Honda Civic Natural Gas comes with $3,000 of free fuel, but good luck finding it

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas front three-quarter viewSome new cars come with a free tank of gasoline, but Honda is doing much more to make its Civic Natural Gas an attractive proposition. The Japanese company is offering a $3,000 debit card good at any Clean Energy natural gas station with each car.

With natural gas selling for around $2.05 per gallon, those free gas cards it should be awhile before Civic drivers have to actually open their wallets. So what’s the catch?

The Civic Natural Gas was redesigned with the rest of the Civic lineup for 2012. That means it rides on a refined version of the 2006-2011 model’s platform, with toned-down styling that keeps some of the previous car’s eccentricities, including a steeply raked windshield and two-tier dashboard.

This car may be based on Honda’s popular compact, but its natural gas powertrain still has many limitations. The Civic Natural Gas’ 1.8-liter inline four makes 110 horsepower and 106 pound-feet of torque, much less than a regular Civic’s 140 hp and 128 lb-ft.

The natural gas tank also takes up a lot of trunk space: a gasoline-powered Civic has 12.5 cubic feet of space in its trunk, but the Civic Natural Gas only has 5.0 cubic feet.

The biggest drawback to natural gas is availability. It may be cheap, but there aren’t many natural gas filling stations in the United States. Natural gas vehicles are popular with fleet customers who can buy their fuel in bulk but, because of the lack of refueling stations, they have yet to catch on with the general public.

Natural gas may burn more cleanly than gasoline, but Honda’s other Civic models burn their fuel more efficiently than the Civic Natural Gas. The Civic Natural Gas returns 27 city and 38 highway mpg. A conventional Civic sedan with an automatic transmission gets 28 mpg city and 39 highway. There is also a Civic HF (29 city, 41 highway) and a hybrid (44 city, 44 highway).2012 Honda Civic Natural gas rear three-quarter view

With all of those drawbacks, the Civic Natural Gas is still the most expensive Civic. At $27,065, it tops the Civic Hybrid ($24,200) and the Civic HF ($19,605).

That explains why Honda is willing to give away $3,000 worth of free fuel to just to get these cars out of its showrooms. A natural gas powertrain might appeal to certain buyers, but it just isn’t practical for the majority of the population.

If you decide that the Civic Natural Gas is for you, it may be difficult to find one. The Civic may be one of Honda’s most popular models, but this version is only available at 199 dealers in 36 states. To claim their $3,000 gas card, buyers need to purchase a car before January 2, 2013.