When you Google “best car for dogs” the Honda Element is almost always on the list. I bought mine with about 100,000 miles on it and have put another 30,000 on it trouble free, though I need to swap in new brake pads in the rear this afternoon.
I like that it has no carpets for dog fur to work its way in so deep no amount of vacuuming can get it all out. Instead it has a thick vinyl that you can use a mop on. I put in aftermarket rubber mats cut to fit perfectly in the front and back. There isn’t a lot of sound insulation, so road noise can be a problem if the blacktop is chewed up by studded tires, but the extra mats help. The noise bothered me at first, but I’ve acclimated to it and don’t notice it much anymore. I drive a 2006 model, and from what I understand the earlier versions were even louder.
I like the tailgate door in the rear because I can open the upper window section to get something out and still have a barrier there so the dogs don’t get their hopes up too much about getting out, though we all know that anytime we stop the car our dogs get their hopes up.
The backseats fold up and out of the way easily, or can be taken out completely without any fuss. Once they’re out, there’s lots of room, including headroom. In cars with less headroom, dog fur gets imbedded even in the headliner. This isn’t a problem with the Element.
Gas mileage is what you’d expect from pushing a large box around town, maybe 20mpg, and better on the freeway. Speed-wise, it gets the job done. I have the 2WD version, which I bought because it gets slightly better gas mileage than the 4WD version. Don’t know about the AWD version. When first starting out, the front wheels tend to spin, especially if the roads are wet. I’m in Portland, Oregon, so they’re wet a lot. This is a common complaint about the 2WD version, and not caused by worn tires. This is my main performance complaint because it has raised my adrenaline a few times while entering traffic.
The Element has an optional dog package that contains the dog behind the rear seats. I don’t have it, I’ve only seen photos of it. I prefer a crate if I need to contain a dog. Less to chew on. My dog, Fleegle, likes to ride shotgun, until he gets tired, then he stretches out in back and naps. He often goes front to back and back to front since his water bowl is in back. I bring this up because the three cup holders are on the floor between the front seats, exactly in the way of any dog getting in the front or going in the back, which makes them useless for anything but holding tennis balls.
So an aftermarket cup holder is a must. And you’ll need to get more of them than you need because they seem to break pretty easily, as if spilled coffee somehow weakens plastic.
The suicide doors are a compromise. The rear side doors can’t be opened without opening the front door first. If you transport more than one dog in the car at a time, you definitely need to work on your Place-stays because with both doors open, it’s a wide space to body block. Then again, I wouldn’t have been interested in the Element in the first place if it had sliding doors. And with all the doors open, it makes for easy access.
All and all, I’m quite satisfied with the Element. If I did it again, I think I would go with the AWD version which would remedy my main complaint about front tire spin on wet roads.