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Honda Civic GX test drive

The choice is clear

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Honda Civic GX left side at dusk

The 2006 Honda Civic GX is styled identically to the 2007.

photo © Adrian Gable
The Civic GX. Talk about clean! This should be the Civic SS (spic-and-span). After all, the clean lines of the all-new for 2006 Honda Civic sweep from the steeply raked windshield to the soot-free tailpipe of the cleanest engine in production today. We couldn't wait to get our hands on the GX--we were anticipating it for months. And the wait was definitely worth it. Although we had planned to test a 2007 model--one wasn't available in our location--so we drove a 2006, identical to the 07 in every way. The GX definitely lives up to its reputation as a clean machine, but do your homework first--CNG filling stations are not on every corner, so keeping the car fueled takes a bit of pre-planning. At 113 horsepower and 109 ft-lbs of torque, it's not a pocket-rocket, but it is spirited, fun, economical and just leaves a smile stuck right on your face. Priced at $24,590 the Civic GX qualifies for tax credits that bring the cost right back in line with the gasoline-powered EX.

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Initial Impression: Breathe deeply

Honda GX exhaust appraisal

Would you do this with your conventional gasoline burner?

photo © Adrian Gable

Scott: “I gotta get a whiff of that exhaust pipe.” I bent right on down to do my trusted “nasal appraisal” and found virtually no odor. Oh, it was running and I could feel the exhaust coming out, I just couldn’t smell it. It really is that clean. After all, the GX is powered by natural gas, the same stuff we cook on, and is a PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle). Now this is the car to be stuck behind on a hot summer day with the windows wide open. Sure, being stuck in traffic would suck, but at least you wouldn’t be getting light-headed from noxious fumes. I was diggin’ this car already, and the pleasant surprises were just beginning.

Christine: When I first pulled up behind the sleek silver GX, excitement coursed through me. The cleanest car in the world was ours to drive for the next few days. To think that I could drive to the grocery store and pollute less than boiling a pot of water gave me goose bumps. No, not the grocery store trip—the truly clean driving reality of the GX, proof of what’s in store for the cleaner cars of the future. One glimpse inside at the sleekly designed cockpit, and I knew I was going to enjoy getting to know the GX.

The Insider’s View: A cocoon of safe smarts

Our eyes were immediately drawn to the digital-bar fuel gauge steadily plugging its way back up to F when we turned the key. It was whisper quiet inside the car—the conventional tachometer was the sole analog instrument in the entire vehicle (and Scott’s favorite). It lay just below the arc of the steering wheel, and we used it to confirm the car was even running. Mounted high on the dash in perfect line of vision were the digital speedometer and bar graph temperature and fuel gauges. Thankfully the wheel was adjustable--initially it was in Christine’s line of vision for the speedometer—and, with her “just a tad of a lead foot,” that was the one gauge she needed to pay attention to.

Our GX was equipped with the Civic line’s standard 5-speed automatic transmission mated to the 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine. Christine had no problem maneuvering through rush hour traffic or merging onto the turnpike with this natural gasser--indeed the GX was quite peppy.

We were tickled to learn the GX doesn’t slack off in the safety department either. Standard safety features include ABS, dual front airbags, side curtain airbags, front side airbags with Occupant Position Detection System. By the end of our time with the GX, Christine found it quite natural to depend upon the intuitive intelligence of the Civic’s second brain.

Fuel-ability: Fill’er up and no oil spills

CNG valve in the vent position after refueling

The CNG quick connect makes for an easy fill-up with no noxious fumes or spills.

photo © Christine Gable

Natural gas is approximately thirty percent less expensive than gasoline when purchased at a refueling station, but can be as much as 50 percent cheaper than gasoline if you fuel up with Phill, (link to photos of how-to fuel with Phill) the home refueling appliance. Mount it on a garage wall—inside or outside—and refuel overnight and forget about trips to the fueling station. Abundant and clean-burning, natural gas is a domestic fuel that cuts CO2 emissions by 25 percent along with slashing operating costs.

Using the public CNG fueling station was actually easier than filling up (link goes to photos of fueling procedure) with gasoline also. No odor, and no chance of spills on you or your clothing. Choose the correct PSI, fit the connection over the nozzle, set the valve to fill, and flip the lever on the pump. In less than one minute, the tank was full.

The CNG tank does take up a significant amount of trunk space although Christine had no problem fitting a full week’s worth of groceries in the back—but forget the versatile split-folding rear seats of the other Civic models.

Any other drawbacks? Well, in extremely cold temps (0ºF and lower), cold start issues could arise. The label actually reads: Warning: Do not fill the fuel tank on this vehicle if the outside temperature is below -4ºF (-20ºC). Resulting damage may cause CNG leaks. That’s just the nature of the fuel. But that’s one splinter-sized complaint when facing all the satisfactions the GX brings to the table.

Next page: Motion potion, the Enviro-meter, who should buy it, pros and cons

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