Suggestions for replacing a Honda Element

This article from the other day pretty much sums up everything I love about my 2003 Element. The Honda Element's Unsung Interior Design Brilliance - Core77 It has been the perfect car for dirty/muddy/snowy weekend adventures with the dog, a move across the country (and a few more local moves after that), and day-to-day driving. At 15 years and 200k miles old, though, it’s starting to develop some “quirks” that aren’t doing any favors to my peace of mind or my wallet. The plan is to drag it over the finish line through the summer, squeezing in as many skiing and camping trips as I can before sending it off to the great used car lot in the sky this fall.

If I was in this position a few years ago I would have simply found a newer, lower mileage Element. But each year they’re fewer and farther between, and the newest you can do is a 2011 (which is, in reality, the same basic car as my 2003 with some cosmetic changes.) I’d like to find something I can keep for a decade. A car that’s already seven years old probably isn’t the best bet. Knowing that a box-on-wheels with a rubber and plastic interior no longer exists, I’m looking for the following:

- AWD/4WD - All-wheel is preferred, whether it’s full-time or responsive. I feel like I’ll end up with a lot of car I don’t need with a 4x4, but I often find myself in chain-control areas and really don’t want to screw with them. AWD coupled with a good set of snow-capable tires has been all I’ve ever needed to get around safely, and legally, in the Element.
- Reliability - Tough to match Honda here, but they don’t really have anything in their line I want anymore (for reasons we’ll get into in a moment.)
- Cargo Space - Okay, the only real matches are minivan, larger SUV, or Sprinter (I wish.) Enough space for a few pairs of skis/boards, a dog bed, or possibly some slightly cramped car camping will suffice. Bikes and maybe a cargo carrier can go on a roof or hitch rack.

- Ground clearance - This was my only gripe with the Element’s geometry. I’m in the snow and mountains a lot. While it has plenty of clearance for your average fire road or camping trail, there is a good amount of digging involved to get it on the road after 6+ inches of snow falls overnight.
- Uniquity - This is where my odd design sensibility and irrational desire to be contrarian begins to show itself. I loved the boxiness of the Element. It was inherently utilitarian and the last of its kind to prioritize inward use over outward sleekness (minus Jeeps, which I can’t stand driving.) It was gracefully ugly. It was a mutt. Nearly everything that has come since in the small SUV/crossover category has moved toward an identical aesthetic – let’s round off every corner imaginable before we give it some swoopy lines, interior be damned. Take off the grille and headlights, and they’re all the same in my eye. Not to mention everyone has one.

With all that in mind I have been gravitating toward AWD wagons. They seem to be a good balance of cargo-capable and daily-drivable without going full SUV. I also don’t mind a modern aesthetic on a wagon the way I do on an SUV, either. Being more car-like, they’re better suited to the look. A Subaru Outback is the obvious choice, but it fails mightily on the uniquity scale. Everyone out here that didn’t go for the aforementioned ugly crossover opted for the Outback.

After that you move into potentially expensive Euro territory. VW is out because screw them. The Audi Allroad is fun to drive but expensive to maintain and fails on ground clearance. So far, I’m left with the Volvo XC70 (hooray for boxes!) or V60 Cross Country wagons as the front-runners. Any other suggestions, possibly from someone who has experience, good or bad, replacing an Element?

I agree, I know a lot of loyal Element owners. Too bad they just let it hang out there and then cancel it. It was a great vehicle.

Hmm, this is a tough one. I think the reality is you won’t find any vehicles with that level of interior design quirk outside of the minivan space. Especially when it comes to modular/folding/removable seats.

The Subaru fits the niche. You would need to decide what you want to give up and where your threshold for unique-ness is. The Crosstrek is more unique, albeit smaller.

The BMW X1 is a similar boxy slightly awkward thing but has a much better driving dynamic. Couple that with some plastic monster mats for the trunk and rear seats and it would hold up to dog duty pretty well with the cheaper synthetic leather seats.

I personally also really like the Mazda CX-5 as just an all around good crossover.

We had a Jeep Cherokee which served wife’s daily and my mountain biking and camping needs pretty well (up until I got T-boned a few months ago, it died with grace). The new Compass looks great also. Reliability is never going to be the same as a Japanese car but that really leaves you with the typical bunch (Rav4, CRV, HR-V, etc).

I haven’t seen one in person yet, but the new Mini Countryman comes to mind. I recently purchased the Clubman as I am partial to a 5-door hatch. Swankiest 5-door hatch I could find.

I think I’m willing to give up some interior space if the price difference of a smaller chassis would allow me to splurge a little on kitting it out with things like a Tepui tent, Kuat bike rack, ski/cargo carrier, etc. – all things the Element’s interior space made unnecessary. The Crosstrek might fit that bill.

Roof-racks can be put on just about anything these days. Combine a roof rack + a hitch for bikes or other cargo carriers and you can expand a vehicle quite a bit.

The Mini Countryman is the same basic car/platform as the X1, so that’s also in the wheelhouse, depending on your view of German reliability. I’m on my third German but I lease so I never own anything long enough for it to break. We almost bought an X1 after the Jeep but my wife preferred the larger and more cushy Acura RDX, the X1 was too sporty for her after she had back surgery. #oldpeopleproblems

This guy also piqued my interest when I was doing some Volvo research. The production version debuts in April, so here’s to hoping it holds on to some of those nice, boxier lines.

The XC40 is supposed to launch as a 2019 model, so you’ll probably be waiting another 15 months before you can even order one (and launch models always wind up with launch model reliability woes). The V90 is extremely svelte, but you have to custom order it or pick it up in Sweden (which might be an awesome trip). For $50k it’s unique, but not affordable.

The US wagon market is crap…we simply don’t buy enough of them to justify more than a few options. BMW does do the 328xi wagon which if you’re looking upmarket from the Subaru is an option, but starts to get pricy once you check any of the boxes.

328 is too small inside. Jetta wagon is enormous, it has a bigger trunk than the Legacy Outback. The Outback might make a good replacement too. I think they have all those rubber mats available, it’s reliable. Probably just as good fuel economy too.

I’ve seen a couple of places that the XC40 could be available by the fall. The V90 Cross Country is awesome, but out of my price range. The V60 Cross Country is great, too, and might be getting a redesign this year making them awesomer or cheaper if you got with a '16 or '17. Only drawback there is that the trailer hitch necessary for a hitch bike rack needs a semi-custom install.

I never really understood why HONDA did not make more of that models potential and I was envious for it being only sold in NA, as it would have been the ideal competitor to the european offerings from Renault, Citroen and Fiat, that cater to young folks with kids, dog owners or elderly people. All those models have a high seating position, good visibility and sliding rear doors, but none of them are kitted out as thoughtfully or look as rugged cool as the element. The closest thing to it would be an old RangeRover, which is crazy money nowadays.

I would have loved to get an Element as an Alternative to the minivan that we haul the kids and stuff around in.


Just out of curiosity since you said “Screw VW” but then mentioned Audi in the same breath, any consideration for the new VW Alltrack?

Huge cargo area, lifted and more outback-rugged style exterior, but unlike Subaru interiors (Which are generally terrible) it’s actually a nice place to be with some good driving dynamics.

I refused to buy a VW, but then went out and bought a GTI because I realized the practical/affordable/fun to drive/nice interior category is sadly lacking.

Also looking into the XC40, it looks like the euro release date is scheduled for late 2017, but it seems like it’s still coming to the US as a 2019 model (so 2018 release).

I had actually already kicked out Audi for a few other reasons but didn’t realize until Googling it just now how complicit they probably were with the diesel fiasco (not being much of a car guy, I didn’t even know Audi and VW were the same company and consequently feel like a bit of an idiot.) Owning a VW right now would nag at me too much to enjoy what I’m sure is a perfectly nice car.

Jeep Renegade?

The Renegade is spunky but very tiny. The new Compass is a tweener between that and the Cherokee. Jeeps are very hit or miss on reliability also. Cheap to repair, but my wife’s Cherokee had about 5 recalls in the 3 years of ownership and plenty of rattles, squeaks, and a terrible shifting automatic transmission. Lot’s of content per dollar though.

The Volvo XC60 was just announced which looks gorgeous - that should be state-side this year - but will probably mimic pricing of the X3 putting it into the low $50’s once you check a box or two.

Attention to anyone interested in the Element, Rain wrote an exciting announcement post yesterday—Core77 now has an interview scheduled with Honda Chief Designer (and Honda Element interior designer!) Jose Wyszogrod. He’s pooling for questions our audience may have for the designer in the comment feed of the post. Here’s a link in case anyone’s interested in asking Jose any questions! Honda Element Lovers: Send Us Your Questions for Our Interview With the Designer - Core77

I’m not a fan of Jeeps because of reliability and ride quality. A hardtop, extended wrangler would actually be kind of perfect if they didn’t ride as rough as Tom Waits’ vocal chords. I’m curious to see pricing on the new XC60 as well as what that does to prices on the remaining 2017s out there. I love the V60 Cross Country wagon, which is practically the exact same car as the soon-to-be-previous generation XC60. A new V60, hopefully along with the Cross Country variation, is supposed to be announced this year, too.

I really wish Land Rovers didn’t come with the unfortunate side effects of, ya know, being Land Rovers. I’m not sure why you’d pay so much for a car that’s inevitably inside a dealer service garage half the time, but minus some of the unnecessary exterior decorations they’re doing really nice work in the “SUV-that-doesn’t-look-like-every-other-SUV-category.”

agreed, I think this new one is great. Not a fan of the current Range Rover, but the predecessor was an excellent design as was the Range Rover Sport and LR3. Really nice language.

This new one takes the language and almost runs it through a ship’s arc filter. The plan view has some incredible long arcs. So few cars have continuous lines that run from to back right now, instead preferring a sea of fragmented surfaces. This is a breath of fresh air. There are 3 lines that run front to back. The base of the green house is uninterrupted by any kinks or jogs. No odd lines on the c-pillar. I can forgive the cliche jogs on the headlamps and tail lamps as well as the oversized side vent decoration. I could use a cleaner, bolder wheel. Overall it is a winner in my opinion.

This is exactly what does it for me. Find the three or four lines that define the form, not the 18. The Velar is a grown up Evoque, a design that has held up really well so far, too.

Compare that with the nonsense like the previous gen Honda CR-V, and it’s why I hate most SUVs out there today.