Honda S2000 Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
honda s2000 review

Naming a sports car an "S2000" was not an auspicious start for Honda's open-top pocket rocket. It probably sounded way cool at the time, but it's SO four years ago. And yet the little roadster still has its supporters. Earlier this year, Car and Driver magazine included the Honda in their "10 Best Cars", calling it "pure and involving". Me, I call it old and aggravating.

To be sure, the S2000 looks the biz. While I preferred the original car's angular front, Honda's designers nailed the basic shape. It's aggressive, in an elegantly restrained sort of way. In the right color, in the right light, the S2000 sings a siren song to lure even the most Euro-centric enthusiast into its cabin. And then… Cue the Psycho shower scene violins. My God, is the S2000's cockpit a nasty place to spend your time. I'm not against– nor a stranger to– cheap and cheerful car interiors. The S2000 is neither. Admission starts at $32k, and the cockpit is an ergonomic and aesthetic disaster zone.

The S2000's cabin is small in every conceivable direction. Pop the top and you trade one problem for another; the metal roof catches rattle incessantly, just inches behind your head. That's after you press the starter button– on a four-cylinder engine? If only the rest of the switchgear lived up to the supercar pretensions. The S2000's rotary dials and cheap plastic switches wouldn't seem out of place in a '78 Toyota Corolla.

The sound system is particularly lame. Buyers intent on stunting and flossing, or determined to listen to a CD at highway speeds, will note that the S2000's four-speaker ICE has all the fidelity and bass response of a shower radio. Sensibly enough, Honda decided to hide the head unit behind a piece of metal effect plastic (a substance about as convincing as wood-grained polymer). Why they decided to mount a duplicate set of audio controls on the dash is anybody's guess– unless most Honda drivers are left-handed.

OK, so, here's the perceived wisdom on the S2000: its motorcycle-derived VTEC (Valve Timing and lift Electronic Control) technology creates a dual personality two-seater. Keep the revs low, and you can trundle around town like a myopic Accord driver. Blast the 2157cc engine to its 8000rpms redline, and look out Dale Earnhardt Jr., here I come! The Honda's zero to sixty sprint time of 5.4 seconds seems to confirm the theory.

The reality is more complex. It's certainly true that there's not a lot going on below 3000rpms. In fact, there's nothing going on below 3000rpms. If you don't mind driving down the mean streets of your local metropolis in an accelerative dead zone, then fine, it's a wonderful city car. On the other hand, there's a brief bit of well-mannered urge sheltering between 3 – 5000rpms. Keep the S2000's engine on the boil in that narrow power band and you can make perfectly placid progress, with a pleasant oomph aftertaste.

Above 5000rpms, well, that's a different story. I suppose the general idea is to hang on until 5850rpms, when the high-lift long duration cams come on song, then cane it to the 8000rpm redline. Two problems. One, the S2000's engine note lacks character, texture or tonality. And what it lacks it aural appeal, it makes up for with sheer volume. I reckon only a stone deaf driver could withstand the brutal din coming from the S2000's engine at full chat. North Korea uses less effective torture devices. Two, we're not talking about a nitrous-injection power boost. The additional hearing damage yields roughly 10% more go. So why bother? Shift at five and change and you're straight back into the meat of the powerband. Excluding a reverse gear that likes to play hide-and-seek, the S2000's six-speed gearbox offers nothing but quick slick shifts. So you can continue forward thrust without delay or diminution or waking every baby within two miles of your dual exhausts.

Anyway, no matter how you generate your speed, the S2000 rewards your efforts. The RWD roadster is 'front mid-engined' with a compact double wishbone suspension and 16" Bridgestones. It corners with minimal body roll, prodigious grip and tremendous feedback. Aided by an electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system, the S2000 slices through corners with consummate ease, flick flacking like a sports bike. The previous model's tendency to swap ends in extreme situations has been replaced with at-the-limit understeer. Which is just as well, considering how easy it is to approach those limits.

If Honda upgraded the S2000's cabin and sonically tuned the engine, the Nipponese convertible would be an irresistible alternative to its newer, fresher challengers. As it is, the S2000 is a great car that constantly screams for forgiveness.

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  • Fdesalvo Fdesalvo on Jul 25, 2011

    The author of this review is suffering from a severe lack of perspective and attention to detail. Any person who can afford the admission price of an S2000 can well afford to purchase a mildly used Boxter or Z4. Have you ever been inside one of these cars? Both are plagued by poorly designed interiors with illogically arrayed and practically illegible instrumentation and controls. Panels join at strange angles and the different materials used throughout don’t play nice. The rubberized plastic bits coating the armrests and other interior components will quickly wear off, exposing the black plastic base materials. Want to adjust the climate controls in your Z4 or Boxter? Well, all you have to do is reach way over the mile-wide plastic pasture of cheap dash material while keeping your eyes on the road - and have fun trying to figure out what the various symbology means on the flimsy dials and buttons. Looks like you will need an archaeologist to help you figure out how to distinguish the defroster from the AC. Everything electronically adjustable in the S2000 falls to the fingertip without removing your hands from the wheel or eyes from the road. The interior was thoughtfully designed around the driver and his/her needs, providing a distraction free environment. The S2000 was built for the track, but marketed to the everyday driver. It is a stripped down, take no prisoners, bonafide beast of the road that has somehow made it’s way into the driveways, carports, and garages of average Joes and Janes everywhere. If you intend on keeping your Porsche or BMW in top operating condition, expect these maintenance whores to nickel and dime you to death. Both are notorious for cheap and expensive plastic engine and peripheral components. Do you like performing your own maintenance on your Boxter? Have fun accessing anything on the engine. Around 60K, expect to replace your failing radiator, plastic water pump impeller, and the various bits of trim that will start falling off of your car (hello, BMW). Also, get used to the smell of coolant and oil evaporating off of your engine block, as these glorious aromas combine with the smell of hardened leather as you open the door and the hot under hood air come wafting into your interior. When these Euros are running properly, they are loads of fun, but for the driver who doesn’t have other vehicles to rely on while their cars are being repaired, the reliable and potent Honda S2000, in either generation will prove to be easily livable on road or track. These truly are venerable marvels of engineering, which are daily-drivable, but not without consequence! If you wish to be insulated from the outside world, encapsulated in your own feedback free bubble, then by all means bypass the Honda. If you feel as though the sounds of the motor, transmission, and road should be kept outside of the vehicle, turn your back and run to your nearest BMW or Lexus dealership. If you feel your interior shouldn’t wrap itself around you and immerse you in the driving experience, cast your eyes away! If you feel as thought you should be distracted by extraneous devices while driving, there are other options! FINALLY, if you feel as thought you need a prancing horse, shield, charging bull, or propeller on your hood to make you feel as though you are driving a sports car, feel free to spend 5Xs the cost for limited gains. I don't mean to come across as bashing the Euro offerings out there, as I feel they are some of the most inspired designs, despite the lack of quality and durability once the concept actually materializes and has to cope with the rigor of everyday driving. I love all sports cars - I just wouldn't want to own the majority of them. With the number of failure free Honda VTEC systems produced numbering in the millions, the S2000 is a smart choice. ~F

  • Rowca Rowca on Dec 31, 2011

    I concur fully with the earlier comments. The reviewer dos not know the S2000, nor understand its concept. The intent of the S2000 is to have a car that can go from show room to track. A car appreciated by those who like to drive a car that requires the driver's attention. It is quick, handles well and with a little RPM the car's VTEC engine will scream and your heart pumps faster. If you want an automatic, heated seats, and a stereo system with 8 plus speakers, or worry about your hair then the S2000 is not for you. The only factory option is the hardtop. The car came in one trim style, until the introduction of the CR, which had less niceties than the basic but with a removable hardtop and no rag top. We have two S2000s in the family and although they are low mileage they have never had a mechanical issue. I've owned the Triumph GT6+, Triumph TR 250, the Datsun 280Z, Porsche 911 SC, and the Saab 900T and none compare to the S2000 package of fun, handling, mileage and low cost upkeep. The Porsche was exhlirating but expensive to maintain. Even at 57 years of age, the S2000 is a blast to drive and I look forward to the experience every day. The NSX is the only car that I would accept as a substitute.

  • Statikboy Those tires are the Wrong Size.
  • Mustangfast I had an 06 V6 and loved that car. 230k trouble free miles until I sold it. I remember they were criticized for being too small vs competitors but as a single guy it was the right size for me. I recall the 2.3 didn’t have a reputation for reliability, unlike the V6 and I4. I think it likely didn’t take off due to the manual-only spec, price tag, and power vs the V6 engine and the way it delivered that power. It was always fun to see the difference between these and normal ones, since these were made in Japan whereas all others were flat rock
  • VoGhost Earth is healing.
  • ToolGuy "Having our 4th baby and decided a camper van is a better use of our resources than my tuner."Seller is in the midst of some interesting life choices.Bonus: Here are the individuals responsible for doing the work on this vehicle.
  • MaintenanceCosts Previous owner playing engineer by randomly substituting a bunch of components, then finding out. No thanks.