Car buyers looking for ultra clean vehicles generally turn to hybrids or electric cars. There have been questions raised about the cradle-to-grave impact on the environment. What happens to the batteries? Can they be recycled or repurposed? How significant is the carbon footprint when assembling a hybrid and its additional components over a standard car?

For the average Joe or Jane that just wants to do the responsible thing, it s a dilemma.

As you well know, the internet is full of ammunition to support any argument. Somewhere, someplace, there s research that says trees actually hurt the environment. That, and the government has space aliens in captivity. Dozens of them. Ashton Kutcher may be one of them.

Enter the Honda Civic NG. It doesn t look any different from a standard Civic sedan. It doesn t use gasoline. Doesn t run on diesel fuel or electricity either. Clean coal? Space aliens are more realistic. This Honda is powered by natural gas. For treading lightly on Mother Earth, this is a very good thing.

The Clean Advantages

One study that Honda cites finds that, on a very smoggy day, the exhaust from the Civic Natural Gas tailpipe is actually cleaner than the surrounding air. Compared with gasoline, the EPA says compressed natural gas reduces carbon-monoxide emissions by up to 97 percent and nitrogen-oxide emissions by 35 to 60 percent.

Wallets will breath easier too since natural gas is easily 30 percent less expensive at commercial stations than gasoline. With a Phill compressor that taps into home gas lines, it s possible to drop the cost to half and skip gas stations all together (though it means keeping a supply of Red Bull and jerky at home).

From a strategic standpoint, nearly all of our NG is produced here in North America. I can see the bumper stickers now- Fueled by CNG. No war needed.

The Clear Disadvantages

Use your trunk much? The Civic NG has a small one. The large tank occupies a good part of the cargo space and keeps the back seats from folding down. A standard 2012 Civic scores a lofty seven bundles in the Costco TP Test. The NG manages a meager two (though for eco brownie points I ll throw in the extra half that will fit). For those who often shuttle friends to the airport, consider these suitcase-sized bundles a guide. Remind everyone to pack lightly.

Other considerations? Public fueling stations are scarce (the two I found locally didn t except Visa, only MasterCard and fleet accounts) and the Phill home compressor is not cheap (around four grand with installation). The Phill unit does its job overnight since home NG is not pressurized.

Compared to a gasoline-powered Civic, overall range drops by about 25 percent. I saw about 250 miles in mixed driving. Fuel economy stays the same, Civic Natural Gas is EPA rated at 27 city, 38 highway.

Environmentally Tuned

Honda s 1.8-liter four-cylinder makes 110 horsepower burning natural gas, 30 less than the gasoline drinker. It s hooked up to a five-speed automatic transmission and like all Civic auto-boxes there s no manual shift mode.

I drove the first day not knowing about the horsepower deficit. Even with fewer ponies the natural gas model doesn t feel overly anemic. The remarkable thing about the natural gas model is that the driving experience is completely normal. It simply feels like a regular Civic, just a skosh pokier.

These days, Civic s handling is less sporty, meaning ride quality and handling are right down the middle of the market. Want sporty dynamics? Go with Civic Si (sorry no NG with the Si). Combined with the suspension s comfort setting, NG is transportation for alt fuel enthusiasts and the eco minded, not performance drivers.

Stealth Eco Warrior

From behind the wheel you d never know there s anything unique about this car, there are no badges or gauge differences. The two-tiered instrument panel will be familiar to Civic owners. Instrument panel materials are hard and either look like rice paper or some sort of industrial surface, depending how a person sees it. This generation s interior has a more spartan look about it. Also, I d choose a darker interior fabric than the stone color of my tester. It looks like dirt would show easily, especially in families with kids.

As expected in a modern car there are all sorts of electronic stability and traction controls on board. Honda makes it easy to max out fuel economy. Drive hard and bars that flank the digital speedometer turn from green to blue, signaling you could drive more efficiently Lightning McQueen. A big green Econ button sets help a driver eek out every bit of fuel.

The navi system is a basic unit, I d store NG fuel station locations for safeties sake. Overall, controls grey out on the LCD when the car is in motion. I wish a few key operations- like the telephone keypad- would stay active. They are unusable when driving, kind of a hassle. Voice control? It s here but for some reason Honda s system doesn t work well with my golden tones. iPod and Bluetooth phone integration is standard.

Bring A Few Friends

The back seat doesn t change from a standard Civic so there s room for two full-sized adults, or three in a pinch. There s storage in the doors but the features stop there. No folding armrest. No map pocket on back of the driver s chair. No power port either (there s only one inside the whole cabin).

The initial cost of running with natural gas is not cheap. With destination it starts at $26,925. The particular car I m driving retails for $28,425 before a $4,000 government tax credit. Keep in mind that this is a vehicle without a sunroof, auto climate control, premium sound system, heated or leather chairs, backup camera, or even a leather wrap steering wheel. Pretty basic.

In total, figure it s a premium of two thousand bucks but add another 4K if you want the Phill home charge station. And really, you do.

Civic Natural Gas was selected as 2011 s Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Not all Honda dealerships carry this model so call ahead to check availability. Good to see Honda doing something different though. Civic Natural Gas is a unique way to keep the air and your conscience clean.

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