We owned a 2004 Honda Element from '04-'11, 7 years. We regret every day that we traded it in. Ours was “Real time 4WD,” which meant, unlike AWD, it would convert to 4WD with any “Slippage” that it sensed. We live at the end of a bad gravel road on a farm. Never got the Element stuck, as I recall, driving on a lot of snow, ice, mud, and gravel bars.
The Element was not as “Economical” as most Honda’s. With the 4WD model, we probably got 22mpg most of the time. Driving flat land, 50mph you could stretch it to 24-25mpg. In extreme winds out west with boats on the roof we once got about 16-17mpg. One of my only complaints was that the engine sometimes felt a bit under powered?
The seats, floorboards, and rear were rubberized and very easy to clean. I thought that seat material was PERFECT? Here it is, 10 years later and I STILL haven’t seen another vehicle with a comparable fabric and can’t figure out why? it was comfortable, easy to clean, and difficult to stain. Perfect interior for dogs, paddling, and throwing crap in at the farm. My next door neighbor once sold a miniature donkey to an older couple who picked it up in their Honda Element. I would venture to say, that was not the only instance someone pressed the Element into a livestock hauler?
As for sleeping in the Element, we probably spent 100 nights or more in it over the 7 years we had it? It was a bit tight for two, perfect for one. If you’re much taller than me (6’1") it may be a little tight, but I was always comfortable. You could either sleep with rear seats down and put a sleeping pad on them (or not) for a little more room, or with seats up and out of the way. I’ll show a few pics of both.
After we traded our Element in at a local dealer, they sold it to a mom & pop car lot about a year or two later. We knew it was ours, as they left two of the Thule “Feet” on it and we knew every little dent and scratch. For a year or so it sat on that lot and we would go by and look at it and I’d try to talk my wife into letting me buy it back. It finally went away, and now she too wishes we had bought it back!
Oh, BTW, as for the “Rack spread.” it was a little smaller than my liking, and couldn’t really be moved further back due to the moon roof. That said, I had 17 and 18’ canoes on the roof with a Thule rack and NEVER had an issue until we had an accident. One of the welds tore after my wife hit a tree with our canoe rack and tore the front rack off. That was one of the reasons we thought about selling it. We bought one of those Yakima bars through foam contraptions that Oak Orchard sells. We could have just bolted through the roof, probably with better results?
Oh, and the moon roof was difficult to mess with, and we both disliked it. Unfortunately, it came with the 4WD version and so we didn’t have a choice. That said, I would be happy with the front wheel drive model too, as the traction just in FWD was great most of the time.
Had I been given the reigns on “Tweaking” the design I have no doubt they’d still be on the market; I would have designed the “Perfect” paddling vehicle with a few minor changes. An economical diesel engine, a foot or so more length, more rack spread, and a bit of a softening of the “Box” shape would have made for the perfect paddler, hiker, hunter, dog owner, etc vehicle! Here are a few pics for illustration: