2009 Honda Civic Sdn GX

2009 Honda Civic Sdn GX

Amidst all the talk of "clean diesel" and "hybrid electric," it's easier to forget there's another green fuel option out there: Compressed natural gas, or CNG. Per mile driven, it releases 20 percent less CO2 than gasoline.

Right now, Honda is the only manufacturer selling a CNG car in US showrooms. It's the 2009 Honda Civic GX four-door sedan, which last year was deemed "America's Greenest Car" by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

In fact, the Honda Civic GX has plenty of experience in that position. The GX was first ranked at the top of ACEEE's list in 2000, and it has been awarded the laurels for "Greenest Car" every year since 2004. As such, some states grant it HOV lane access for solo drivers--just like the highest-mileage hybrids.

The Civic GX uses no gasoline, of course. Instead, owners can refuel it either at CNG stations or at home, via an appliance provided by Honda called the Phill. Its 1.8-liter engine, specially tuned to run on natural gas, generates 113 horsepower.

Various carmakers have sold CNG vehicles in the US, but only Honda has stuck with it over a decade. In other countries, though, CNG is a much bigger deal--either as the car's only source of fuel, or as one option among several in "super-flex-fuel" vehicles.

For example, Ford introduced a flex-fuel Mondeo in Europe that can switch to CNG, and Fiat has been selling the Brazilian Siena Tetrafuel for almost three years. Even Mercedes-Benz may sell a CNG-capable flex-fuel version of its B-Class hatchback in the States sometime in the future.

Back on the pure CNG front, Iran Khodro--that country's largest automaker--released a version of its Samand sedan, the turbocharged, 150-horsepower Soren ELX, that it calls the "world's most powerful CNG car."

Why Iran, where gasoline is 15 cents a gallon? Well, natural gas is cheap there too. Cheap enough, in fact, that Iran Khodro says it sold half a million CNG-powered cars within two years, roughly a quarter of its total production.

Closer to home, AT&T announced it would re-equip much of its fleet with natural-gas or hybrid vehicles. It expects to buy 8,000 natural-gas vehicles for $565 million, most of them trucks or commercial vehicles.

The 2009 Honda Civic GX starts at $25,190, and offers a fairly standard array of Civic options. There's also a separate sales program just for commercial fleets that want to run a CNG-fueled vehicle.

If, for some reason, you absolutely can't bear the thought of driving a CNG Civic, you do have one other option: Wise Gas and Altech-Eco will convert a 2008 or 2009 Ford Focus to flex-fuel operation, with a pure CNG option to follow soon.

2009 Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle logo

2009 Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle logo

[SOURCE: Honda]