Honda Civic natural gas car review

This natural gas car is like the regular sedan but cleaner, on a gasoline-free diet, and with a shorter range

Last updated: March 2012

The Honda Civic Natural Gas is the only car commercially available today powered by the clean petroleum substitute. It’s a version of the standard Civic sedan, with a large cylindrical natural gas tank squeezed into the trunk. Burning natural gas produces such negligible emissions that natural-gas cars are eligible for California’s advanced technology partial-zero-emissions vehicle program, and so are eligible to use carpool lanes without passengers. It also contributes to reducing reliance on foreign oil.

We found the CNG powertrain brings a few compromises when we tested the previous-generation car. Since we tested the 2008 Civic GX, the Civic line has been redesigned, dropping in overall test scores along the way. What hasn’t changed significantly is that depending on where you live, natural-gas refueling stations can be few and far between. There are only five in Connecticut, although some other states have many more. Currently, there are about 1,000 CNG stations nationwide, compared with almost 200,000 gasoline stations. (Check to find refueling stations in your area.)

The Civic Natural Gas sedan’s fuel tank also occupies more than half the trunk, and once filled, it holds the energy of just eight gallons of gasoline. Honda rates the car's cruising range at 220 to 250 miles.

That might be optimistic. In our experience of the previous version of the natural-gas Civic (then called the Civic GX), we found the low-fuel light came on after only 150 miles of driving. That warning indicates just 30 miles left, which provides little leeway to look for a fill-up location given their scarcity in our area. We found that car got the equivalent of 32 mpg, which is very good. Honda claims the new version is about 10-percent more efficient, giving it an estimated real-world range of just 165 miles.

The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine boasts only 110 horsepower instead of the gasoline models' 140 horsepower, so the natural-gas model is expected to feel a bit lazy when merging.

When it comes to money, the cost of running a natural-gas vehicle varies from place to place. The average prices per gasoline gallon-equivalent is about $2.09 right now. Some stations keep the cost low, comparable to the price of domestic natural gas, some artificially raise it to the price of diesel. Relative to gasoline, it ranges from $1.50 to about $2 cheaper than gasoline for an equivalent amount of energy.

All that makes the list price of $26,155 for the Civic Natural Gas a little more palatable, though depending on where you live, it could take a very long time to make up the difference over a conventional Civic in fuel savings. (The Natural Gas is about $2,000 more than the Civic Hybrid and almost $6,000 more than the fuel-miser Civic HF.)

To fill up the Civic Natural Gas, you connect a thin rubber hose from the dispensing pump to a snap-on receiving nozzle on the car. Then you rotate a valve and lift a handle on the pump. The process is just a little slower than pumping gasoline.

When we tested the Civic GX, Honda was promoting a convenient home refueling system called Phill. But at this time, Honda does not recommended home refueling “because of moisture and other contaminants inherent in some natural gas supplies.” This is a shame, as the ability to refuel overnight could help address the limitations with fuel pump availability.

CR's take. If the natural-gas infrastructure in your area is well developed and the fuel is cheap, and if you plan to use the car mostly for short commuting, then the Civic Natural Gas may make sense economically and environmentally. But taking a long trip requires prior knowledge of refueling sites and the tiny trunk means you'll also be traveling light.

Discuss alternative fuel vehicles in the Cars forum.

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