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2007 Honda Civic GX: Fueling's a Treasure Hunt on Weekend Trip

February 19, 2008

Took the Civic GX €“just named greenest vehicle sold in the U.S. on a 611-mile weekend trip. It takes a little planning when your fuel isn't the easiest to find, but all went well.

Part of the reason for taking the GX, usually just a commuter car, was to see if we could stand sitting in it for hours on end. Part was to see how difficult it would be to find the compressed natural gas it needs once we got out of the greater Los Angeles area.

Neither proved problematic, although figuring out the fueling logistics is a bit like planning a treasure hunt. And when you get to some of the stops, you find that CNG pumps aren't often in spots you really want to hang around in after dark.

Before departing, we plugged our starting point and destination into the mapping function of the federal Energy Department's alternative fuels site.

 Following the instructions provided a nice map that located 30 compressed natural gas stations on two possible routes from Southern California up to the central coast resort town of Cambria, about 6 miles south of Hearst Castle.

Each station was indicated by an interactive red triangle that, when moused and clicked, opened to give precise details including the station's hours, the types of credit cards accepted, driving directions and whether the station was open to the public€“ many aren't.

After picking out five that would suit our needs, I printed out the specifics and for extra insurance loaded the addresses into our portable GPS navigation system.

The whole exercise took about 20 minutes and left me feeling assured that we'd not run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.

To be doubly sure, I earmarked stations that were about 100 miles or a little less than half a tank apart.

The first fill was supposed to be at a local station near home, but it was out of order (the DOE info has phone numbers and advises calling in advance to make sure the stations are open and functioning, but that takes all the fun out of it).

We had started out with a nearly full tank, so we just headed up the freeway and stopped at the CNG trough near Edmunds' office in Santa Monica for our initial fill, and began calculating mileage and fuel consumption from that point.

We stopped again in Santa Barbara, where the pump is located just off the freeway in an industrial area near the city's maintenance yard€“ dark and deserted territory late at night.

The third and final fill on the way to Cambria was in the city of San Luis Obispo, at a well-lighted site that also had about 20 diesel and gas pumps used by city buses and work trucks.

Although the sign on the CNG pump there said it accepted Visa cards, it wouldn't take the one I've been using for the past six months at other natural gas pumps. I had to drag out a backup, which was also a Visa card, and listen to the two-minute training video again before I could get a new ID code and start pumping.

We reversed the gas stops on the way home, but omitted the Santa Monica stop as we took a different route down from Santa Barbara. Still, the GX fuel gauge registered only half-empty at the end of that final 161.8-mile leg. That was good for best-of-trip average fuel economy of 40.02 miles per gallon.

Fuel wise, we pumped in a total of 18.33 gallons, for average fuel economy of 33.3 miles per gallon. Not bad for a trip that included a lot of high speed driving, about half of it uphill travel through California's coastal mountains. On the commute treadmill, the GX has been averaging 28.5 miles per gallon, so the trip helps show how hard the daily stop-and-go grind is on fuel economy.

The car ran fine, held all the luggage for a two-day trip (not to mention my big bag of electronics€“ camera, laptop, electrical adapters etc.) and remained comfortable even after five hours behind the wheel.

We wasted a lot of fuel, though, flooring it on many of the uphill sections of our route to keep up with traffic€“ the drawback of the somewhat anemic1.8-liter, four-cylinder CNG engine is that it provides 18.5% less horsepower and 14.8% less torque than the comparable gasoline engine.

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