Different in a good way.
When looking at alternative fuel vehicles, hybrid, electric and diesel are the most common options based on sales and choice. One other fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG) doesn’t get much attention, probably because there is only one mass-produced CNG-fueled car on the market–the 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas. So if Honda alone believes in this technology for passenger cars, what are they seeing that their competitors aren’t and what is the future for CNG?
Natural gas is the cleanest burning of all petroleum-based fuels and it is abundant. Drive by any oil drilling rig or petroleum refinery and you will see it being burned off. With recent advances in technologies for hydraulic
fracturing–more commonly referred to as fracking–and capturing of gasses from landfills and other biogas sources, the natural gas supply is solid for decades to come according to industry estimates. Its cost per an equivalent gallon of gasoline runs 30% – 40% less than gas or diesel, and a CNG-fueled internal combustion engine will have a longer service life and require less maintenance because natural gas burns so cleanly, producing almost no combustion by-products into the motor oil, spark plugs or injectors.
So if natural gas is plentiful, less expensive to purchase and burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel, does owning one make sense for your lifestyle and driving patterns?
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas we were driving looks pretty much like the gasoline powered Civic except for the Federally mandated (for emergency responder’s safety) blue and white diamond-shaped CNG sticker on the trunk lid. When driving the Civic CNG, it feels the same as its siblings except for less power.
The front-wheel drive, five-speed automatic Civic CNG is rated at 27 City/38 Highway with a combined 31 MPGe. The “e” is for “equivalent,” which means you are not using a gallon of liquid fuel like gasoline. The EPA has figured out how much energy is in a gallon of gas and how far it will take you–that’s MPG. So MPGe is how far you can go with the amount of CNG that has the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. In CNG’s case it takes 126 cubic feet of CNG to equal the energy of a gallon of gas–and that will take you 31 miles. Add in the amount of CNG you can store in the Honda’s tank (the equivalent of 8 gallons of gasoline since it’s compressed at 3600 psi) and you end up with a range of about 190 miles. There is also an Eco button to maximize your fuel economy.
Powering the Civic CNG is a 16-valve, 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder aluminum alloy engine. It puts out 110 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque while the gasoline version brings 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. Without going into performance numbers, that 30 hp and 22 lb-ft of torque can make a big difference when it is time to get up and go. But maybe the trade-off for fuel economy and cost are worth it, especially if you aren’t a hot rodder.
The Civic CNG comes with 15-inch lightweight aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted front disc and rear drum ABS brakes, MacPherson strut independent front and multi-link rear suspension, with stabilizer bars at both ends. The Civic rides comfortably but could have more steering feel. You will feel freeway bumps and hear road noise, and, while the Civic CNG is not a sports sedan or to be considered an enthusiast vehicle, it handles corners well.
The Civic CNG has smooth acceleration, but as previously noted, it is not fast off the line. With patience, it cruises right along at freeway speeds.
Finding a comfortable seating position with the manual adjustable driver’s seat and tilt and telescoping steering wheel was easy. The front bucket/rear bench seats (with a flat rear floor) can accommodate four adults with good head and leg room and the glass area provided an open, airy feeling with good visibility. Standard equipment includes A/C, power door locks and windows and cruise control.
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas we drove came with the 5-inch LCD color touchscreen, Honda navigation system with voice recognition, rearview camera and a database of available CNG refueling stations. The four-speaker sound system has XM and Pandora, steering wheel mounted controls, Bluetooth audio and phone hands-free link, SMS test messaging, USB interface and MP3/Auxiliary input jacks.
None of the goodies are worth a thing if the car isn’t safe to drive. The 2013 Civic CNG I was driving had six airbags, ABS with front-wheel disc brakes, power door mirrors, Vehicle Stability Assist, rearview color camera,
tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and side-impact door beams with front and rear crumple zones. The Civic is rated at four stars for frontal driver and passenger front impacts and five star for front side driver and passenger and rear passenger impacts.
There are two areas the CNG version compromises the long-range driving comfort and its capabilities compared to the gasoline version. To accommodate the CNG tank, the trunk has been reduced to being able to carry two small suitcases and, because of the tank, the rear seats do not fold flat nor is there a pass through for long items.
The look of the Civic CNG is contemporary and holds its own within the compact car category. Up front there is an attractive black honeycomb grill, lower air dam with a stylishly placed chrome accent piece with wrap-around clear lens headlights and cornering lights. In back the rear bumper has an upswept design with a low access for the trunk opening.
The Fueling Process
Your Honda dealer will provide a list of local CNG stations but you will be best served by going to websites such as these:
- or download this app http://www.cngnow.com/app/Pages/information.aspx for iPhone or Android. After logging-on you simply enter a zip code and local stations appear on a map.
Once at the station, which will almost always be a 24/7 unmanned operation, you will swipe a major credit card and then, if it is your first time fueling, watch a short instructional video on the pump. The video will give you a three-number code and then explains how to attach the hose end to the fitting on the car and the sequence to start fueling. It is a very simple process with a full tank taking only minutes to fill. After doing it once you will be a seasoned pro.
A note about CNG fueling stations. Many of them will be located in an industrial setting and will not be freeway close. They can be buried amongst storage yards and transportation centers where you will be pulling-up alongside city buses and trash trucks. Until more CNG vehicles are offered by manufacturers the fueling locations will be more for local traffic and not road warriors traveling the freeways.
A final fueling note: compressed natural gas is more sensitive to temperatures than the gasoline or diesel we’re all used to. Experienced CNG users will tell you the fillups you get on a cool morning compared to a hot afternoon can vary significantly with the cooler temperatures resulting in a more complete fill. Similarly, fast-fill facilities that can refuel a CNG car in roughly the same time as a gas or diesel one, tend to provide a less complete fill than slow-fill operations.
Pricing & Warranties
The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas NV I was driving was fully optioned with a MSRP of $28,755, which included a $790 Destination Charge.
For those in California, the Civic CNG automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker which allows driving in the Carpool lane even with just the driver. If you haven’t heard the stories, people buy the Civic CNG just for this benefit.
The 2013 Civic CNG NV warranties include:
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: New-Vehicle
• 5 Year/60,000 miles: Powertrain
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: Honda Genuine Accessories
• 1 Year: Replacement Honda Genuine Parts
• 3 Year/36,000 miles: Honda Genuine Remanufactured Parts
• 5-Year/Unlimited mile: Corrosion
Observations: 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas
The Honda Civic has been part of the United States driving scene since 1973 with more than 8.8 million sold; the natural gas version joined the fray in 1998. Honda owners are famously loyal to the brand with many of them thinking owning anything other than a Honda to be unthinkable. If you are in the market for a Civic, there are several models to chose from in a fairly broad price range. Here is a quick look at three base Civic models:
Civic LX lists at $18,165 and gets 28/36/31 (City/Freeway/Combined mpg)
Civic Hybrid lists at $24,360 and gets 44/44/44
Civic CNG lists at $26,465 and gets 27/38/31
Since you can get a gasoline-powered Civic that gets comparable fuel economy for $8,000 less than the CNG version and the Hybrid for $2,000 less that gets considerably better fuel economy, why would you consider the Civic CNG?
Two big reasons: The cost of CNG is 30 – 40 percent less than unleaded gasoline, making your cost per mile driven very low. And if you live in California, the car gets you into the carpool lane with a single driver, which is no small thing in the Golden State!
So where do you fit in as a future Civic CNG owner? Since the Civic CNG has a range of under 200 miles and has limited storage space, this car should be high on your shopping list if the majority of your driving is the in-town or freeway commuting type. The result is a car that will work well for you.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
The Future of CNG Vehicles (By Michael Coates)
With natural gas pump prices cheap and everyone from T. Boone Pickens to President Obama talking up the use of American energy, you might think that CNG-powered passenger cars would be a hot topic among automakers. After all, it’s not exotic technology; many car companies have natural gas models marketed around the world. But it’s not happening in the U.S. for now and lacking any major government push (such as the current one behind electric and plug-in vehicles), it appears they will continue to be a small niche. It is unlikely, even if other automakers market models to compete with the Civic, that this segment will achieve numbers that would warrant much attention. The Civic, after all these years on the market sells only a couple thousand natural gas versions with a good number of those going to government fleets.
The number of CNG offerings for fleets have increased extensively in recent years as government incentives (for vehicle purchase and infrastructure development) and low fuel prices have pushed fleets to consider
natural gas pickups and vans. These work for the same reason many alternatives to gasoline or diesel do – the duty cycle or daily drive of the vehicle fits the limited fueling infrastructure and needs of the owner.
One arena where natural appears to be making some inroads is in medium- and heavy-duty trucks – the large trucks you see hauling loads in town and out on the highway. In recent years natural gas engines have increased in size and horsepower and have become a true alternative to the traditional diesel engine. But even with exponential growth, natural gas trucks still only comprise a few percentage points of the total new truck market in these sectors. All of the major truck makers offer natural gas-powered models and some specific applications, such as refuse trucks, are racking up some impressive sales numbers.
One issue that is just beginning to play out could spell the future – positively or negatively – for natural gas, and that is the ultimate environmental tally on fracking. As noted above, the technique of hydraulic fracturing has helped produce the abundant and cheap domestic natural gas. However, several environmental groups have started to raise alarms about the global warming gases emitted as part of the fracking process and have questioned the overall benefit of using natural gas in vehicles (using it to create electricity or heat homes lends itself to a different environmental conclusion). Recent government and academic studies have questioned the environmental and health impacts of fracking and found that it may be best to proceed cautiously.
Words & Photos By John Faulkner
Posted March 1, 2014
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