Used Honda S2000 review: 1999-2002
January 28, 2009
To rip off an old oil ad “sports cars ain’t sports cars”. Mazda rekindled interest in sports cars when it released the MX5 in 1989, to which other auto makers responded with a number of sports car models that might appear on the surface to be similar, but to assume all sports cars are the same just because they might have two doors and a soft top is a mistake.
In the old days you could safely assume that an MG, a Triumph or an Austin-Healey were all pretty similar, but not now as most modern sports cars have quite different characters. Some are comfy cruisers; others have a hard performance edge, while others attempt to satisfy all needs with a bit of both.
It’s important to understand your own needs and desires before leaping into a soft top. If you want a car that will impress your friends when you pull up outside the local coffee shop, you might be better off with a convertible, or a sports car with a softer side like an MX5 or four-cylinder BMW Z3.
If you want a car that will deliver a spirited ride with lots of zip when you open the throttle on a winding country road, one that will blow away the cobwebs after a dreary week stuck in town traffic, think about the Honda S2000.
Honda prides itself on its participation in motorsport, particularly Formula One where it has been a major player since the 1960s when it had its own Grand Prix team. In recent years Honda has concentrated on supplying engines to teams like Lotus, McLaren and lately the BAR outfit, and the results are there for everyone to see.
The lessons learnt by its engineers in the heat of battle have filtered down to its road cars, with the S2000 a particular beneficiary.
The result is a high performance roadster that offers thrill-a-minute driving if you care to test its limits, while still coping with the day-to-day grind that is the reality of city traffic in the noughties.
Honda wasn’t a newcomer to sports cars when it launched the S2000 in 1999; the company had built a series of technically advanced small roadsters in the 1960s, but hadn’t produced a sports car for many years.
Its background in motorsport, and its past history as a sports car maker, meant it couldn’t resist the chance of getting back into sports cars when the opportunity presented itself in the 1990s.
Mazda’s MX5 paved the way for a whole new generation of sports cars as carmakers realised that the demand for open cars had been revived.
Like its 1960s S-prefixed forebears the S2000 was a technically advanced sports car with a real performance edge to it that marked it out as a car for drivers who really enjoyed the thrill of driving.
Honda made no apologies about appealing to the sports car purist. Anyone more interested in cruising need not bother with the S2000, this was a car meant for the enthusiast driver.
The S2000’s styling was aggressive, a tough in-your-face snout with hard lines and a stubby tail made for a no-nonsense package that oozed on-road aggression.
The two-seater body was strong and rigid, forming the perfect platform for a car that promised fast response and precise handling.
The VTEC engine simply bristled with technology. It was 2.0 litres, had fuel injection, double overhead camshafts driving four valves per cylinder, and Honda’s variable valve timing system which boosted the bottom end while at the same time allowing it to rev hard and high at the top end.
The end result was a massive 174 kW at 8300 rpm, with peak torque coming in at 208 Nm at 7500 rpm. Although the torque curve was relatively flat, the power curve was very peaky, and that meant there was lots of work to be done by the driver to extract the performance.
Mated to a slick shifting six-speed manual, the Honda S2000 worked best when revved hard through the rev range in each gear. It happily revved to the upper limits of its rev range and 9000 revs wasn’t a problem.
While it was great at the top end, the peaky nature of the engine made it awkward to get away from the line. Spinning the rear wheels, if you could get them to break away before the clutch slipped, was the best way to get it moving quickly.
With such high performance on tap the chassis also had to be capable, and the S2000’s certainly was. With proper double wishbone independent suspension at each corner, electric power steering, disc brakes all round with ABS, and a torque sensing differential, the S2000 was very responsive, and well balanced when pushed into corners.
The downside, if there was one, was that it might well be too sharp for anyone who preferred to cruise. The ride was also harsh, which would surely put some people off.
Inside the S2000 was a little cramped, the steering wheel couldn’t be adjusted and you sat a little low for comfort, and the ‘Disneyland’ style digital instrumentation was cute, but a little dated.
Even so there was plenty of standard equipment, with leather trim, full sports instrumentation, a quirky starter button, air-conditioning, CD stacker, and dual airbags included on a long features list.
IN THE SHOP
It’s important with Hondas to make sure they have been serviced according to the company’s recommended schedule. When serviced properly they give little trouble, but watch out for cars that have been neglected.
Always ask for a service record, and follow it up with the people who have done the work. It’s also worth pulling out the dipstick and taking a look at the oil. If it’s clean and transparent there’s every chance it’s been changed, if it’s dark and thick it almost certainly hasn’t been changed. That’s a good time to walk away.
Old oil tends to develop sludge, which clogs up the passageways that are vital to getting the oil to the points that need lubricating. Blockages cut the flow of oil and the lubrication of vital engine parts as a consequence.
Honda engines, with their tight tolerances, and high performance need to be well maintained to deliver long life and their best performance.
Look for external signs of a hard life. It could be bumps and scrapes on the body extremities, scarred alloy wheels, mysterious holes in the bodywork that might have been used to mount a roll cage.
When driving check for clutch slip, on take off and under hard acceleration in the intermediate gears. The S2000 could be tricky to get moving quickly, and inexperienced drivers could easily slip the clutch trying for a fast getaway.
Well looked after, however, the S2000 is a car that will give plenty of thrills and little trouble.
• good build quality
• impeccable reliability if properly serviced
• spirited performance from high tech engine
• responsive chassis with lots of poise
• good resale value
• fully equipped
• cramped interior
THE BOTTOM LINE
One for the sports car aficionado with a great chassis and engine, but not one for the faint hearted.