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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