2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas: First Drive

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Honda has been the only carmaker to offer a natural-gas powered passenger car, and they've done it quietly in a handful of states for more than a decade.

But with the arrival of an all-new Civic this year, the company will make the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas available through selected dealers across much of the U.S.

During the Los Angeles Auto Show two weeks ago, we were able to test a brand-new model of the 2012 natural-gas powered Civic.

Cheaper fuel, lower emissions, at a price

Our overall impressions were that it was very much a "regular" 2012 Honda Civic to live with, but with less power, a range of perhaps only 150 miles, a higher price, and two-thirds of the trunk space missing.

Offsetting that are much lower fuel costs per mile (they vary with the local cost of natural gas), some financial incentives, and in California, the all-important low-emission vehicle stickers that allow it into High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes with just a single occupant.

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

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Its emissions of greenhouse gases, by the way, are 29 percent lower than those of an equivalent gasoline Civic.

Same drawbacks as electric cars?

We think the Civic Natural Gas makes sense for fleets and owners who will keep it long enough to see a payback, especially in those states with local and inexpensive supplies of natural gas.

But it's less practical as a cross-country car, since as of today, there are fewer than 1,000 public natural-gas fueling stations in the U.S. And with half or less the range of a conventional gasoline Civic, it requires more frequent refueling at those rarer stations.

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

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In some ways, the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas is almost like a battery-electric car: much cheaper to run per mile, but pricier than the gasoline alternative, with range and refueling (or recharging) limitations.

Will natural-gas vehicles be as popular as electric cars (thus far) are proving to be? We're not sure about that, but we definitely see a place for cars like the Civic Natural Gas where the fuel is cheap and owners interested in either green driving or low overall cost of ownership are willing to put up with its drawbacks.

Two models for 2012

With the launch of the all-new 2012 Civic, Honda has added a second, higher-end model to its formerly basic natural-gas version (known through 2011 as the Civic GX). And for the first time ever, it's advertising a natural-gas vehicle as part of of the Civic range nationally.

2012 Honda Civic EX - Driven review

2012 Honda Civic EX - Driven review

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The new model, which was the one we tested, adds a navigation system with voice recognition, as well as FM real-time traffic information. The system includes the location of natural-gas fueling stations, a feature not usually found in navigation software.

Standard features on all Civic Natural Gas models include 15-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, Bluetooth audio and hands-free linking, USB and audio jacks, a 12-Volt power outlet, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, amd a 160-Watt AM-FM-CD audio system.

Brand-new test car

Our test car was so new that it had just 64 miles on it, and didn't yet sport the HOV lane stickers. We're not sure if its performance and range might improve slightly once it was broken in.

Overall, we found the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas adequate transportation, but disappointing on two counts: acceleration and range.

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Comments (7)
  1. Make me wonder why (aside from HOV access) you would chose the CNG versus the Civic Hybrid. The Civic Hybrid has lower CO2, Lower sticker price. Longer range, more trunk space, and the cost of fuel is nearly identical at $1100 per year (EPA). I just don't get the CNG value proposition.

  2. I would tend to agree with you when you look at things on a personal level. If you are to look at things globally, I'd ask which is better: buying oil in the worldwide market (I don't give a #*$*# about where we buy our oil from: our demand alone sets the price in the market and that price is by which foreign, unfriendly, oil-rich countries prosper) OR using the vast CNG resources the US has domestically?

  3. US has plenty of cheap natural gas just waiting to fill up your tanks. So let's get on the gaswagon and fuhgettabouttit when it comes to oil. Oil is the reason war-criminal Bush invaded Iraq, so the sooner were off the oil addiction, the better for pocketbooks and for world peace.

    What about safety issues? Is a collision likely to explode the gas tank?

  4. Why do manufacturers continue to add expensive requisite options to cutting edge cars that push the cost into the stratosphere? How about a cheap natural gas car for the masses? Take a lesson from the early VW Beetle "peoples' car," Honda!

  5. I commend Honda for building a Natural Gas vehicle. But the value is just not there with this 2012 Civic. It is a lackluster car, with cheap interiors and a lack of power. If it was $19K @ 0% financing for the Nav + Leather (not available now)+ $3,000 gas card, then I would consider.

  6. The acceleration could be solved by making an electric/natgas hybrid? Or perhaps the crazy air assist booster?

  7. Honda didn't take benefit from the higher octane-equivalent ratio of CNG, and that's kinda pointless in a dedicated-CNG vehicle. Anyway, since CNG is basically composed of methane it can also be sourced from renewable feedstocks instead of drilling for the fossil reserves, and biomethane is already commercially-available in Germany and Sweden. On a sidenote, aftermarket bi-fuel gasoline/CNG conversions (or tri-fuel when applied to a gasoline/ethanol flexfuel) are popular in many markets in South America, Eastern Europe, Asia and certain parts of Africa. Maybe they're not widespread in the United States just because Obama and the EPA envirofascists are in bed with the Arab oil sheikhs.

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