2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas: First Drive Page 2

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2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, El Segundo, CA, Nov 2011

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, El Segundo, CA, Nov 2011

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Options in the 2012 Civic range cover the gamut from the standard DX, LX, and EX models to the Civic HF model with higher highway mileage up through the 44-mpg Civic Hybrid, and all non-hybrid gasoline Civics are relatively peppy.

Not so the natural-gas Civic. Away from stoplights it was tolerable, but where hard acceleration was needed--merging onto uphill freeway ramps or for sudden lane changes--it was simply gutless. Not dangerously so, but enough where it simply wasn't that much fun to drive.

And somehow the lack of power was more noticeable in the new 2012 model than it was when we tested its predecessor, the previous Honda Civic GX.

Less power, less range

The modified 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine of the Civic Natural Gas puts out 110 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque. The maximum power comes at a high 6300 rpm, but those figures compare to 140 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque for the standard 2012 Civic gasoline engine--so it has 21 percent less power and 17 percent lower torque.

Keeping up with traffic meant driving the Civic Natural Gas relatively hard, which revealed the second flaw: its remaining-range calculations proved too optimistic when the car was used at high speeds and under heavy acceleration.

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

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We suspect the tank wasn't 100 percent full when we picked up the car. Honda says range has increased 10 percent, from 224 miles in the superseded Civic GX to 248 miles in the 2012 Civic Natural Gas. But we question its range assumptions.

Over five days, we covered 97 miles in and around Los Angeles. When we got the car, it had 146 miles listed as the range remaining. That number was a mere 16 miles at the end of our journey.

Overly optimistic range?

In other words, our 97 miles of driving had chewed through fully 130 miles of listed range. We would have had to refuel after covering just 100 miles if we weren't turning the car back in--little better than the electric 2012 Nissan Leaf, which is at least cheap to recharge.

In our drive report of the previous Civic GX, we noted that a natural-gas Civic owner we interviewed told us his real-world maximum range was 150 to 180 miles. Even adding 10 percent for the new model, that's 165 to 200 miles--at best.

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

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Other pecularities: We noted window-sticker warnings that the engine may be harder to start--or not start at all--and the car should not be fast-filled (at public CNG fueling stations, presumably) if the outside temperature falls below -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C). That's not a problem in southern California, but could be in colder Northeastern markets.

And, of course, two-thirds of the trunk space was gone, with a carpeted vertical wall hiding the natural-gas tank sitting behind it.

Greener, but pricey

Our 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas with Navigation was priced at $27,655 plus a  mandatory destination fee of $770, giving it a total bottom-line price of $28,425.

Without navigation, the base price falls to $26,155--still more than $10,000 pricier than the cheapest gasoline Civic model at $15,805.

Honda says it will have more than 200 dealers certified to sell the natural-gas Civic by the end of this year. It recommends that any dealer wanting to sell its NGV be located within 20 miles of a public natural-gas fueling station.

Honda provided a test car to allow High Gear Media to bring you this first-person drive report.


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