As oil supplies tighten, gas prices rise and concerns about the environment intensify, public interest in alternative fuels is growing. Lots of interesting new automotive technology is in development, but little is actually on the market.
There's one big exception: the 2007 Honda Civic GX, which runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). The Civic GX is consistently considered the most environmentally friendly car available and has even received the EPA's Smartway Elite designation.
We have reviewed the Honda Civic in many of its different incarnations. But we've never had a vehicle in our long-term fleet that has been powered by natural gas. We're expecting that the real story here is not so much the car (we know we like the Civic) as the lifestyle that surrounds it. For example, where do we buy compressed natural gas? Is it cheaper than regular gasoline? How well does the Phill home refueling unit work in filling the GX's tank?
We'll answer all these questions and many more in our Long-Term Road Test Logbook.
What We Bought
There aren't any choices when you buy the Honda Civic GX. You can choose from five colors and two interior colors. That's about it. Even conveniences like a remote trunk release aren't included in this bare-bones car.
Features aren't what it's about. What it's about is low emissions (PZEV or partial-zero-emissions vehicle), low fuel costs and access to the carpool lanes. An unexpected advantage is that oil changes are stretched to 10,000-mile intervals, since natural gas is less corrosive and leaves more engine oil on the cylinder walls. Similarly, engine components remain cleaner in the long term because natural gas creates fewer carbon deposits.
The GX comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission (which some editors have already mistaken for a buzzy continuously variable transmission). Its power plant is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder internal combustion engine that produces 113 horsepower and offers 109 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm — obviously, this car isn't built for speed. Another compromise lies in its limited fuel capacity of just 8 gallons. Even with an EPA rating of 28 mpg city/39 mpg highway, the GX's driving range is just over 200 miles (and our testing so far has shown that the range is highly variable). Moreover, the high-pressure fuel tank forces a reduction in trunk capacity.
Since the GX is not exactly at the top of everyone's shopping list, there aren't a lot of Honda dealerships that carry it. We contacted Miller Honda of Culver City and we were assisted by Fleet Manager Sarah Lovett. We bought the car for our True Market Value (TMV®) price of $24,432, which included the $595 destination fee. Lovett handled the delivery of the vehicle and provided us with a folder full of information about how to get the Phill and where to find fueling stations around the Los Angeles area. In addition, she set a record for efficiency in preparing and explaining all the sales contracts.
Why We Bought It
The GX seems a natural way to get serious about alternative fuel vehicles. Additionally, we plan to install a Phill home refueling unit in our Edmunds parking structure (if the superintendent allows it) or, if not, in an editor's garage. The Phill delivers CNG at a lower price than buying it from a local pump.
The GX has been available for a number of years and yet it has remained largely below the radar. Those who know about it sing its praises as a commuter car, and this made us curious to see how it stacks up against other environmental choices, such as gas-sipping hybrids. Recently, the California carpool stickers and federal tax rebates for the Toyota Prius have expired, which has left the GX as a standout choice because it's still eligible for these perks. We've applied for carpool stickers and are anticipating several thousand dollars in federal tax credits.
Perhaps our biggest question about the GX regards access to fueling stations. One editor took a previous GX test car to Northern California and located only one station between the metro areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Does this rule out long trips in this car? Or will careful and creative planning give it a broader range and use? Stay tuned and we'll fill you in.
How Far Are You Willing To Go?
The GX is really a one-of-a-kind car. From the get-go, it's obvious there will be compromises. It is even likely to be controversial. The real question that is likely to emerge is: How far are you willing to go to save the environment? Is there much in the way of inconvenience and expense? And just as important, will driving a car like this really make a difference?
Current Odometer: 1,780
Best Fuel Economy: 34.7 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 24.1 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 26.8 mpg
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.