2010 Honda Element expert review

I have always liked the Honda Element.

There is a quirkiness about this vehicle that helps you overlook some of its misgivings. It doesn't have the best ride, and it's kind of noisy, but it still warms your heart.

It's an automotive pug, so ugly it's kind of cute.

And like a well-bred dog, the Element improves with every generation. When Honda updated the Element for the 2009 model year, it cleaned up the exterior lines and provided more comfort inside. All of the driver-friendly features remain -- the little ledge near the glove box and a nice low center console. It feels like the old Element, just better.

The Element still boasts those ingenious second-row seats that fold flat and then up against the outside walls, creating a cavern of space. The plastic-covered floor is easy to clean (please, don't use a hose on it; water and wiring don't mix), and the boxy shape provides maximum utility -- nearly 75 cubic feet of space.

For the 2010 model, Honda has begun offering a $995 accessory package to transform an Element into a more dog-friendly version. Technically, this is not a new model in the lineup, but it's one of those special features that the press and crowds at auto shows, myself included, were wagging our tongues over.

The Element has always been dog friendly and now, it is supposed to be dog friendlier. It's almost too much of a good thing.

After a week of testing, my dog, Bogart, a floppy-eared shepherd, decided he would rather walk. Me? I'm not particularly fond of it either. It's a great idea that doesn't work out in real life, kind of like a chow chow.

Now in fairness to Honda Motor Co., there very well could be dogs that like riding in a comfortable kennel with a nice sleeping pad and spill-proof water dish. These are the kind of dogs that don't care about their owners, never listen and constantly plot their escape. In most places, they're known as cats.

Safe, but no fun for Fido

Really, this system is safer for man and beast. If a person is in an accident, a dog becomes a projectile -- and could result in injury to the owner and animal. Eventually, California will pass a law requiring dogs to wear seat belts or be in some sort of container -- and the federal fat cats will follow suit. (Most people agree with these principles and expect everyone else to follow them, just not them, kind of like the Bible.)

Ride-loving Bogart, however, would rather chew a good book than ride in the back.

First of all, he was too big for the crate and too spoiled to ride in it. At 90-something pounds and standing 30 inches tall, he went over the kennel's 80-pound limit. But for the sake of testing, I used two Beggin' Strips and tricked him into it to get a measure of what he thought. Beggin' Strips good; crate, not so much.

Bogart enjoys a seat with a view -- due to his ever-vigilant search for tennis balls, which the Element kennel doesn't offer. Instead, light leaks in through the ventilated top and an electric fan on the door can keep him cool. He could only hear my voice as we drove, until I stopped, opened up the back and let him ride with the grown-ups.

The Dog Friendly Element also provides an extendable ramp that lets man's best feeble friend saunter up into the zipper-closing kennel -- it's very cute -- and the most annoying feature around. It collapses nicely and fits right below the crate -- and clanks around every time you hit the brake or gas.

The most annoying thing about the kennel is not being able to fold up the seats when it's there. The folding seats give the Element a lot of its utility.

And if you have the kennel and not the dog, you have to put whatever you may happen to buy, say groceries, where the dog was sleeping earlier (or in the second-row seats). Bogart may be clean for a dog, but he's not a dinner table.

The kennel and ramp easily pull out of the Element. It's lightweight so moving it around is not a problem. This is good. The best place to keep this kennel is in your garage, where it can collect dust until some one runs it over and then you throw it away -- along with the ramp.

Seats a winning feature

The rest of the Dog Friendly features are kind of cool. The dog-bone pattern floor mats look awesome, though they can be a little slippery if your shoes are wet.

The hair-resistant second row seat covers look cool and work very well. Even what little strands of barbed wire Bogart shed didn't stick to them. I'd like to have my entire house upholstered in that fabric -- as well as a couple of suits. Think of the money I'd save on lint rollers.

Really, the package seems to balance practicality with personality. It's fun -- though it may be a little too much for some people. I love my dog, but every time I leave him home, I don't need to tell the world I'm a dog person. Most people can tell that without me saying so.

And what do you do with this Element once your dog is gone? It's like owning a chew toy without any teeth.

The paw print on the front driver's side fender and the little Dog Friendly badge on the lift gate serve only as reminders of summers past.

Really, all of the accessories other than the kennel are nice, and Honda should consider selling them individually -- right now, there's an all-or-nothing tactic that feels a little heavy-handed. And a heavy hand is not dog friendly.

I still like the Element, but I like my dog more.

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