If you accept the idea that a car can have two personalities, then you can be cheered by the fact that your Honda S2000 will always have a garage mate. Cruise conservatively and you may as well be driving a Miata, albeit the world’s roughest riding and loudest MX-5. Find a twisty back road and wind the overachieving 4-banger to 6,000 rpm when the Flux Capacitor kicks in and you are hanging onto a snarling, world-class sports car.
We are reviewing the bone-stock 2008 S2000 that I bought in June, now with 28,500 miles on its clock. Mine is an “AP2” model, essentially the second generation version which was sold between 2004 and 2009. It differs from the original 2000 to 2003 “AP1” model due to its larger engine with its redline lowered to “only” 8,000 rpm, more low-end torque and suspension tweaks making the car less tail-happy. (Hondas claims over 2,000 improvements were made in the AP2. Why does every car company use that same number when they upgrade a model?) Traction control was also added in 2006.
Every other review of the lightweight 237 horsepower two-seater can be summed up in one sentence: “The S2000 has the greatest gearbox ever, boasts precise handling and an ultra-high revving VTEC motor, has a cramped interior and a terrible ride, is Honda-reliable, and ‘I want one NOW!'” Suffice it to say that you are already aware of all that. Let’s talk about some things you don’t know about owning the little Honda.
Do Not Fear The Clutch Delay Valve
I test drove my S2000 during a rare Arizona rainstorm on urban streets, mainly to find out if my long legs would fit which they did thanks to the car’s generous 44.3 inches of legroom. I thus did not really wring out my roadster. On the 400 mile trip home the next day, I noticed when shifting at full throttle at revs in the VTEC range above 6,000 rpm, the clutch would not fully engage for a couple of seconds. I was disturbed to say the least – was my new yellow car a lemon with a slipping clutch?
A quick trip to S2Ki, the all-knowing S2000 owner’s forum, revealed numerous posts about this problem. It turns out that many AP1 owners were a little too enthusiastic in their speed shifting and were shredding their Torsen differentials and gearboxes at an alarming rate. (Honda deemed those cases “owner abuse” and thus maintained the car’s impeccable quality ratings.) In response, Honda added a clutch delay valve (CDV) in the upgraded AP2 model in 2004. As I am not a mechanical engineer, allow me to explain its function by quoting from this great article:
So what does the CDV do exactly? In short, it regulates the flow of clutch fluid in one direction through the slave cylinder, so you can disengage the clutch quickly but it will always re-engage at an engineered pace – quick enough not to be noticed or cause significant clutch slip, slow enough to prevent shock damage to parts of the drivetrain like the differential. The effect the CDV has on everyday driving is minimal but noticeable, and can be described as putting a piece of velvet between a hammer and nail. It softens the feel of the blow while still allowing enough power to get the job done
As an owner, the remedy to no-slip shifting is to either remove the device or slow down your shift and clutch action by a nano-second. I have done the latter and now nail 95% of my shifts. Let’s just say I was relieved to learn about the clutch delay valve.
Funniest Owner’s Manual Line
Alas, the manual appears to have been written by an American thus there are no humorous “lost in translation” moments. However, check out this directive that may be difficult for S2000 owners to follow: “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Transport Canada recommend that children aged 12 and under be properly restrained in a back seat.”
Stuck In Neutral Cornering
Since this is not an American Honda press car does that mean I treat it gentler than the average auto writer would? You bet it does. Case in point were my first runs on the local mountain roads. I have never gone faster in any other car on these highways and with absolutely no drama: no body roll, no oversteer or understeer, the car flat goes where you point it – at least at that speed I was traveling.
I obviously have not reached the car’s handling limits, but looping it going up Palomar Mountain with its blind curves and two-wheel knee-draggers passing over the double-yellow line would not be a good idea. I plan to hit a track day or autocross where I will take the S2000 to the edge. This is easily the best cornering car I have ever owned and I want to learn its capabilities in a safe environment.
I don’t think the S2000 “understeers at the limit” but I plan to write that in the next installment just to annoy our Editor pro tempore as he hates that hackneyed auto writer line even more than he hates the S2000. (By the way, San Diego has the best Shrimp pro tempore anywhere.)
I Now Understand Cordless Radar Detectors
I have no issue with most of the car’s odd ergonomics that others have pointed out. (For example: why do you have to turn the key AND push the start button?) I was however not pleased that the lighter/power outlet was by my right elbow, thus my radar detector’s cord was dangling over the gear shift lever on the 400 mile drive home from the dealer. My solution was to buy a cordless Passport Solo X3, which has proven to be as much of a ticket-avoider as my corded Passport 8500 X50. The battery life is good plus it will be easier to pack so I can use it in rental cars.
Despite The Color, I Am Still Invisible
This will come as no surprise to S2000, Miata and Bugeye Sprite owners: when you drive a small convertible, other motorists will look right at you and then pull right out in front of you, my blinding Rio Yellow Pearl patina not withstanding. I was once almost punted into the ice plant by a Lexus LX 570. I have always driven with the attitude that every other motorist was blind, but being an S2000 owner means my driving senses are now set at DEFCON 1.
Join The Cult
When you acquire an S2000 there are two rules you must follow: 1. Wave to other S2000 drivers. The Return Wave Factor has been near 100% so far. 2. Join the S2Ki Forum.
This S2000 owner’s board has 124,000 members, contains literally millions of posts and has more pop-ups than “Wac-A-Mole.” I particularly like the
Get-Off-My-Lawn Vintage Owner’s section. The forum taught me that I need to install seat locks to prevent my $4000-a-pair leather seats from being stolen and winding up in a purple fart-can Civic or Integra. I was pleased to learn that my car is 1 of only 122 Rio Yellow Pearl 2008 S2000s produced for the US.
The S2000 has been out of production for four years but the accolades keep pouring in. It appears that auto journos have realized that a sports car so extreme and single-minded might never be duplicated again. A few weeks ago our friends at Japlopnik named it a “Future Classic.” Earlier this year msn autos named the s2000 a Used Car Steal and the website Everyday Drivers compared an 80,000-mile S2000 against a new Scion FR-S and a Mazda RX-8 and the Honda came out on top. The capper was that the S2000 was recently named One Of The 100 Most Attractive Cars Of All Time by those official experts on auto styling, Popular Mechanics.
Buying An S2000
The great pub is probably why S2000 prices are stable-to-rising. Auction giant Manheim projects that the car’s wholesale value will be unchanged one year from now.
There are 519 S2000s for sale today on autotrader.com, with an average asking price of $18,038. (It goes without saying that if you want a trashed or over-modded s2000, shop at craigslist.) If you desire a rare 2009 model (654 produced for the US, 0 on autotrader today) or a 2008/2009 Club Racer edition (699 produced for the US, 2 on autotrader today), you will pay upwards of $30,000, not too bad a return on investment for the sellers considering the original MSRPs were between $34,000 and $36,000. (I paid $24,600 for my babied 2008.)
There are a surprising number of the screaming 9000 rpm-redline 2000 to 2003 AP1 models available with under 20,000 miles, indicating some owners treated them like exotics but you will pay around $20,000 for them. I think finding an unmodified 2004 or 2005 AP2 with 50,000 to 70,000 miles and all the books and records in the mid-to-high teens price range is a good way to go.
There are plenty of nice S2000s for sale but you will likely have to travel to find what you want. There are no consistent mechanical problems reported with the S2000, no surprise due to Honda’s reputation for reliability.
It has been 15 years since my last Honda and it was a nice bonus to discover that my S2000 has the same perfect body gaps and lack of rattles like my previous Hondas. I keep forgetting I that bought a used car because it literally drives like a new one.
In the end, the S2000 is the finest and most fun sports car I have ever owned. It bests my beloved 1994 Mazda RX-7, if only for the fact that I started having my mail forwarded to my Mazda dealer as I was spending so much time there. I sold the RX-7 after a year but I will be keeping the S2000 for a long time unless, by some miracle, a car company comes along with something better in this price range. The S2000 may have multiple personalities but it stands alone.
Buy it for the transmission alone
A race car for the road
Weak sound system
Every ricer wants to race you