Honda S2000 – Wild and Unpredictable, or Just a Pretty Sports Car?
It might seem a funny time to be writing a review on this car, particularly as after 10 years, it stops production in June 2009, but fact is we just didn’t think we could let this pretty little sports car drive off into the sunset, with out at least having our say.
So many cars like to consider themselves to be sports cars, but we all know the true sports car is a 2 seater convertible, with a cloth hood and its engine in front of the driver and its rear wheels doing the pushing, so from that point of view, the Honda S2000 qualifies perfectly as a definitive “sports car”, although some people say its bland and boring, but fact is it’s got a classic body that will still look good in 25 years time and its got that other must have in a sports car, it makes you feel good.
Sports cars come with disadvantages and the Honda S2000 is way up there in providing you all the disadvantages you’ve come to know and love, so before we talk about the way it drives, we are going to look at what you get and how it’s all nailed together.
The S2000 cabin is tiny, and is small even by roadster standards; it’s like being squeezed in “cattle class” on a budget airline, but on the upside, with the roof down, there is plenty of headroom and dropping the electric hood is an easy and quick, although we gave up trying to fit the tonneau cover, as frankly, it just didn’t fit. With the hood up, once you’re hitting the motorway speed limit, pretty much all the noise from outside is inside with you, and we found when using the radio, the faster we got, the more we had to turn the volume up.
With the hood down, as with all roadsters, the S2000 is a different car and we were impressed by how civilised the S2000 was with hardly any wind or buffeting inside the car and it was comfortable and relaxed place to be and as a bonus, when you did push the S2000 with the hood down, the exhaust soundtrack was fantastic. During the time we had the car, we had a couple of heavy down pours and the cars interior remained completely dry but if you are caught out by a shower, you’re not going to get too wet in the 6 seconds it takes for the electric hood to get back in place.
Interior storage is a joke with the only dedicated area being a lockable compartment located in the bulkhead which was just about big enough to carry a pair of sunglasses and maybe a CD or two. Other than that, the doors have very small net compartments that you can’t get anything in, and there is another in the passenger side foot well where if you were a smoker, you might just be able to squeeze in a packet of fags, and this lack of space is not improved at the rear end as the boot is also pretty small and is primarily there to carry the poorly fitting tonneau cover, so be prepared to travel light.
The steering wheel sits low and you can’t adjust it up or down and it’s the same with the leather seats (although they do go back and forward), but basically it’s a ‘one size fits all’ proposition. The cars dash is plasticky, and the switchgear looks old fashioned, and frankly, there is very little space for the controls that are necessary, but then I suppose that doesn’t matter much as you get virtually no toys you need to mess with anyway. There is however, a big red ‘engine start’ button, which seems kind of pointless, as you still have to turn the key in the ignition, before pushing the start button and you ignore it completely when turning the car off. The instrument binnacle is attractive, with computer style graphics on the instruments for revs, temperature and fuel and big red numbers for your speed. Despite everything, it all kind of works and looks like it’s meant to be and it’s all pretty simple and you will grow to like that.
The radio CD, is hidden by a brushed aluminium door, but is a Billy bob basic off the shelf unit, with no trick facilities, but pleasingly for the villains that are out there, it is a standard fit unit, so could always find a buyer down the pub. There is no Bluetooth and there is no Satellite Navigation option either.
So what’s it like on the road, well we were excited about testing this car, as our last S2000 drive was a number of years ago and we were told that there had been some changes to improve its handling and generally make it a nicer thing to live with.
Driving the S2000, the first thing that’s obvious is that it’s not a quick car unless you make it so. Pulling away from the red light, the S2000 is fairly sluggish unless you put your foot through the floor and when you do that, it gets noisier, everything vibrates and the engine sounds manic, as if its about to disintegrate but the car gets quick, mighty quick. Whilst that’s fun, it’s a shame that the car only really comes alive when you thrash it at anything over 5,500rpm as most of the time the excitement is just so far up the rev range, its hard to reach. Driven ordinarily, that’s exactly what the S2000 is, ‘ordinary’, so you kind of have to question if you were right in paying the extra bucks for performance you can’t use. On the up side however, whilst it’s not alive at lower revs, it will pull from as low as 1000 or so revs in sixth gear, although it’s clear its not happy doing it, it will do it.
We can’t criticise the Honda S2000’s engine, it’s a masterpiece, particularly if you can drive it as it’s meant to be used. Most cars have had enough by around 6000rpm, but that’s just where the Honda engine clocks on and starts its days work developing its maximum torque of around 208Nm at over 7,500 revs, but still winds up to 9,000rpm, a point where most ordinary engines would already have blown to bits, but in return for all those revs, the S2000 will do the 0-62 mph in pretty much 6 seconds and run all the way up to 150mph.
The S2000’s close ratio 6 speed gearbox, is superb and it’s difficult to describe, but it feels kind of mechanical and it’s rewarding to use with its very slick short shifts, combined with the S2000’s very light clutch and its marriage to the engine is perfection.
Much has been spoken about the S2000’s handling and whilst yes, it’s been improved since the early cars, when driven aggressively, there is still little warning from the S2000 of the troubles that might be just ahead and that’s why it’s got a reputation for having ‘challenging’ handling. We thought the cars electronic power steering felt a bit artificial and we found the car to be unpredictable and edgy and whilst we liked the challenging nature of that, the S2000 is certainly not a car for the feint hearted.
In more practical terms, the Honda S2000 is like all Honda’s, the build quality is excellent and it’s superbly put together with no rattles, or iffy panel gaps. Everything works as it should and will probably still be working in 20 years time. The components they’ve used compliment each other and in the case of the S2000 many of them were especially developed just for this car, as it’s not just a sports version of an existing Honda model, it’s a purpose built sports car.
So how would we some the S2000 up?
We loved the raw power of this 150mph, 6 second car and its free revving 2.0litre engine, pushing 240bhp through the rear wheels with a redline of 9,000rpm, and bouncing off the limiter in second gear on a twisty country road is just fantastic, but realistically, you cant do the same thing in any other gear, as you’re already going to be breaking the national speed limit.
We loved its bullet precise 6 speed gearbox, we loved its agile and responsive handling and the unpredictably snappy chassis that demanded you stay involved. We loved the sound of the engine and exhaust and found our self searching out roads with walls either side, so we could maximise the experience.
We loved its build quality and we simply adored its gorgeous body, which just got prettier every time we looked at it. We loved its understated styling and we loved the admiring glances from other more informed drivers that knew what we were driving.
So would we buy one?
This market is full of alternatives and the S2000 isn’t a cheap car at around £28,000, so you could be considering things like Alfa’s Spider at £26,000, or perhaps an Audi TT roadster at £24,000 upwards or Nissans 350Z at under £28,000, or even a Lotus Elise at just over £26,000 or perhaps a BMW Z4 at under £29,000 or a Mercedes SLK at £29,000 or if you want to spend a bit more, a Porsche Boxster could be yours for around £34,000.
This shows you just how competitive a market the S2000 sits in, and amongst that company, the name Honda, just doesn’t carry the prestige of names like Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lotus or Porsche and whilst the car itself, the Honda S2000, earns huge respect and is universally recognised as a superb and desirable sports car, which is mega reliable and every inch as good as much of its competition, I do think a combination of its price and its badge, will make arriving at a decision more difficult for many of us as our sensible head is going to be saying S2000, whilst our vanity is going to tell us we should buy a car that’s wearing a posh badge.
A major part of the “real life” costs you’re going to experience with any car you’re going to buy, is made up of how much you’re going to loose on it when you come to sell it, say 3 years down the road and I can tell you, the cars I have listed above, in a 3 year period, covering around 60,000 miles in total, lose between 52% – 70% of their value in that time (depending on which one you pick) and the situation is just as bad when it comes to keeping them repaired and maintained, where again, the disparity is huge, with you’re 3 year 60,000 mile total bill ranging from £1994 to £6500, again depending on the car you choose.
But to make the decision even more complicated, we’ve deliberately not mentioned an alternative that’s a similar looking car to the S2000 and whilst it’s a little slower with a 0-62 of 7.6 and a top speed of 132mph, it develops its power from the first touch of the throttle and pretty much offers a similar driving experience to the S2000 and in the process, does loads more to the gallon and has a lower CO2 and costs a massive £11,000 less and that’s the new generation Mazda MX5.
I guess the question if would we buy one is simple, the Honda S2000 is a powerful rear wheel drive sports car that’s very much a drivers car but frankly, only earns its price tag when you’re on a banzai mission with it, at which time, its superb and were we able to enjoy that experience every day, well we would be getting our cheque book out, preferring the S2000 over most of its competition, but fact is, we found we couldn’t use the cars power, because it was just too far up the rev range and on that basis, for our use, with the Honda S2000, we are effectively looking at a just a very pretty roadster that drive’s quite nicely and as you’ve just seen, you can achieve that for around £11,000 less.
So it’s down to cash, if you can afford it, the Honda S2000, it’s a superb car and you will love it to bits and I will be jealous when I see you driving down the road in it, but if you cant stretch to the £28,000 and you are not a badge snob, well there are alternatives that capture the true spirit of a sports car, for far less money, but you wont get the same looks from people who believe you’re a “driving god” for being able to tame the wild and unpredictable Honda S2000.
If you would like a quotation on the S2000 or on any Honda, please contact us.