MARK RECHTIN

The 102 mpg Honda Civic

Automotive News | May 24, 2012 - 7:59 am EST

Mark Rechtin is West Coast editor of Automotive News.
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LOS ANGELES -- All automakers are hyping fuel economy numbers on their electric or hybrid vehicles, some more fast and loose than others.

So I figure I have some leeway when I say I got 102 mpg from a 2012 Honda Civic.

Before you fire up your snarky e-mail blasts, let me explain the math. I hope you understand that my calculations are based in reality.

For the past week, I have been driving the Honda Civic CNG. The "CNG" stands for compressed natural gas, a natural resource America has plenty of -- and not just on cable news talk shows.

CNG vehicles have been around for more than 20 years but have never taken root in the U.S. market except for corporate fleets.

The tailpipe emissions are basically nil, making it the cleanest-burning internal combustion engine in the United States, according to the EPA. That makes California regulators so happy, they allow the Civic CNG in the carpool lane with only one occupant. For those with short memories, the Toyota Prius and other small hybrids lost that privilege last summer.

So, to the math.

Over the course of driving the Civic CNG around the streets and highways of L.A., I accrued 102 miles of distance at lead-footed velocities. The CNG engine doesn't stir the horses like a typical Honda engine, but it was no slug when I tromped on the accelerator.

At week's end, I drove the Civic to a service station that carries CNG; in this case, the nearby Southern California Gas depot in San Pedro. Refilling was a snap, easier than filling your barbecue's propane tank.

Imagine my surprise when all it took to fill the half-empty tank was pocket change of $4.63. That's the cost of one gallon of super-unleaded gasoline in these parts.

So, instead of looking at the Civic CNG in terms of miles per gallon, I equated it to miles per dollar. I got 102 miles of driving from the same amount of money I would have spent on a gallon of gasoline. To me, that makes 102 mpg.

The best part is that the Civic CNG is not some outrageously priced techno-wonder available only to the 1 percent. Its sticker price, with destination charges, is $27,095. With a range of 220 miles, and plenty of places to fill up, it doesn't cause range anxiety like you get with electric vehicles. Plus you still get access to the carpool lane. And to silence your neighborhood jingoist, it's made in Indiana.

Granted, 27 grand is still a big premium over a standard Civic, you still get stuck with the Civic's lousy interior plastics, and the methane tank chews up nearly all the trunk space.

But if I had a monstrous solo commute on freeways with HOV lanes, I would be dashing to the Honda dealership today.

The Honda Civic CNG's sticker price, with destination charges, is $27,095.

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