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2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas: New Car Review

Pros: Extremely efficient with clean emissions; don’t have to sacrifice power or comfort

Cons: Doesn’t stand out from conventional Civics; fuel can be hard to get

For 2012, customers have more variations of the Civic to choose from than ever before. In fact there are five altogether: The Civic, Civic HF or "high efficiency," Civic Hybrid, Civic Si, and Civic Natural Gas (NG).

The Civic Natural Gas is one of the newest additions to the Civic lineup. Formerly known as the Civic GX, it was previously only available in four markets: California, New York, Utah and Oklahoma. For 2012, Honda expanded the sale of the Civic NG to 200 dealers in 35 states. Currently the Civic NG is the only dedicated natural gas-powered passenger vehicle manufactured and sold in the US.

Unlike other variations on the Civic, like the HF, the Civic NG hasn’t received many distinguishing features that would set it apart from the rest of the lineup. It features a sleek, raked windshield, a sweeping roofline, and a body design Honda calls "one-motion."

Some of the most interesting exterior features on the Civic NG are the ones that customers will never see. Honda gave the Civic NG a flat underbody and aerodynamic strakes (essentially a series of small fins) in front of the tires to help reduce wind resistance. Both are rather clever and features often found on airplanes. It’s just too bad they can’t be visually appreciated.

Comfort & Utility

The best way to describe the Civic NG is interior to say that it’s "regular." We mean that in the best possible way. All too often automakers get caught up in overdesigning green car interiors, packing them with technological gadgets, funky materials and superfluous buttons. While the Civic NG is available with a navigation system, it’s uncomplicated and easy to figure out. Honda also includes an exclusive database of publically accessible natural gas stations across the U.S.

While the Civic NG isn’t a very big car, the interior doesn’t feel small. Even tall drivers will find it roomy and comfortable in every direction: truly rare in a smaller, fuel-efficient vehicle. Although it might use a bit too much gray, the interior is simple and serves its purpose. Controls are laid out in a highly intuitive fashion. Everything appears to be robust and well built. It’s the kind of sturdy interior that was common in vehicles of yesteryear.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Under the hood of the Civic NG is Honda’s 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder engine that has been specially modified to burn natural gas. These changes include special fuel injectors and a higher compression ratio than the standard gasoline-burning version. The EPA estimates the Civic NG will achieve 27 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway, with a combined fuel economy rating of 31 mpg. These fuel economy numbers are a 10.7-percent increase over the last natural gas model and a big improvement over the gasoline version.

What’s more, this natural gas-powered 4-cylinder is the cleanest internal combustion engine the EPA has ever tested. This is a huge accomplishment for Honda and one that deserves repeating. The engine is so clean it produces virtually zero smog-forming emissions.

Driving Impressions

Beyond the Civic NG’s clean-burning engine, the drive is fairly effortless. Braking is forgiving but firm. The steering is light but exact. The drive train barely makes noise. And though it’s a very clean vehicle, it’s got the power to get up and go if you need it. If you didn’t know it was a natural gas-powered compact sedan, you’d never be the wiser. Unlike other eco-friendly cars, owners don’t need to sacrifice drivability or comfort with the Civic NG.

AutoTrader Recommendations

It’s clear the Civic NG is special. It’s extremely clean and environmentally friendly. It’s well built. And at $26,155, it’s affordable. It does, however, have one major fault: the availability of fuel.

If you’re a Civic NG owner in Seattle, Washington, operating your Civic NG is easy with five public fueling stations at your disposal. At these stations, the natural gas is heavily pressurized and filling the tank of the NG takes only one or two minutes – faster than a regular gas pump. With a range of around 275 miles per tank, you could drive your Civic NG virtually worry-free in Seattle.

But if you lived 250 miles south, in Portland, Oregon, Civic NG ownership takes on a whole new challenge. Portland, unlike Seattle, has no public natural gas stations. This means you’ll need to have the natural gas company install a filler station in your garage, which will run you around $3,000. Fueling problem solved, right? Wrong. The pressure of the natural gas running from your house is a fraction of what it is at public filling stations. So the filling process that takes two minutes in Seattle will take seven hours at your home in Portland.

This same story is replicated in a smattering of cities all over the U.S. Some customers will have no problems filling their Civic NG; others will have to adjust their lives in a major way to accommodate. Natural gas is very cheap compared with gasoline but how much gasoline would the $3,000 for your home natural gas station buy you? The answer: nearly three years worth.

If you’re unlucky enough to live in a city without a public natural gas fueling infrastructure, the Civic NG takes on the ownership properties of an electric vehicle. Average home charging time in the Nissan Leaf, for example, is also around seven hours. But the Civic NG’s range is nearly three times longer than the Leaf. That puts the Civic NG somewhere between a hybrid and an electric vehicle in terms of effort versus eco-friendliness.

For those without the infrastructure, the Civic NG will have to be a labor of love. For the rest of us, however, it’s a no-brainer. The Civic NG is the epitome of what every green car wants to be: environmentally friendly and cheap. We love it and hope to see more like it soon.

 

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1 COMMENT

  1. I am writing a review here because I have a 2012 and, aside from a few tech mods and bits of shiny trim, they haven’t changed much since ’12. I use my Civic NG for auto parts delivery. It has 190,000+ miles on it. So far the only two things to go wrong are the wheel bearings beginning at 60k. I had kept my tire psi at 44! Since having them changed at 103k, I haven’t begun to feel any wear as I have deflated the tires back to about 34psi. I tried to change the front fuel filter and damaged the housing. Cost was around $600 for a new housing!!! The + side is that you really only need to change the filters about every 50k miles. Dealer charges $80 for labor for the front but my mechanic charges $15 labor (and I do rear filter myself).

    I can get over 50mpg on long freeway trips. I once got 63mpg on a several hundred mile round trip though Ohio. Dash readout was 61mpge but trip miles divided by gallons charged at the pump were 63ish. As amazing fwy mileage as it gets, you will only get around 35mpg in mixed 50/50 city hwy on normal length trips. I get 20mpg in slow rush hour downtown Pittsburgh traffic.
    I love the usb display on the dash that you can toggle through the steering wheel. The car is comfy and reasonably quiet. Oil change intervals are extended because of the cng. I do mine every 25k miles (though that’s every 3-4 months!) I have had my engine oil analyzed several times by BalckStone Labs and was routinely found to have sage levels of contamenants and some remaining life left. $2/gge has stayed steady in western PA though some newer stations charge up to $2.36.

    You only have functionally about 7-7.5 gallon equiv. of fuel at 3500-3700psi. I have done a ton of research talking to tank installers and the only options to mod are an extra 3gge tank that eats up the rest of the trunk total cost of install around $3000 or you could remove the tank and put a longer one at the rear of the trunk behind the wheel wells and get about 12-13gge but that would be $4k. Also I am rather cross with Honda for killing me on the filter housing. It should not have cost more than about $50 not over $600 out the door. Dealers tend not to know what to do with these cars. The place I bought from said they didn’t do filter changes! I will be looking elsewhere next time!!

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