylinder and quite strong for its size, with a good deal of torque for pulling and passing. The Element will easily cruise at 75 mph, and even accelerate up a highway grade in fifth gear." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "Either transmission affords Element adequate power, though automatic versions are slow to gather speed from a stop." -- Consumer Guide
  • "We like the manual transmission. The shifter is mounted up in the dashboard like in some of the latest rally cars, and it's easy to use. The manual allows a driver to optimize the engine's performance, and it makes the Element more fun to drive." -- New Car Test Drive
  • "Onramp acceleration can best be characterized as leisurely. The engine revs high and drones loudly, but the car never seems dangerously slow." -- Cars.com
  • "The Honda's (HMC) 166-horsepower four-cylinder engine was more powerful, and felt more refined, than the four-bangers in the others, though xB's is not bad. Element's power advantage is partly negated by the extra weight. The weight and the driver's typically heavy foot combined to produce mediocre mileage (high teens; you could do better)." -- USA Today

Handling and Braking

Test drivers give backhanded compliments to the Element's chassis. The consensus seems to show the SUV rides well but is sometimes hurt by its distinctively boxy design. However, many like the Honda Element SC's sportier ride, while several others recommend getting an LX or EX Element with Honda's Real-Time Four-Wheel Drive System.

All Elements' maximum towing capacity is 1,500 pounds, while most affordable small SUVs manage between 3,500 and 5,000 pounds.

  • "Built on Honda's 'Global Compact Platform,' the Element is structurally similar to the CR-V, and a cousin to the Civic. There is no truck in its ancestry. Its rigid unibody structure and fully-independent suspension, with modified MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones at the rear, gives it car-like ride and handling characteristics." -- The Auto Channel
  • "But as car-like as the Element might be it's got a higher center of gravity than a typical car. That means it leans more, which means the driver gets tossed around more." -- Autoweb
  • "The steering offers positive feedback, and the wide track keeps the Element stable in evasive maneuvers. The only thing detracting from the fun is the wind noise generated by the Element's boxy, tall body. Also keep in mind that while the Element rides nicely enough, it has a stiffer suspension than most compact SUVs, especially on the SC version." -- Edmunds
  • "Push the Element SC fairly aggressively, and it's at least predictably consistent in its responses. There is a downside to the SC's sportier suspension tuning, however. While the steering is surprisingly quick for a vehicle of this type, the springs are still fairly soft, with quite a bit of suspension travel. ... Jerk the Element SC's steering wheel sharply and it will change direction quickly, but the driver will feel a pronounced plowing effect, as if the nose is diving toward the pavement. Nothing to worry about, just something to get familiar with if you have visions of autocrossing your Element SC." -- New Car Test Drive
  • "Traction is better with AWD than front drive, but the system is slow to send power to the rear wheels when the fronts slip. On several test models we detected a clunking noise when power was transferred to the rears. Routine braking is okay, though not all testers like Element's pedal feel." -- Consumer Guide

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