Driving Northwest: 2010 Honda "Dog Friendly" Element

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by TOM VOELK / KING5 News Car expert

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KING5.com

Posted on May 20, 2010 at 12:32 PM

Updated Thursday, May 20 at 12:34 PM

Over the years automakers have made hundreds of “special editions”.  Pace car replicas, movie tie-ins, even cars with denim interiors. Now Honda has one for Beethoven. No, they haven’t brought back the Prelude - I speak of canine not composer. The Dog Friendly Element has everything needed to make your pooch safe and comfy but a fire hydrant.

The Dog Friendly package does a number of good things, the best is to keep furry friends secure in a rear kennel area. It’s also a savvy marketing move since this is a great story, giving the aging Element lots of free publicity. See? You can teach an older dog new tricks.

Dog gone comfy

To describe the DF package I’ve brought in Timmy and his celebrity collie Lassie. Alright, I’m impersonating them... poorly.

“Woof, woof woof, woof, ruff, woof!” “What’s that girl? The Dog Friendly package has a rear kennel with soft bed, a ramp that stores under it, splash resistant water bowl and easy to clean seat covers for the back seats?” “Ruff, ruff, woof woof!” “A rear mounted fan and rubber mats with dog bone pattern too”. “Woof, ruff ruff, woof woof”.  “My gosh! Penny has fallen down a well, broken her leg, is suffering from hypothermia and in danger of being eaten by a cougar?!” “Woof, ruff!” “Well then let’s get pa... right after I fill out the postcard in the owner’s manual that gets us other neat accessories like a leash and poop bag holder. I do have to clean up after you”.  “Grrrrrrrrrrr....” “Now don’t start with the movie star attitude girl”.

Now if Lassie and Timmy weren’t off to save Penny, they’d explain that the kennel is made of soft but strong seatbelt material and the textured ramp is good for small and older dogs. The fan increases circulation but of course never leave a pet in a parked car. The easy clean seat covers have a stylized dog pattern to them, same as the kennel cushion. All of it is very well made. Finally there are exterior badges, you know, to mark their territory. 

To get the full benefit of this $1,000 dealer installed package you need to spring for the EX model because of the power port in the rear. It can be retrofitted to older Elements but since the center console was redesigned in 2009, the floor mats don’t fit perfectly.

Move over Lassie

Originally I thought it would be great fun to do the video using our hamster, but the reality of him getting loose outside put the kibosh on that plan.  So my neighbor Sean’s dog Gracie gets the star turn. Besides, Gracie won’t gnaw her way out of the kennel or swim in the water dish.

Even though it was a new experience, Gracie was fine in the kennel on our ride to the park for shooting.  Sean and his friend Kelly seemed pretty impressed with the package as did all the dog owners I encountered. Watch the video and you’ll see her pretty much avoid the ramp all together. The folks at Honda say that’s typical but after a few days they get used to it.  Gracie is young enough to just jump into the back.

What do people like about Element?

Utility for starters. This rig is incredibly versatile with more storage cubbies than you can shake a fetching stick at. The center console doubles as a removable lunch box. Bungie cords on the front seat back hold large items, there are large slots in the doors for storage.

My tester has every major option. Element does the “speak” trick with Bluetooth for phones plus a mini jack connector and USB port for iPods. An optional nav system has a backup camera. A swing out screen reveals CD and memory card slots for music (Three Dog Night anyone?). The system won’t impress audiophiles especially when listening to XM radio. 

Overall the interior looks a bit plasticky with interesting textures. The floor can be carefully hosed out because it’s a plastic material, not carpet.  The kennel is removable and all seats recline completely flat. With a little effort the rear units also swing completely off the floor opening up enough space to tote nearly 101 Dalmatians.

Because the flexible seating, Element is also good for hauling long stuff or creating a lumpy bed of sorts for those who find themselves in the dog house.  Also, the wide door opening with no pillar is good for getting oversized stuff in from the side as well. 

Bulldog looks... and speed

People either love or loath the boxy Element design and you know who you are.  Body panels all get paint now, no more bare plastic sections anymore. Element is available in front or all-wheel drive. It’s powered by a 166 horse 4 cylinder leashed to a 5-speed automatic transmission. Element drinks like a larger dog with EPA rated fuel economy at 19 city, 24 highway for the 4WD model.

Performance wise, this rig is no greyhound. 0-60 happens in around 10 seconds but it feels peppier. Hondas typically corner well and this one’s as fun as a puppy. It also has a raised seating position for Great Dane height. A collie’s keen hearing isn’t needed to notice road noise is higher than average and the slightest tap of the throttle brings a distinct grainy engine note into the cabin. 

Things that keep my tail from wagging

The steering wheel doesn’t telescope, visors adjust but not quite enough to keep sun from shining in from the side and the roomy Element only has belts for 4 people. The rear hinged back doors have to be opened and closed in a certain order. Park next to a car in a typical parking lot and it can be quite a dance to get everyone out. Finally, if Gracie rides in the back seat she can’t stick her head out the back window because they don’t roll down, they only vent.

For years I’ve used bath tissue to measure the trunk, this time something a little different and appropriate, dog beds. In cubic size they are twice as big as TP bundles, so six of these is a very good score for a compact ute. Many vehicles this size only hold 10 bundles of TP.

With loads of room and an easy clean floor, Element has always been a great car for dog owners. The Dog Friendly option is like a fresh juicy bone. My favorite part about this package is that it keeps four legged friends safe. I shudder when spotting pets on driver’s laps. Dangerous for everyone, especially a dog prone to a deploying airbag. So keep Fido safe and seat them in back. There are options for other vehicles but give Honda a “good boy” for barking up the right tree with the Dog Friendly Element.
 

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