2012 Honda Civic Sdn
When we first drove Honda’s natural gas Civic back in 2008
, we were struck by the fact that very few people in America were even aware this vehicle existed. A fact that hasn’t changed much after four years. Natural gas is vastly underutilized as a vehicle fuel source in the U.S. We’re far behind implementation of it when compared to most other regions of the world (we have roughly 120,000 of them on our roads, and South America has 4.2 million) despite the fact that our alternative fuel choices are gaining social acceptance. And there’s little reason why. Natural gas is efficient – it results in the same mileage as regular gas and features the cleanest internal combustion engine in the world, it’s cheaper to purchase at the pump – you’ll pay around a dollar less per gallon, and it’s abundant, with an estimated 100 years worth of supply.
While manufacturers are scrambling to bring alternative fuel vehicles to market like hybrids, electric vehicles, and even hydrogen-powered options, Honda is the only major manufacturer to produce a natural gas vehicle, a risky but potentially rewarding endeavor. Housed in the redesigned body of the new 2012 Civic, the natural gas model is, at its essence, a decent compact car, featuring all of the creature comforts you’d expect on a vehicle in this segment. Things aren’t all perfect though: The car is hampered by sluggish acceleration and a loss of trunk space because of the gas tank, and the price is most likely too steep for anyone but the hardcore environmentalist. Honda isn’t expecting this to be the next Prius, but we admire their dedication to keeping this model alive.
What's to Like
The new redesign increased the level of comfort within the cabin. More features are standard, and a navigation system is available on this model for the first time. Compared to gas and diesel, emissions are considerably reduced. Natural gas is cheaper than gas and sourced from America.
What's Not to Like
The larger fuel tank results in a decrease of trunk space by half. Range is limited compared to a gas-powered vehicle, at 248 miles. Natural gas produces less horsepower than gasoline, and the Civic Natural Gas feels underpowered. Pricing starts at $26,155, which is steep compared to the more fuel-efficient hybrid competition, who, by the way, get considerably better gas mileage too.
Surprisingly, the Natural Gas Civic drives much like a regular Civic – it’s quiet and smooth, with relatively little body roll in corners. The major difference comes with the loss of power, and ultimately, acceleration. The regular Civic has 140 horsepower. This one has just 110. That’s roughly what the smaller, lighter Honda Fit
produces. Add the fact that the natural gas tank adds considerable weight (it’s at least 50 lbs heftier than the heaviest Civic), and you’ll find that the compact sedan is sluggish and underpowered, even with the Econ button – a feature that modifies gear changes and throttle response to improve gas mileage – turned off. Barring that complaint, we liked the Civic’s docile nature on the road. Steering is light, and transmission shifts are quick.
Engine and Drivetrain
An inline four-cylinder engine produces 110 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque, a considerable drop in power from the standard gas model. The five-speed transmission is a carryover from the last generation, and lacks a manual mode. We’re surprised Honda opted not to update it, as it needs a six-speed to compete with the rest of the market.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
Natural gas is about as green as gas can get, and emissions-wise, the Civic NG bests the gas- or diesel-powered competition. Though it doesn’t get the 40 mpg-plus that many hybrids receive, it does well with 38 mpg highway and 27 mpg city, just slightly less than what the standard Civic achieves.
Features and Technology
Loaded with most of the features on offer for the Honda Civic, this model has the trimmings you’d expect at this price. Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, a USB connector, and cruise control are all standard, among other creature comforts. The top of the instrument panel features the i-MID screen, a way for you to scroll through phone details, vehicle settings, audio controls, and more. For $1,500, a navigation system is available for the first time in the Natural Gas model and includes mapped CNG stations.
The Civic’s interior isn’t too far removed from the last generation. Above the gauge cluster sits, well, another digital gauge cluster. There’s a lot to look at, especially if you add the navigation screen to the mix. Seats are comfortable and there’s a decent amount of room in the back for passengers. A standard tilting and telescoping steering wheel increases driver comfort, but trunk space is halved by the natural gas tank.
For the last couple of years, manufacturers have been looking to the Civic for inspiration when creating their own wares. And unfortunately, they’ve outstripped it. The Civic’s exterior design, with its long nose and sloped windshield, isn’t as modern as a number of the competition. The 2012 redesign is a blown chance to make a statement.
Market Segment and Pricing
When the original Natural Gas Civic first came out, the alternative fuel market was considerably smaller than it is today. Therein lies the problem with the price of the 2012 model, which starts at $26,155. The Toyota Prius
and Honda’s own Insight
are less expensive, so are the Mazda 3 Skyactiv
and the Hyundai Elantra
– all of which get better gas mileage than the Civic NG. True, their emissions aren’t as clean, but there it has competition from the all-electric Nissan Leaf
. With tax cuts, it comes surprisingly close to the Civic’s price point.
What We Think
For 2012, Honda is attempting to increase awareness in the natural gas Civic through advertising campaigns and dealer training. It should make a difference. We consider the Civic natural gas to attract the same sort of people who adopted the first Toyota Prius back in the day because, frankly, it’ll take a dedicated environmentalist to hand over this amount of cash for an underpowered Civic.