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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
The quote below is an email I sent to Natalie Neff at Autoweek regarding her review of the Element. I haven't heard anything back from her. I'll keep you posted.
Natalie,

In your review of the Honda Element you wrote, “We like the Element’s optional full-time four-wheel drive, too, as it gives the Element a solid, stable on-road feel.” I’m wondering if you drove both a 2WD and 4WD on identical conditions to make this conclusion. The reason I ask is that the Element's 4WD is not truly full-time. It comes on only when the computer senses the front wheels slipping and kicks in the hydraulics to transfer power to the rear. I've seen reports that indicate that the process is not instantaneous - some 4WD drivers can squeal the front tires before it kicks in. Given that fact, how would 4WD that's turned off most of the time affect the "on-road feel" of the car? Do you know when the 4WD was on and when it wasn’t?

I admit that sometimes I’m a bit cynical, but mostly it’s an honest question to clear up my confusion.
See complete review here
 

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As an owner and driver of a 4WD EX I'm interested in the response too - and I can confirm that the delivery of power to the rear wheels is not instantaneous. It's very smooth and almost imperceptible, but spinning the front wheels at getaway can be done (briefly) and on slick surfaces slippage of the front wheels can be felt before the rear-drive takes up (again briefly). However, I can certainly also report that whether due to the 4WD or well deisgned and engineered suspension/steering and drivetrain, the E does feel very secure on the road in a variety of conditions, some very challenging.

Incidentally, as far as I know, there is no computer or electronic components in the 4WD system. All the descriptions I've seen from Honda and other sources describe it as a fully haydraulic system driven by pressure differential between front and rear.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I've seen info indicating both "all hydraulic" and "computer plus hydraulic." I'm not sure which is correct, but what I saw that said "computer plus hydraulic" seemed authoritative enough to convince me. I'll try to find it, but I don't remember where it was. Either way, the original question is essentially the same: what was the basis for the statement in her review?
 

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I think the basis might simply be that the 4WD Element she drove had a solid, stable on-road feeling. :D

Even if the 4WD wasn't "engaged", I've seen at least one other review that mentions the extra weight of the 4WD changes how the E feels compared to a 2WD, ... maybe that's what she was after?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I think the basis might simply be that the 4WD Element she drove had a solid, stable on-road feeling.
Maybe, but it's not very responsible journalism to state that the 4WD gives a benefit that it might not give. The theory that journalists would like us to believe is that they provide us useful information that we can use for making decisions, such as which model of vehicle to purchase.

Also, regarding the hydraulic or computer, I got my info from a review of the CR-V, which is the parent of the E's 4WD. I don't know if this review is accurate or not; I've seen several that describe only the hydraulic pumps front and rear.

The Real Time AWD system lets the CR-V function as a front-drive machine so long as traction is good. By decoupling the rear axle, fuel savings are realized. When slippage occurs up front, the wheel sensors tell a computer the front wheels are starting to turn faster than the rears; the brains of the outfit then tells a hydraulic pump system to engage the rear clutch until equilibrium is reestablished.
Full Article
 

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jour·nal·ism ( P ) Pronunciation Key (jûrn-lzm)
n.
<snip>
The style of writing characteristic of material in newspapers and magazines, consisting of direct presentation of facts or occurrences with little attempt at analysis or interpretation.
<snip>

I don't think that people who write reviews are considered journalists, otherwise all they could write about would be the actual vehicle specs, which we've all read on Honda's site.

I don't find her 4WD comment any better or worse than her comments about the engine being "less than thrilling", how the Element feels "weird" when turning, or that she thinks folding the seats is fun. They're all her opinions as the person writing the review, and as a consumer, I need to filter that into my buying decision.
 

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I think it's entirely reasonable to hold a journalist to account for her/his work, but in the end any review is going to be much more of a collection of opinions and subjective assessments than of any real objective merit. Unless of course one were to simply describe the product. I think pretty much any buyer who seeks out and reads automotive reviews would have an understanding, if only subconsciously, that what they are reading is a point of view rather than authoritative statement of fact. It always helps to see how a journalist's mind works though!

As to the 4WD system, Honda describes it thus: "The Real Time™ 4WD system was selected to match Element's expected usage at the beach, and on rough, wet, snowy or slippery roads. Even when equipped with Real Time 4WD, the Element normally operates in front-wheel-drive mode. However, if either of the front wheels begins to lose traction, the system automatically engages a multi-plate clutch, which transmits torque to the rear wheels for added traction. When normal traction is resumed, the system reverts back to front-wheel drive." with no mention of a sensor. And the description provided at http://www.hondaelement.org/showthread.php?s=&threadid=401 also describes the CR-V system without computer/sensor control. Lastly, the Truck Trend 4WD feature at http://www.trucktrend.com/features/tech/163_0206_4x4/ describes the Real Time system alongside a variety of other systems for reference.
 

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Even if the 4WD wasn't "engaged", I've seen at least one other review that mentions the extra weight of the 4WD changes how the E feels compared to a 2WD, ... maybe that's what she was after?
I agree. I've read other reviews for the Element and other vehicles that stated the same. The added weight does tend to give a car a grippier feel. So IF the reviewer really drove both the 2WD and 4WD, it wouldn't be unreasonable that they felt different even if the 4WD never engaged.
 

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tigernumber6 said:
I agree. I've read other reviews for the Element and other vehicles that stated the same. The added weight does tend to give a car a grippier feel. So IF the reviewer really drove both the 2WD and 4WD, it wouldn't be unreasonable that they felt different even if the 4WD never engaged.
I have driven both and they drive somewhat differently. There is somewhat more torque steer in the 2WD than in the 4WD. Also, the 4WD has more push (understeer) in spirited cornering--probably due to different weight distribution. I do not think anyone would be unhappy with the 2WD version though. The differences are fairly modest.

Either way, this is NOT even close to being a high performance driving platform even though it is a wonderful daily driver, utility vehicle, and touring machine.

yelapa
 

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I subscribe to Autoweek, it's a great magazine, but I also had some problems with the article. But seeing as how they have to say something, and knowing I am of course biased towards my car... oh well.
Softarch, that is a really good question though, I hope she replies soon.

And as for the discussions on the 4wd, if I am not mistaken, Honda's system has been around (mostly) unchanged since that wierd japanese tall-wagon invasion of the '80s. Which, in retrospect, was about 20 years early. seeing as how the Element is basically a tall Civic, via the CRV.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
A very satisfactory response from Natalie. Nice job, Natalie and Autoweek.

I drove both versions, back to back, in identical situations on a variety of roads in the UC Santa Cruz area during a full day of testing. The 4wd version definitely tracks more confidently through aggressive cornering, even on dry pavement, though I never experienced a "lag" in 4wd actuation. Because of this, I wanted to spec out our long-term Element in 4wd, but Honda only had fwd available at the time we took delivery. You can follow the updates of our experience with the Element over the next year. Hope that helps.

Natalie Neff
Road Test Editor, AutoWeek
 

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I thought the system was all hydraulic also, just like the CRV. I have not needed 4WD yet, but i'm sure it will take some slight front wheel slippage before the 4WD kicks in. In my CRV it happens so fast you hardly notice.
A reminder on the 4WD maint: be sure to change the hydraulic fluid as recommended. I let it go on my CRV and it started to make noises when turning. :lol:
 

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I believe I read another review of the Element a while back that prefered the handling of the 4wd model. I am pretty sure they attributed it to more even weight distribution. The 2wd model I think is much more front-heavy.
 

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Hi Guys,
When the E first came out I drove a few of them, both AWD and FWD. I felt that the AWD felt more even on the road. It is hard to explain exactly but I prefered the footed feel of the AWD over the FWD. When it came time to get an E 2 years later, I test drove a few again and ended up getting the AWD. The sunroof is another selling feature. I drive it daily and enjoy the ride.
Steel
 

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I also had the chance to drive a fwd E and a 4wd E (It's technically not AWD) and I do agree with Natalie and Empire. The better weight distribution due to the realtime 4wd's mechanicals definitely helps the E feel more sure footed when driving. In the fwd model I found it relatively easy to break the front wheels traction, especially on an uphill start, whereas I have yet to break the front wheels loose on my 4wd model to the point that they actually squeeled (And if they have slipped, the rear wheels kicked in seamlessly)

The fwd E was definitely still fun to drive, and should be a little quicker in acceleration due to less overall weight (Provided that you can keep wheel spin to a minimum) but there was a very noticeable (Positive) difference in the overall handling of the 4wd model. Plus I live in Vermont so 4wd was a must for me.
 
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