Honda makes a variety of Civics, its economical compact car. But none will be more economical than this version, the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas. Per gallon, natural gas can cost half as much as gasoline, while getting similar fuel economy.
Besides some badging, the natural gas version of the Civic looks like its gasoline-powered siblings. The design is unobtrusive, a theme for the car as a whole.
The displacement of the four-cylinder engine, 1.8 liters, is the same as in other Civics, but Honda gave it a fuel delivery system that pumps compressed natural gas into the cylinders. Using this fuel reduces horsepower from 140 to 110.
Despite the lower power, the Civic runs along reasonably well, tackling most traffic situations without problem. Its acceleration is fairly slow, however, so drivers will want to be careful about passing and merging maneuvers.
The fuel filler is very different than on a gasoline-fueled car. Couplers at CNG stations attach to this filler, pumping natural gas into the Civic's tanks.
The Civic's suspension is tuned to deliver a comfortable ride. But it's not good for cornering, showing a lot of body movement.
The trunk room is very compromised, as the CNG tank takes up much more space than the gasoline tank.
Honda designed a very driver-focused cockpit, even canting the navigation screen toward the driver.
Honda uses an electrically boosted power-steering unit. It shows more responsiveness than would be expected for a suburban runabout.
These steering-wheel controls change the display over the instrument cluster, letting the driver choose from the different audio sources.
The Civic uses a bilevel instrument cluster, with a tachometer front and center for the driver. The tachometer is mostly superfluous in the Civic, with its automatic transmission.
The digital speedometer, flanked by fuel and temperature gauges, sits just below the windshield. The instrument cluster changes to green when the car is driven economically. To the right of the gauges is the i-MID.
A five-speed automatic is the only transmission available for the Honda Civic Natural Gas.
The i-MID shows fuel economy and audio information, depending on how the driver sets it.
The navigation system stores its maps in flash memory, and overlays live traffic information. But the jagged letters on the maps show poor graphic design.
Honda uses an onscreen keyboard for destination inputs.
The car comes with a list of CNG stations programmed into its POI database.
Under route guidance, the navigation system shows useful graphics for upcoming maneuvers.
Traffic can be viewed as a list of incidents, and as icons on the maps.
The Civic offers modern digital audio sources, such as Bluetooth streaming and a USB port.
Satellite radio is an option in the Civic, and is also the conduit for traffic data.
The Bluetooth streaming interface offers Play and Skip buttons, but does not show track information.
The head unit screen shows the typical music library categories for a connected iPod, but with a USB drive it will only show folders and files.
The audio display on the i-MID looks much better than that on the head unit display.
The Civic Natural Gas only has one audio option, a 160-watt amp with four speakers. It sounded better than expected, but highlighted odd parts of a music track.
The Bluetooth phone interface includes the paired phone's contact list, along with recent calls and a keypad.