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Not always keen going green: Honda Civic GX

Consumer Reports News: February 14, 2008 08:14 PM

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We recently took delivery of a Honda Civic GX, which runs on compressed-natural-gas (CNG). At $25,185, it's the most expensive Civic we've ever tested. But that isn't even half the story.

A few days ago, I took it home on my daily commute. The same day, a truck carrying cylinders filled with hydrogen crashed on Route 84, closing it for most of the day. There isn't a direct connection, but it reminded us that the experiences we're having with the Civic show the challenges that a consumer will face during the development of new fueling infrastructure, be it hydrogen, CNG, or even E85. Had we been caught up in the traffic jam caused by this mishap, we could have become quite nervous about replenishing our natural gas.

For most people, it isn't really a big deal if you start running low of fuel in your gasoline-powered car. Unless you're in a few remote places, a gas station is likely only a few short miles away. That's not the case with our Civic GX. Starting here at the track, the nearest CNG fueling stations are either at a public utility in Norwich (about 25 miles away) or in the industrial outskirts of Hartford (30 miles).

Driving the car, which otherwise behaves just like a normal Civic, is complicated by the car's relatively short range. We can get approximately 180-200 miles out of a tank. For one of the commuters in the office, that means he can get to work and back - and then needs to refuel. Figuring out who will take the Civic when and how it will be refueled has required a level of logistics far beyond what we're used to, as well as simply taking up our time to drive to a distant station. (Honda does have a home refueling station available for the Civic; it allows you to refuel your car using the natural gas service in your home.) 

CNG has a fairly limited infrastructure in the United States. It's mostly used by fleets, particularly government vehicles. (There was a Connecticut-owned Civic GX refueling at the pump today when I was there.) And while E85 is relatively available in the Midwest, it's almost nonexistent here in the Northeast. But the infrastructure for CNG or E85 almost seems like normalcy compared to what exists for hydrogen. The limited availability of that fuel (as well as the cost of fuel cells) is going to be a notable hurdle for moving away from fossil-fueled cars.

Stay tuned for more of our experiences with this most unusual Civic.

Tom Mutchler

Learn more about alternative fuels in our fuel economy special section.

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