At $1.22 a Gallon, What's Not to Like? - 2007 Honda Civic GX Long-Term Road Test

2007 Honda Civic GX: At $1.22 a Gallon, What's Not to Like?

July 01, 2009



It's been two months since I last drove our Honda Civic GX, and unlike most of my colleagues, I'm actually looking forward to getting back behind the wheel.

I've enjoyed the natural gas-fueled Civic ever since I started using it back in October of 2007 for most of my daily commuting between my home in Orange and Edmunds' offices in Santa Monica - not because it's a particularly exciting car to drive but because it is the ideal Southern California long-distance commuter car.

It comes with a single occupant car-pool lane sticker, which cuts about an hour a day from my 100 mile-plus round trip; it's saved hundreds of dollars on fuel and, with a Phill home fueling unit in my garage (thank you, boss!) I don't have to worry about where my next tank will come from.

And consider this: Fuel consumption has averaged 32.8 mpg over the last 19,000 miles, and the average cost of fillingl its tank from the home natural gas pump is a mere $1.22 per gasoline gallon-equivalent. That's for both the natural gas and the electricity to compress and pump it.

So even though it's sluggish off the line and pretty basic in the amenities department (power windows and locks, AC, base Honda stereo and that's it), it's been nice to have around - sort of like a longtime acquaintance who's always reliable but doesn't demand much attention from day to day.

I've not been driving it because of a pinched nerve in my back that's made sitting in the Civic's low-slung seat somewhere between awfully uncomfortable and incredibly painful for the 90 minutes I spend on the freeway most mornings and evenings on days I drive into Santa Monica.

What's even more painful though is the time it takes to commute on some of the nation's most crowded freeways without being able to legally jump into the carpool lane - and, of course, the amount of cash I have to fork over to fill the SUV I've been driving because its chair-height seats are easier on the back during a long commute.<

But I've managed recently to get the discomfort level down to a steadily bearable ache - you gotta love those steroids - so I'm climbing back aboard the Civic GX.

In the SUV I've been paying $3.13 a gallon for its required premium fuel and averaging 20.3 mpg on the commute. That's about $17.25 per round trip.

Compare that to the Civic GX's $4.01 per round trip and its easy to see why I'm happy to get back behind its wheel, and to heck with a little back pain.

Warren is absolutely correct in his recent post - having a Phill does make a huge difference. And Erin's right about the temporary unavailability of the Phill (although there are other - albeit larger and more expensive - natural gas pumps on the market).

But I don't agree with Mark's comment that the GX is only for people with a Phill and that for the rest it's a "pricey novelty" at best.

It certainly wouldn't work in Ohio, or Alabama, but there are places were natural gas fuel is readily available: the LA basin is one - there are 5 retail natural gas stations along the main freeway I use when commuting to the office instead of working at home (that's one every 11 miles on average).

There are 79 public stations within a 240-miles radius of the office - the approximate range of the GX, which packs 7.5 usable gallons-equivalent of CNG in its pressurized tank.

A GX can easily make the 385-mile trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco without pump anxiety (although going farther north or heading east toward the Sierra Nevada mountains wouldn't be a very good idea unless youve got a thing for tow trucks).

And in Oklahoma and Utah natural gas is not only abundant, it's incredibly cheap, often less that 75-cents a gallon-equivalent at retail pumps!

If you want to check natural gas availability for yourself, the federal Energy Department's got a nifty alternative fuel finder that'll not only show you where the stations are, it will map a trip for you so you can quickly see whether it can be done in a natural gas vehicle.

A number of people have been asking how we figure our fuel consumption and pricing with an unmetered unit like the Phill.

For the long version I'll refer you to the explanation posted shortly after we started using the home unit early last year.

The short version is that we use educated guesswork, checked by the occasion retail pump fill-up to see how close our estimates (a system worked out with Honda engineers) jibe with the metered tallies at retail pumps certified by the Department of Weights and Measures.

So far, we've been within a few hundredths of a gallon-equivalent, which makes us pretty secure in the fuel economy figures we're posting for the Civic GX.

So yes, it's a great commuter car; no, its not gonna serve many people as their primary vehicle; yes, the Phill is expensive and, right now, impossible to buy new; and no, the GX doesn't make sense everywhere and for everyone.

But it is incredibly convenient if you have a long commute and a handy fuel supply; it is helping Honda gather data that could someday lead to a purpose-built natural gas car; it does free you from the tyranny of escalating gasoline prices, and if (or when) we run short of petroleum, it could keep you rolling right past the long lines and/or rioters at the corner gasoline station.

It also is greener than any other internal combustion vehicle (save the few hydrogen-burning BMW test cars) in the country.

And it makes my commute so much easier !

John O'Dell, Senior Editor

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