By on October 21, 2015

Honda S2000

Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Honda could do no wrong in enthusiasts’ eyes. Nearly everything was a hit. The CRX, Civic, Prelude, NSX and Integra all handled beautifully, taking well to both motorsport and unwise modification.

Near the turn of the century, however, some folks decreed that Honda had lost its way. The double-wishbone suspension was phased out in most cars, replaced by the space-saving, less-expensive McPherson strut. Honda enthusiasts decided that this change fundamentally altered the character of the cars.

As it turns out, Honda had one last round in the chamber.

The S2000 was unlike any other Honda before or since. Not since the very early ’70s had anything from Honda come with an otherwise traditional front engine, rear-drive configuration. Clearly an upscale competitor to the Miata, and perhaps a budget alternative to the Z3, the S2000 quickly found favor among those who wanted plenty of power in a compact, nimble package. Two-hundred-and-forty horsepower out of a 2-liter is remarkable even 15 years later.

This 2003 Honda S2000 at $14,900 seems priced right in the sweet spot. I’ve seen ratty cars for $5,000-8,000, and pristine cars up over $20,000, but for a car that had few major changes over a nine-year model run, never mind the fanbois internet-fighting over the AP1/AP2 differences, generally the best advice is to buy the cleanest car you can afford.

This car is not too far from home. Perhaps I’ll go give it a drive this weekend — assuming I fit. The one and only time I tried to drive an S2000, I had to plant my somewhat-voluminous rear on the side bolsters as I couldn’t slide all the way in. I’ve lost weight in the interim, so I might be able to make this happen. I love the dark grey paint, though I’d prefer to see the red leather interior.

The last few years have been somewhat quiet for fans of new Hondas, as we wait for the new Civic Si and Type-R. Let’s hope they are worth the wait.

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48 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 2003 Honda S2000...”

  • avatar

    A couple of years ago I cross-shopped these with the Mazdaspeed Miata, but I couldn’t bring myself to rationalize the prices compared to early Boxsters. I came pretty close to pulling the trigger on a Boxster, but then found out about the engine failures and Porsche’s response and ended up getting nothing. Now I have kids, so I guess in twenty years or so I will be a stereotype. Hopefully they will still be making the ‘Vette.

    • 0 avatar

      As far as the Boxter is concerned, you can always upgrade the IMS bearings at an indy shop for roughly two grand USD.

      Also, I think some earlier Boxters may have heavier duty IMS bearings, so no prob for them. This is certainly true of the 996’s.

      If the IMS bearing fails (a 10+% probability), the entire engine is toast.

  • avatar

    The S2000 and NS-X were praised for their steering, among other things. It’s interesting that both cars featured early versions of electrically-assisted power steering. Yet, here we are in 2015 and 1 out of 2 new car reviews emit a depressing sigh when it’s time to talk about steering – even on “sporty” cars. EPS is usually blamed.

    • 0 avatar

      The S2000 has incredibly precise and quick steering, but the feedback is simply nowhere near a decent hydraulic unit. Notable was the total lack of an ‘on-center dead spot’ like almost all EPS cars have.

    • 0 avatar

      A lot of early electric racks were electrically-powered hydraulic pumps. I think, but am not sure, that the Mazda RX-8 falls into this territory.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    The S2000 was (and is) a great car, and I am amazed at how well they are holding their value. You’d think with all the similarly-priced alternatives out there packing more HP (370Z, 300hp V6 Mustangs and Camaros, C5 Corvette, Boxster S), the S2000 would come down a little, but no. If you want a nice S2000, you’ve got to pony up.

    NB Miata with FMII turbo, or S2000? Having driven both, that’d be a toughie (not a Tuffy).

  • avatar

    I think I’d want to own one of these someday. They seem so much cooler than the alternatives to me. Not even sure why. Maybe it’s just a matter of reputation.

  • avatar

    “Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Honda could do no wrong in enthusiasts’ eyes.”

    And look how far they’ve come since then! From a toy company to making several of the most popular, practical and highest quality cars on the planet.

    Me so love Honda!

  • avatar

    I never got a chance to compare, but is the S2000 smaller than an MX5, both exterior and interior-wise?

    • 0 avatar

      The S2000 is substantially larger than an NA/NB and a little bigger than an NC. An NA/NB looks like a toy car next to it.

      Interior-wise, it “feels” a lot more cramped because of the extremely high center console tunnel for the X-Bone chassis. But the incredible rigidity makes it worth it.

    • 0 avatar

      To me the S2000 feels bigger than my NC. To me used S2000s just sell for too much. For the money of a nice, well kept S2000 you can buy a new NC. You also have to break more laws to have the same amount of fun. In the Miata, you can have a giant smile on your face at legal speeds. I chose the Miata for those 2 reasons. I can definitely see myself driving an S2000 in the future if the right one comes along at the right price.

    • 0 avatar

      My perception was that the S2000 has more interior space. You also sit lower than in the NC, which is nice. The top of the windshield is a little too close to eye level for me in the MX-5.

      I’ve also been in the MR-S/MR2 Spyder, and I’m amazed that anyone 6 foot or taller can fit comfortably in it. Maybe I was missing a seat height adjuster, but I could find no position where the bottom of the steering wheel wasn’t jammed into my legs.

      • 0 avatar

        I owned an NA Miata and I considered an S2000 back in the day. I’m 6’2″, with long arms and legs, and I could get comfortable in the Miata but not the S2000.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve owned an AP1, currently in an AP2, and have been in my fair share of Miatas, considering them as a replacement if I couldn’t find another good S2k in my price range when I totaled my first one.

        The S2000 has “more” interior space but it does a lot less with it. Taller and girthier people are going to have problems with both cars, but the miata in all iterations gives you more usable storage space and creature comforts, including:

        – A radio with usable buttons that you can see (though I like my dash controller)
        – Functional cupholders that don’t interfere with shifting or spill your drink backward with acceleration
        – A glovebox you can reach without gymnastics

        The one thing the S2000 really has going for it is a cavernous trunk for a roadster. I can fight a carry-on and my golf bag in the trunk, try that with a Miata.

        Plus, double wishbones and VTEC kicked in yo.

  • avatar

    @Zackman, eyeballing it S2000 is bigger on the outside, Miata somehow doesn’t feel as cramped inside.

    These look better to me on paper than they work out in real life. Fidgity ride, none/nada/zero interior room, the engine is an engineering tour de force and has (IIRC) 240 HP back when that was M3 power but is way down on torque, you have to wring its neck to feel like you’re going anywhere. It’ll slap a Miata silly most any timed exercise, but lacks all of the Miata’s joy and verve. I do like the exterior styling. There are more fun cars, more capable and yet more cost-effective track toys. I wanted a Miata the minute I saw one, I’ve never wanted one of these.

    • 0 avatar

      I worked for a car lot one summer and we had an S2000 in. a dull slow car if you had to drive it normally, but balls of fun if you wrung its neck out, and listening to that engine at 9,000 rpm was just awesome.

      The Miata is much more livable but doesn’t accomodate my 6’2″ frame very well ( the bump in the top is my head) It’s also more fun to drive in traffic than the Honda was.

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks to all. We owned a 2007 MX5 from 2010-2012, but decided to simplify a bit, so we sold it and just have two cars.

        The MX5 is right across the street, so I can look at it anytime. It was a ball to drive, I must admit!

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        One comparison I remember:

        From 0 to 3000 rpm, it’s like a Civic.
        From 3 to 6000 rpm, it’s like a Prelude.
        From 6 to 9000 rpm, it’s like a Ferrari.

    • 0 avatar

      For the dudes who have genuinely tried out an S2000 cockpit, are too tall or too broad of stern but who really appreciate roadsters, you have my honest sympathy. For the handful that really believe they’ll wait until the price of a S2000 in unabused condition drops, I thought the same about the Toyota 2000GT and Gullwing. So the 2000GT that was $7K and never dropped in value and the Gullwing that went for as little as $5k in 1970 are both $1.5M cars now. They’re no longer just expensive, they’re totally out of financial reach for my probable future. I say, stop deluding yourselves if you ever expect to own a nice one. I was in a Honda showroom maybe two years ago, when I eyed a pristine 2009 S2000 in the middle. I was helping a relative buy a Civic, but I asked our salesman how much they were asking for the S2000. He said it was sold, and the buyer was coming up to NE from Kentucky to drive it home. He said it sold for $30K, what the dealership was asking. As for Miata, I’ve nothing bad to post about them, that’s what I was driving before finding an S2000. For me, the Miata holds one edge over S2000, and that is the comfort for the passenger-not much more spacious seating, but substantially softer suspension. Buying an S2000 is like buying yourself new winter gloves. no one else but you should be part of the buying decision.

  • avatar

    I think the best analogy I’ve seen for a s2000 is to think of it as a 600cc sportsbike. Keep it in the right rev range and work it hard it is marvelous, alas when you are not doing that it is a bit of a chore. As a weekend mountain road chaser though, you’ll enjoy it without feeling the need to hit triple digits every few minutes. And the engine sound is very nice. Try to buy one from the 60 year old guy though.

  • avatar

    IDK. I had a buddy with one of these and I just couldn’t get into it. To be fair, we were in NYC, which is hardly this thing’s playground… which is kind of the point. Around town, the engine was pretty wheezy on the slow cam. My H22A swapped Accord was much stronger on the low end and in the midrange. Even on the big cam, it was quick, but it didn’t feel like 240 HP. No surge…. just a steady gentle push.

    Maybe I was just too young to appreciate it. But it was a bewildering experience. Expectations were definitely not met. For driving on the street I enjoyed my 350Z a lot more, though it too wasn’t without flaws. A sports car that could combine the Z’s shove with the S2000’s balance would be just about perfect.

  • avatar

    About 5-6 years ago I was cross-shopping the s2000 and Miata as I was looking to get a car for a honeymoon roadtrip. I really loved the classic looks of the s2000, but I just couldn’t really get into it always having to be in a crazy-high rev range for it to have power. That and the rearward visibility is zero with the top up.

    In the end, I just realized I wasn’t really a convertible guy, and bought neither. Instead I bought a nice practical hatchback from Porsche.

    I still love the look of the s2000 though.

  • avatar

    I own a MY2007 with only about 46k miles on it. Bought it in May 2011. I used to (and still do) go through cars often just because I want something different. But I will never sell this car. These days, it’s usually in the garage because I have a daily driver and a family, but those chances I get to take it out is always a blast.

    I can confirm that the steering is very accurate, but it does completely lack any feel. Doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the car, though. The looks (especially for the AP2) still hold up well to this day and turns head even though my car is completely stock. I’ve always had the desire to modify it but for some reason I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it.

    It’s tedious sometimes and uneventful in normal driving, but when you wring this thing out, it some of the best times you’ll have behind the wheel. Can’t recommend this car enough.

  • avatar

    I owned one for 4 years and had to get rid of it due to having two kids. My 2011 TL 6MT is literally better in every way…except for the smile it can put on my face. The S2000 is cramped, loud, uncomfortable, only just ‘quick’ by today’s standards, has a terrible stereo, has temperamental handling, and is an awful choice for cruising down the interstate (think 4000RPM at 75MPH)…Unless I was prepared to accelerate quickly from a stop light even a Corolla with a torque converter could challenge me…but I miss it almost every day. The key is to drive it like you hate it, and then it’s one of the most rewarding cars you can drive. I’ve driven a lot of very fast and very good handling cars, but rarely anything as raw and purely exciting as an S2000. It’s a very difficult car to drive above 7/10 on public roads, but there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had when you do. Think coming out of a tight corner accelerating above 6000RPM with the tail slightly sideways, and then banging off a perfect 1-2 shift at 9000RPM. There’s not a lot of comparable experiences with a four wheeled vehicle…it is a very unique car.

    Not fast enough? Bolt on plug-and-play supercharger kits are relatively cheap and very reliable:

    I bought mine in 2010, 74k miles for $12,500. I sold it last October with a total of 107k miles…I had put a new cloth soft top on and replaced the entire clutch setup due to a warped flywheel, so around $800 invested…the price I got for it was $12,500. Gotta love a residual value of 100% on a used car purchase. A used S2000 is an incredible value if kept clean and unmodified as it will retain almost all of its value, just look at the prices for excellent condition examples. Insurance was actually cheaper for me (29y/o, zero accidents, zero tickets) than my TL is.

    Eventually I will get another. I’d like the 07+ which is a little more tuneable, and I’ve always liked the looks of the AP2 better…but the prices on them right now are just crazy.

    Are there better vehicles? Yes, there are hundreds of better vehicles. I can’t recommend an S2000 to 99.9% of people because it’s only redeeming qualities are its engine, gearbox and chassis…and who really appreciates those qualities above all else besides a hard core enthusiast? There are very few cars that can put a smile on your face as big and for as long.

    This review sums it up better than any other:

    “Sports-car fantasies always have you snugged into a form-fitting cockpit, your hands at 10 and 2, the engine on full boil thrusting the tail wide as you drift through a fast sweeper. Yeah!

    Sports-car fantasies are never about interstate cruising and schlepping your mother-in-law to mah-jongg.

    The Honda S2000 was born to star in those daydreams. It’s a tightly packaged two-seater, spare and smoothly muscled, rather like an Olympic swimmer. Everything about it is taut and athletic and purposeful. You don’t get in; you put it on as you would your best-fitting jeans. There’s plenty of room to move–well, any moves you’d make in the course of driving–but no room for wrinkles. You know how, when jeans fit, everything comes at the right places? The S2000 is like that. The tunnel is the perfect height for a center armrest. The wheel has that just-right, nearly vertical presentation, so you can straight-arm the wheel Stirling Moss-style and still have an easy reach over the top. And the gauges are close behind so parallax never dodges them behind the rim.

    Okay, regulars at big-and-tall shops may be in for disappointment, but the S2000 fits most staffers just right.

    Haring around is not the mandatory driving style in sports cars, but to qualify for the class they must be capable of it. And if you drive this Honda politely, you’ll never know about its other moods. Ride harshness is Boxster level, but the car feels much crisper. Weight is less by 189 pounds, and the controls are sharper. The clutch stroke is succinct. The stubby aluminum shifter travels in microflicks. Precision machinery, that’s the feel.

    And if you keep the yellow graphic arc of the tach below, say, 6000, this Honda plays the sweet little zip-about roadster.

    Above 6000, no more nice little Honda. The VTEC cams switch to HP max, and the sound hardens to combat steel and you’re in the full Formula 1 mode, hell-bent on a grid position at Monte Carlo. Default to fighting reflexes. Lead the arcing yellow as you would a low-flying clay. Don’t wait for it to touch the nine-grand redline; you’ll be into the rev limiter. Pull. Snick! Push. Snick! Pull. Snick!

    Check the mirrors for flashing lights! Whew. How long can you keep living like this?

    This is a scalpel-quick sports car when you keep it boiling, quickest of the bunch around the BeaveRun road course, barely behind the Z4 in acceleration, even though it gives away a full liter of displacement. Think intensity. Think fury.

    Think… could I stand this as an only car?

    For sure, only an extremist would love it as an interstate cruiser. And yet, and yet . . . so much excitement for a fraction of Porsche and BMW prices. Actually, the Honda’s interior details, particularly the leather wheel, look richer than the Porsche’s. The metal-trimmed pedals and footrest fit the racy personality exactly.

    On the dash, to the left of the wheel, you’ll see a substantial red button. It starts the adventure. Ready to drive into your daydream?”

    • 0 avatar

      To me they sound more agonizing than dreamy, not good rush hour cars but Im sure theyre great on a track.

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to post something about this car… After reading your post, I’ve decided it’s all been said. I drove one when I worked in car sales and I’ve loved them ever since. My buddy who owned a zo6 bought one after I told him about it and eventually sold his zo6 but kept his s2000.

      Given the choice between a new mx5 for $30k and a pristine ’07 or ”08 s2000, I’d probably take the s2k. The s2k would probably hold its value better. I drive an ’09 Acura TSX 6MT. The gearbox reminded me of the s2000.

      The new mx5 is the closest thing you can get to the s2000 today. But it has a whopping 155hp. Please don’t tell me that’s more than enough.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s definitely an acquired taste, but if it resonates with you it’s perfection. For me, it just comes with too many caveats…. it is optimized for the track and the twisties; the former of which I never get to go to (and couldn’t stomach taking a car to anyway), and the latter of which I get to a lot, but have to deal with traffic on.

      It’s a shame they didn’t continue to evolve it. I think moving to the V6 (which isn’t much heavier than the F2xC) would have broadened its appeal at zero character (or material) cost. For me the F2xC just demanded too much in return of not a lot.

      • 0 avatar

        Imo the S2000 should’ve gained a V6 and a hardtop, a bit less “enthusiastic” yes, but it works for the Nissan Z line.

        I’ve made do with 112hp in 3000+ cars, I think a 155hp Miata is fine enough. If you want powa go with a V8.

    • 0 avatar

      $12,500 in 2010 is equivalent to $13,570 in 2014. You ate about $2000 in real dollars on the sale, your residual was more like 90% than 100%.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t know what inflation calculator you are quoting but over 4 years it is basically negligible and in light of energy prices in recent history it is non-existent if not deflationary. Dude did alright, why you gotta hate? Shave the neckbeard, take off the fedora, and stop using the word “actually” unless someone “actually” needs to do CPR instead of bust out the defibrillator.

    • 0 avatar

      Best S2000 review ever!

  • avatar

    Neat cars, but like all Hondas they’re no good until you have a 100+ list of mods done, everything from exhaust to mirrors, to the point where its an entirely different car.

    Having a Hondas not enough when you dont have a list to back it up, and a severe case of OCD.

  • avatar

    I’m among the mourners for the old Integers, the S2000 and the rest of them.

    But that $14,900 in ’03 is $19,268.37 in current dollars.

    Always inflation-adjust your dollars. (google “inflation calculator”)

  • avatar

    Still have a poster of one in the garage. One day….

  • avatar

    Also of note: all other Honda engines run backwards. This one spins in the proper direction. I’ve seen several of these drivetrains swapped into interesting LBCs.

  • avatar

    My only gripe against the S2000 is the seats that place you practically on the cabin floor. My 6′ height meant that my thighs were uncomfortably canted, knees-up, with no support. Although I had a little headroom, the car is a terrible ride for taller people.

  • avatar

    I thought Honda cars from the early 70s were front wheel drive as well (the N600 sedan/Z600 Coupe were at least).

    Honda does make RWD vehicles, but they are kei truck/vans sold in Japan. Honda’s first four wheeled vehicle was a RWD truck IIRC.

    I have never had the pleasure of driving an S2000. Given their ability to hold their value as they do, I may never get the chance to own one, but Id sure like to drive one at some point.

    Speaking of the Z600 Coupe, I want one so bad, it could almost be considered an obsession. Gotta be Advacado Green, orange or yellow. I have a bright yellow Z600 Coupe from an old JDM advertisement as my background on my PC, its been that way for several years (although admittedly, I rarely use the PC anymore).

    • 0 avatar

      They built tiny convertible RWD coupes known as Honda S500-800’s, rare cars in any case.

      Years ago my family had an Avacado Green Honda Z600, it had surprisingly little rust but the engine timing was off so shifting was a bit of an issue, it gathered quite the crowd at car shows.

      Aside from usual age issues and small size (even Smarts dwarf these) sourcing parts was a bit of a challenge (even just the tires were a chore to find) so we sold it, this was all before youtube and such.

      It was a good novelty car but aside from great mpg it wasn’t all that endearing, but then again we didnt drive it as much as we should have.

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