To my way of thinking, the Honda Civic is the most remarkable model line on sale today because it is the most versatile platform offered by any automaker. It comes as either as a sporty looking coupe or more practical four door sedan, you can buy a class leading hybrid version, the race ready and frenetic Si or a more mainstream variant that routinely trumps the Mazda3’s and Toyota Corolla’s of the world. But unbeknownst to many you can also buy a Civic that is powered by compressed natural gas.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think there is any other car that offers a mainstream, sporty, hybrid and natural gas powered version of one car. An automaker could make a nice go of it just selling one car as versatile as the Civic. In past weeks I have driven both the Civic Si and the Civic hybrid while I have driven a few Civic EX models in my time. Who hasn’t?
Given my level of experience with different Civic models (the Si was a coupe, the Hybrid a four door sedan), I was curious to find out what it was like to drive one powered by compressed natural gas. To be frank, I didn’t quite know what to expect from this true, honest to goodness “alternative fuel vehicle.”
What I didn’t realize was that, despite having a few compromises, there were quite a few advantages to owning a Honda Civic GX NGV-the full name for this particular model. First off, natural gas is plentiful in the United States so not only does it lessen our dependence on foreign oil but it is also much less expensive than regular gasoline or diesel (read on to find out how cheap it is on average).
The 2010 Civic GX can also qualify you for a Federal Income Tax Credit of $4,000 (thereby making it much cheaper than the $25,860 MSRP) and in many states it qualifies you for an HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) carpool lane pass. This means you can drive alone in that lane and this is true even if California which no longer offers that benefit to hybrid owners because there are just too many of them clogging the freeways. If you have a long Los Angeles commute that just might be the piece of information that sells you on the 2010 Honda Civic GX NGV.
Exterior and Interior
The Civic GX comes only in the stylish and practical four door sedan form much like the Hybrid. Well, the GX isn’t quite as practical as other Civic sedan models such as the EX, Si and Hybrid. The only issue is the fact that the natural gas tank takes up a large portion of the trunk leaving you with a rather Miata-esque 6.0 cubic feet of storage space. While there is plenty of room in the passenger compartment for five passengers, the trunk is pretty useless.
But then, you have to ask yourself, how many commuters really fill up their trunk with cargo? While this lack of trunk space makes the GX a less practical “green” Civic choice when compared to the Hybrid, if you have another vehicle (a CR-V perhaps?) it really can be a non-issue. And you can always store bulky cargo on the rear seats should the need arise.
Otherwise this is your standard Civic sedan interior and exterior which is a very good thing. Quality is great and the dashboard still stands as one of the most delightfully clever designs ever seen in the compact car class. No matter how many Civics I drive, I still get a kick out of the clever dual level tachometer/digital speedometer design. I know, it has been out for many years now and I should be over it. I am just a dork.
Environmental Benefits and Fuel Economy
The GX makes a tremendous amount of sense as a frugal commuter as what equates to a gallon of compressed natural gas is now, according to national averages, about $1.78. The 2010 Honda Civic GX NGV also returns an impressive 24 miles per gallon city/36 highway (unit measurements are equivalent to gas measurements) according to the EPA.
While you can’t buy compressed natural gas on every street corner, you would be surprised how many quick-refueling stations there are all across the country. And refueling takes about the same amount of time that it takes to fill your tank with gas. You can find stations by consulting a book that comes with the vehicle or by going to the Department of Energy’s website (there is also a link to it at Honda.com in the section with information about the GX model).
(Note: Honda advises owners of GX models to not refuel their vehicles if outside temperatures get below -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) as the strain to the fuel system may cause a leak. At these same temperatures it is safe to drive the car but it may be harder than normal to start.)
Jessica Fini, the Senior Environmental Specialist with Honda’s PR team, had this to say about the Civic GX NGV. “The Civic GX is the ultimate clean commuter. Not only is the Honda Civic GX the cleanest internal combustion vehicle ever tested by the EPA but it has also been named for the seventh straight year in a row as the “Greenest Vehicle of the Year” by The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). You also get single lane carpool access in California in conjunction with the added benefits of saving you gas and helping to protect the environment.”
So this is the big question. What is it like to drive a car that runs on natural gas? Well, from a steering and handling perspective it is much like any Honda Civic meaning that it does these things brilliantly. You do feel a bit like there is something heavy in the trunk as the GX doesn’t feel quite as nimble as, say, the Si, Hybrid or EX models.
But the standard five speed automatic shifts smoothly and the 1.8 liter 113 horsepower 4-cylinder works pretty much like any standard engine in any car. It just uses a different type of fuel. It is not, however, Honda’s most powerful or smoothest engine. But even on its worst day, any Civic is better than a Toyota Corolla. Going uphill can cause the 2010 Honda Civic GX’s engine to struggle a bit but once you are at freeway speeds the engine has plenty of get up and go for passing.
Honestly, it is on the freeway and puttering around town where the Honda Civic GX is really in its element. It is a quiet, stable and quick cruiser when you are commuting and has enough oomph to get you going on city streets or in the suburbs. It probably won’t, however, set your pulses racing on a twisty mountain road but that isn’t really what this car is built for. If you want an efficient commuter that is a bit more fun to drive go for the Civic hybrid.
Comparing the Civic GX with Other Environmentally Responsible Competitors
Honda Civic Hybrid
Highs: 40 city/45 highway, has a full size trunk, fun to drive, doesn’t scream “I drive a hybrid!”
Lows: Needs a premium audio system option to go with premium leather interior and navigation
VW Golf TDI
Highs: Drives like a normal car, good value, spacious cargo area, fun to drive, great manual transmission
Lows: 30 city/42 highway is less than hybrids (but routinely beats that in real world driving), two door version is less than practical
Highs: 50 miles per gallon EPA rating, interesting dash design, practical, feels quick from a stop
Lows: Safety issues, some cheap interior trim, uninspiring to drive, gets very pricey with options
Notes: As I have driven all three of these vehicles for a week along with the Honda Civic GX, I am sure you want to know which one is my favorite. Well, it does depend on what use the vehicle is going to serve in your life. But this is my particular take on the subject based on what I want from a car.
I know the Prius gets the best fuel economy but I didn’t really enjoy my time with it all that much. I felt really detached from the driving experience and while some people may like that feeling of isolation, it is just not my cup of tea. I loved the VW TDI with the six-speed manual transmission and I got over 41 miles per gallon. The Honda Civic Hybrid honestly felt the most luxurious with premium feeling leather and a great navigator.
The Civic GX does compete with these models but it is more of a niche model. And while it may not be as well rounded as some of these competitors, it has some positive attributes that could make it the only choice for some drivers. Honestly, if you really do care about the environment, our dependence on foreign oil or need a peerless commuter vehicle the GX makes a fine choice.
But I do have to say, for me it would be a toss-up for me between the VW TDI and the Honda Civic hybrid as they both are totally versatile, fun to drive and get great fuel economy. There is no real drawback to either package. And since just last week I advised one friend to buy a Civic hybrid and another to buy a VW TDI, these two vehicles stand as my favorite commuter/alternative energy powered/fuel efficient/all around great cars.
(Note: If you were wondering, yes, both of these friends listened to my advice. But I promise I won’t get mad at you, dear reader, if you choose not to follow my car advice. We are all allowed to make mistakes from time to time and buy a Prius.)
How Dog and Kid Friendly is the Civic GX?
All Honda interiors are well built and the sedan shape of the GX makes it practical for dog owners. But if you have kids and need to haul strollers, the lack of a trunk makes the GX a poor choice for your particular situation.
The GX makes the most sense for families with more than one car that use it mainly as a commuter or as a vehicle to shuttle people around. Just don’t take it to Costco unless you plan on filling the back seat with the stuff you bought.
We live in a remarkably exciting time when it comes to the level of choice we have as consumers in regard to what kind of fuel we use to power our cars. You can buy a diesel, a hybrid, a vehicle that runs on natural gas and even one that runs on hydrogen (like the Honda FCX clarity).
The Honda Civic GX makes a tremendous amount of sense for commuters, people who don’t want to spend all that money on gasoline and those who truly feel the need to do something to help protect the environment. And since it is a Civic you know it will be reliable, stylish and a class leader in resale value. It’s your choice. And having a choice is really what the Honda Civic model line is all about.
Vehicle Tested: 2010 Honda Civic GX NGV (Natural Gas Vehicle)
Price as Tested: $25,860
Engine: 1.8 liter i-VTEC 4 cylinder
Power: 113 horsepower/109 lb. feet of torque
Transmission: Five speed automatic
Fuel: Compressed natural gas
Gas Tank: Equivalent to 7.8 gallons
EPA Estimated Economy: 24 city/36 highway
Trunk: 6.0 cubic feet
Safety Ratings (NHTSA): Front-Five Stars (driver/passenger)
Side: Four Stars (front seat), Five Stars (rear seat)
Rollover: Four Stars
Built in: East Liberty, Ohio from 60% North American parts content
0-60: 12.5 Seconds (estimated)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper
5 years/60,000 powertrain
Fun Fact: Lowest Emissions Ever Recorded by the EPA for an Internal Combustion Engine