Review: 2011 Element is, indeed, fit for a dog

Maybe it's just me, but the Honda Element's rear dog kennel was too confining. I wasn't comfortable. And slurping from the recessed, spill-proof bowl was near impossible without slobbering all over myself.

Maybe it's just me, but the Honda Element's rear dog kennel was too confining. I wasn't comfortable. And slurping from the recessed, spill-proof bowl was near impossible without slobbering all over myself.

So a better idea, I reasoned, was to get the scoop on the Element's new Dog Friendly package right from the canine's mouth. Call me the dog whisperer.

Me: Is the rear kennel, fully enclosed with strong netting, comfortable enough?

Skippy: Actually, it's not bad. The bed cushion was soft and the enclosure cozy. And the deep water bowl in the corner offered welcome refreshment. What I didn't like is being so far in the rear, away from my people. And I could barely look out the back window -- let alone poke my head out and let my ears and tongue flap in the wind.

Me: Yeah, but that nifty little fan on the side keeps a breeze on you when the sun is baking.


Skippy: True, but there's nothing like your head hanging out the window. You wouldn't understand.

Me: Well, you can come into the cabin sometimes, what with easy-cleaning rubber floor mats with those cute dog-bone patterns--and the doggie-adorned second-row vinyl seat covers.

Skippy: Sounds like a plan.

Me: Hey, it sure was easy getting you into the kennel with that extendable ramp. It stows neatly under the kennel, too, once you're up there.

Skippy: Yeah, guess it beats you yanking at my collar. Hey, gotta run -- Fifi is smelling very good today!

Dog fanciers will like this Element if only because it's all about dogs, right down to the pawprint badge on the side fenders. The doggie package is virtually the only new feature of significance for the Element this year.

Unless your dog enjoys his privacy, I'm guessing some pooches will be whining back there in the kennel. But it is still a handy vehicle for dog owners -- far better than a sedan's rear seat or even the back of an SUV.

Besides limited window view for the mutt, the kennel height slightly hampers human visibility out the rear window. And if you don't secure and stow everything just right you may hear some rattling back there. Some have complained.


By the way, you don't have to love dogs to love the versatility and convenience of a urethane floor. It's perfect if you tend to haul dirty cargo like topsoil or your brother-in-law. It cleans easy -- you can literally just hose it out.

Powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the Element is adequate in power and speed but certainly not dazzling. Its 166 horses and 161 pound-feet of torque lollygags to 60 mph in around 10 seconds.

Handling is, well, what do you want from a 3,500-pound box? Besides, you don't want to bounce Skippy all over the kennel while cornering, do you?

The Element comes with a standard five-speed manual tranny; a five-speed automatic is available.

The front-wheel-drive Element (all-wheel-drive is available on higher trim levels) puts in less than impressive mileage figures for a four-cylinder powerplant: 20 city, 25 highway. It's a couple of mpg less for the all-wheel drive version.

The Element seats only four, which does not compare well with its foes. But the legroom and headroom is enormous so those four sit in real comfort.

The box does extremely well in crash tests, earning five stars for frontal and side-impact collisions. ABS with brake assist and stability control are standard, and so are front-seat side-impact air bags and side-curtain bags.

Element comes in three trims and the base LX has a decent list of features including full-power accessories, keyless entry and four-speaker audio system.


However, the dog package is available only in the next-level EX version. That one also offers 16-inch alloys wheels, removable cooler box in center console, and seven-speaker audio system with MP3 capability.

The sporty SC (street smart) has 18-inch wheels, sport suspension and copper-colored gauges. No pooch stuff.

So is the dog-friendly version, adding about $1,000 to the bill, worth it?

Skippy: Two big paws up!

Me: This is a handy boxcar for the dog lover, fun and convenient. But you'd better be a dog fanatic because this one's all about the dog.

Skippy: There a problem with that?


Price: $26,295 (EX with 4-wheel-drive, navigation and dog-friendly package)

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