2001 Honda S2000 review

What should a roadster truly be? Goodness knows that many variations have come and gone. Some have worked better than others, of course. Anyone remember the Geo Metro drop-top? At the other end of the spectrum, a Ferrari 250GT Spider will make your heart race by just feasting your eyes on it. Fortunately for the enthusiast of more modest means, you don’t necessarily have to write Ferrari sized checks to have a sports car experience in a roadster body. One that you should most definitely consider is the one reviewed here – the Honda S2000.

The S2000 was launched in conjunction with the celebration of Honda’s 50th anniversary. And what a way to commemorate that event. Despite its relatively modest sticker price (it’s hovered in the mid $30k’s ever since its launch in the 2000 model year) the S2000 is handbuilt in Japan. The only other recent Honda to earn that distinction is the currently defunct Acura NSX. Honda built it properly with a 9000 RPM engine (2.0L VTEC four banger putting 240hp to the rear wheels) controlled with a 6 speed manual. Torque was low, though, and this was improved in later models at the cost of several hundred RPM in the upper ranges. The suspension was a double wishbone setup all the way around, and the handling was also assisted by a limited slip differential. Honda balanced the S2000 perfectly with a weight distribution of 50:50.

Slip inside and the S2000 definitely screams drivers’ car. Pedal placement is perfect. The transmission moves from gear to gear with the slightest flick of your wrist. If there was ever a more perfect transmission produced, show me. This is the way all other transmissions should be judged – and will be judged in my reviews. Seats hug you in all the right places. Space is good for all but the tallest. The engine is brought to life with a big red start button. Climate controls hardly require you to remove your hand from the steering wheel. The radio is even hidden behind a flip panel in the dash. Honda really wants you to focus on driving this thing. The dash is a mixture of digital displays. The speedometer is in idiot-proof LED numbers. No more excuses to say “How fast was I going officer?” The tach stretches almost from one end of the gauge cluster to the other – which seems appropriate for one that reads to over 9000 RPM out of necessity. Of course a roadster needs to be reviewed with the top down. It’s a simple matter in the S2000 – the top folds away with power assistance.

Move the S2000 down the road and it becomes obvious that this car requires your full concentration when piloting it. The suspension is hard. Not rock hard, but it commands your attention. The stiff springs show off too just how well screwed together the S2000 is; little to no flexing was experienced on Michigan’s blown up roads. Road feel is phenomenal. There’s no question in your mind as to what is happening to the chassis as it transverses the streets. If a road could talk, the S2000 is the perfect translator. Depending on the condition of the roads around you, this can be a good or a bad thing. Turn-in is quick, and stopping is strong, straight, and true. This is a wonderfully tuned automobile, and this side of a Lotus Elise, a sports car in the truest sense of the word.

Crank the tach over 6000 RPM with your foot all the way in the pedal, and the S2000 becomes a rocket. Gear ratios are perfectly spaced to ensure that you don’t fall out of the powerband when executing redline shifts. All the controls work together so seamlessly that you feel you can do no wrong. Manipulating the controls seems borderline telepathic. You’ll feel like Michael Schumacher (well, maybe Jenson Button in this case) when flogging this thing; the chassis just oozes confidence and urges you drive. In early models, at the very upper limits, it is possible to snap-oversteer the S2000. In later years the suspension was retuned slightly to reduce that tendency. Maybe it would’ve been better for the owners to invest in some driving courses. In other words, just be sure you know what you’re doing if you feel compelled to explore everything that the S2000 has to offer. Again, it’s made as a sports car should be.

As with all things in life, there are trade-offs. It may not make the best commuting car for starters. I won’t comment on the limited storage space – I mean really, what do you expect? While the engine feels and sounds great between 6000 and 9000 RPM, below that you could easily get the idea that the S2000 could be outrun by a Miata. Low end torque is lacking. As a result, you are constantly high in the rev band. Normal driving will have you between 4k-6k on the tach more often than not. Exciting, sure. Good? Not necessarily. Unless you want to familiarize yourself with clutch changes on a regular basis, you won’t duplicate magazine test numbers. A screaming start at near redline is required to maximize acceleration. You read that right – it’ll take a clutch drop at over 8k RPM to extract its fastest acceleration potential.

Again though, drag racing is not what this car is built for. If a Mustang could be thought of as a steak knife then the S2000 is a scalpel – a light and delicate tool for carving up the road in a precise manner. It’s a roadster for all the right reasons. It’s fast when on boil, it’s meant to drive, it feels great, and has some of the best road feel ever put into a car. Unfortunately public roads just do not do this car justice. Driving it on normal roads is to waste its talent. You need an open track to really make full use of the S2000’s capabilities. The same can be said of so many exotic cars too, but the S2000 really argues this point. Due to the peaky nature of the engine, it begs to be driven and revved hard at every opportunity, and again the only place to really make use of that is on a track.

As fantastic as the S2000 is, if you’ll mainly be using it on real roads, I would advise to look elsewhere for your kicks. The engineering is certainly amazing and the novelty of driving a truly handbuilt, laser-focused car can only be duplicated by spending exotic car levels of money. When testing the limits it can make BMW Z and Boxster owners question whether or not they overspent on their rides. But everything needs a proper environment in which to thrive. Humans can technically live underwater, but it doesn’t mean that they should. Using the same logic, the S2000 shouldn’t be subjected to real world roads. Real roads just don’t let you truly experience what this car was made for. It was born and bred on a racetrack, and that’s exactly where it needs to stay.

Photos property of Honda

1 comment:

Lee Douglas said...

I have owned a new formula red Honda s2000 since 2007. I agree with everything the writer has to say, except for one point. I have used the car as my daily driver, along with my 2008 STi for several years, and as a summer fun commuter car you just can't beat it. Gas mileage is good, it is extremely reliable, the top drops in about 10 seconds, it's easy to park, the front end is high enough to miss reasonable parking curbs, the trunk has plenty of space, etc. etc. This car is NOT just a track car. It was engineered to perform on the track, and on the street. Now I just need to get my pennies saved up for my next toy: Ferrari F355.

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