By Paula MacPherson
I really like the two-tier instrument panel that Honda used in the Civic HF and Civic Natural Gas.The speedometer, fuel gauge, and fuel economy indicators are all at the top of the instrument panel and positioned away from the driver at the base of the steeply banked windshield. This makes these readouts easy to see without taking your eyes off the road. The tachometer, which to me seems less useful in cars with an automatic transmission, is lower and closer.
The radio in cars without the optional navigation system is unique, but easy to operate. In cars with the optional navigation system that was on our Natural Gas model, some audio functions require use of the touch screen panel, which can be distracting.
I thought the HF performance was lively; the Natural Gas seemed just OK. Both cars had an unusual steering feel.
Each model also had an Eco Mode that could be accessed with the simple push of a button. It changes the way the transmission shifts, the feel of the accelerator pedal and how the air conditioning works, all in the interest of better fuel economy. That, and the changing color lights on either side of the speedometer, served as a constant reminder to drive more efficiently.
I found these Civics comfortable and am not bothered by the hard plastic surfaces that dominate the interior. The seats are good for shorter and taller drivers. Both cars had manual seat height adjustments for the driver that were easy to use. The steering wheel was also adjustable for height and the distance from the driver.
There are two problems with the Civic Natural Gas: There aren’t that many stations where you can refuel and half the trunk is devoted to the fuel tank. I could barely squeeze in a week’s worth of groceries.
These Hondas proved to be fun to drive on the open road. They didn’t have a lot of extra power, but the handling was very responsive. Making each trip even more fun was the knowledge that few non-hybrids equal these cars’ real-world fuel economy.