2005 Honda Element EX review: 2005 Honda Element EX

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2.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Spacious, configurable interior; willing, tech-assisted drivetrain; Honda build quality and reliability; solid fuel economy.

The Bad Extroverted styling; chunky interior pillars; few tech gadgets available.

The Bottom Line The Honda Element's looks might not please everyone, but its flexible interior and comfortable cruising manners make it an excellent tool for carrying all types of gear.

5.7 Overall
  • Cabin tech 6.0
  • Performance tech 6.0
  • Design 5.0

2005 Honda Element EX 4WD

Unpainted composite body panels certainly aren't the norm in current passenger-vehicle styling, but the 2005 Honda Element EX makes no bones about its practicality as a quirky, urban runabout capable of carrying more cargo than other vehicles its size. With a rear seating area accessible via rear-hinged half-doors and a useful clamshell tailgate, the Element fits the bill whether you're hauling children, mountain bikes, potted plants, or antique armoires. A well-matched engine and chassis provide maneuverability around town, as well as comfortable highway cruising for longer getaways, while still returning good fuel economy and meeting LEV2/ULEV emissions standards. While tech offerings such as navigation and Bluetooth integration aren't available, a booming satellite radio and an MP3 player jack cater to the younger target audience Honda had in mind. Goofy looks notwithstanding, the Honda Element has proven popular across all age groups with its affordability--$20,925 base MSRP for the manual four-wheel-drive EX and $21,725 for automatic--and mix of quality feel and simple utility. As one would expect after beholding the 2005 Honda Element EX in all its boxy glory, the interior offers gobs of space for passengers and cargo alike. Trimmed in a resilient fabric befitting the Element's mission to be the vehicle of choice for active individuals, all the seats are comfortable and offer a good view of the surroundings except at the junction of the A-pillar and the dashboard, where pedestrians can disappear from the driver's field of vision. Long-drive comfort is aided by fold-down armrests on the inside of the front seats. A urethane mat covers the floor of the entire interior, resisting stains and allowing simple wipe-down cleaning.

Also in keeping with Honda's reputation for bargain usability are a height-adjustable driver seat and tilt wheel, both manual. The rear seats fold against the sides of the cargo area, where they greatly impede vision, or can be removed completely. With the front seats folded back and their headrests removed, a passable bed can be formed from the four seats, which is perfect for camping trips. Plus, Honda offers an accessory interior curtain ($165) for a level of privacy beyond that provided by the tinted rear windows. Small storage areas are located in the doors and overhead, and details such as 12V outlets, flush-folding cargo anchor loops, and elastic cords for lashing small items to the seat backs in the front point to thorough cabin design. The optional tilt-or-remove rear skylight is an interesting alternative to a front sunroof, but storing it in the car is awkward and wastes otherwise useful space.


Although the Element's AM/FM/XM car stereo isn't revolutionary, it does offer MP3 playback and is simple to use.

The 2005 Honda Element EX doesn't offer too many digital luxuries. The EX trim package includes a seven-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with MP3 playback capability and a handy auxiliary audio input, located in front of the passenger seat, for use with portable audio devices. The stereo is also XM satellite radio ready, but you'll need a subscription to the service. A healthy subwoofer helps fill the big space of the interior with sound. The stereo's controls are simple to operate, with large knobs that are all close enough to the driver. While there are no radio controls on the steering wheel, buttons are present for cruise control.

Honda's power-train refinement technologies are what keep the 2005 Honda Element EX from feeling underpowered, despite modest ratings of 160 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque. The timing on each cylinder's four valves is varied electronically for optimal breathing, and the optional automatic transmission's Grade Logic Control helps the Element avoid hunting for gears or coasting too freely on hills. The system also makes climbing grades a snap without requiring constant right-foot attention. Acceleration feels pretty leisurely but is in line with other vehicles of this type. Brake feel from the four discs is slightly spongy at the pedal, but good stopping power is there if you press far enough.


Whether you're hauling kids, mountain bikes, or sacks of dirt, the Honda Element's spacious and resilient interior is up to the task.

Underway, the 2005 Honda Element EX's carlike underpinnings result in a smooth, controlled ride similar to that of its cousin, the CR-V. Honda's Real Time four-wheel-drive system routes power to the rear only when front-wheel slip is detected, so everyday handling is predictably benign puller behavior. Variable-assist power steering seems linear enough for pointing the Element through tight spots and around city corners to be enjoyable--an odd realization in a car that feels so large inside. Body roll is present, but all-around independent suspension keeps things in check. The Element successfully melds maximized interior volume and a nice high seating position with a relatively low center of gravity to produce a pleasing overall experience behind the wheel.

The performance seems even more pleasing when you consider the automatic four-wheel-drive Element's fuel economy ratings of 21mpg in the city and 24mpg on the highway. Tailpipe emissions are low enough to garner LEV2/ULEV certification, and the engine's first full tune-up is scheduled to take place at 110,000 miles. This durability is a strong selling point for Honda, especially in a rugged vehicle of this type, and loyal (or terminally frugal) fans of the marque will be satisfied with the fundamentals of their Element.

Receiving five-star crash-test ratings (front impact) from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2005 Honda Element EX's structure contains front and rear crumple zones and feels commendably solid, given both the low cost and the lack of a B-pillar. Dual-stage front and front-side air bags come standard on the EX package. In addition to ABS, the Element incorporates an EBD (electronic brake distribution) feature. Adjustable front seat-belt anchors are helpful, but their location on the rear door restricts rear-seat access when the belt is on. Honda's warranty period runs up to three years/36,000 miles.

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