2009 Honda Civic Test Drive: Powered by Natural Gas
|Topics: Honda Civic
September 1, 2009
American Honda says, "The Civic GX is the only OEM-built, CNG-powered passenger car assembled in America. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) says the 2009 Honda Civic GX is the "greenest vehicle of the year."
Natural gas comes out of the ground as, well, a gas. Sometimes natural gas is found along with liquid petroleum, while other times it's in deposits by itself. After it's refined, natural gas is mainly methane. It's possible to produce methane gas from decaying organic matter or coal, but both cost more than conventional natural gas.
To be stored in an amount needed to produce useful cruising range, natural gas must be compressed to about 3600 pounds per square inch. That's about 120 times the pressure in your tires. It's also why it's commonly referred to as CNG for "compressed natural gas."
Natural gas has several major benefits as a fuel for Americans. First, natural gas is accepted as the cleanest-burning fossil fuel: Honda says the Civic GX burns some 90 percent cleaner than an equivalent gasoline-fueled vehicle. Also, natural gas produces 75 percent fewer NOx pollutants (oxides of nitrogen) compared to a gasoline engine. Next, North America has abundant reserves of natural gas: If more cars burned natural gas we would reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Those driving the Civic GX will notice barely a difference from a regular Civic. Until, that is, the vehicle needs refueling.
The Civic GX is based on the Civic LX Sedan. The main difference: Instead of a gas tank, the GX has cylinders to store pressurized natural gas. Since the Civic GX is given an exemption from carpool lane restrictions in some areas, new "Natural Gas Vehicle" decals on the rear doors will inform authorities that you're not breaking the law. Other exterior changes include a new front bumper cover and a revised grille. Inside, new cloth seat materials and patterns are available, and a new, three-spoke steering wheel is standard.
The Civic GX is fitted with a 113-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Despite its higher 12.5:1 compression ratio, this is considerably off the 140 horsepower produced by the gasoline-fueled 1.8-liter in the Civic LX.
The engine comes only with a five-speed automatic transmission. On the government's highway driving cycle, the Civic GX gets the equivalent of a gasoline-powered car that earns a 36 miles per gallon rating. The Civic GX's cylinders can't hold the same energy as a gasoline tank, so its cruising range is less than 250 miles, almost 100 less than a gasoline-fueled Civic. Its short range and limited number of public refueling stations means the Civic GX is poorly suited for road trips. And don't expect the roadside assistance service to bring a load of natural gas.
Honda claims the Civic GX is the only vehicle certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to meet both Federal Tier 2 Bin 2 and Inherently Low Emission Vehicle (ILEV) zero evaporative emission certification standards.
Unlike some other alternative fuels, much of the infrastructure (pipelines and such) for natural gas vehicle-fueling stations already exists. Cylinders to store the compressed natural gas are the main thing fueling stations would need to add. At one of the 1,500 or so public natural gas refueling stations in the U.S., it takes a tad longer to fully refill the GX's cylinders than it does to fuel a conventional gasoline car's tank. The government lists natural gas refueling stations at www.afdc.energy.gov.
Since natural gas is delivered by pipeline to more than half of American houses, it's not difficult to refuel a natural-gas-powered vehicle at your house. Civic GX owners can refuel from their home natural gas system with the addition of Phill, a home-refueling appliance produced by FuelMaker Corporation. This system takes overnight to fully refill the Civic GX's tank.
The Civic GX is the only natural-gas-fueled passenger vehicle available to retail customers in the United States. It's assembled in East Liberty, Ohio. The Honda Civic GX is also a rolling tax deduction. Buying a Civic GX may earn you a $4,000 tax credit and installing a home refueling unit may be worth another $1,000 federal tax credit. In several states the Civic GX can legally use the high-occupant vehicle lane, while some cities offer free metered parking.
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