2004 Honda S2000

    (3 Reviews)




    MSRP
    $32,800
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    2004 Honda S2000 Expert Review:Autoblog

    s2000 Exterior 

    As Fall weather descended on Chicago in the middle of August a bright yellow Honda S2000 roadster entered the Autoblog Garage. At a time when weather should be in the 90s we're getting highs of 60 and rain. Bummer.



    So far a quick ride with the top down in between showers gave us the best glimpse of the promise of this roadster. With the panoramic views, small windshield and ultra-low ride this is as close to the road as one can get. The suspension is stiff. How stiff? Lets just say every bump gets me that much closer to the dentist chair as my teeth were regularly knocked around on city roads. But that ride stiffness is all worth it when considering how tightly the car handles. 

    Larger 17-inch wheels keep this rear-wheeled beast stuck to the ground and the tiny steering wheel delivers that “sure I could be a race-car driver if I really wanted to” impression. As you wiggle around to get comfortable in the snug seats there is no doubt that the slightly overweight might shy away from the S2000. My rapidly aging, late 20-something frame isn’t all that comfortable in it either. After a 20-minute or so ride my body thanked me for climbing out of the S2000, but my mind was wondering when we’d open it up.



    s2000 Interior 

    After a full day of driving in and out of the city the S2000 is one mean handling roadster. Despite the radar-gun attracting yellow paint job the car is a rather subdued and elegant looking vehicle. Inside the leather is high-quality and brushed aluminum accents add that hint of luxury for a $32,000 car. I'm also wondering why Honda didn't badge this an Acura to sell to their clientele willing to shell out that kind of money.



    The dash, instruments and ergonomics might drive buyers to drink and that’s not good when you have to be in complete control of your faculties while driving the S2000. First let’s address the 1980s electronic gauges. Remember those cars that everyone thought were so futuristic because they had digital and not analog displays? Well the guys at Honda I guess still pine for those days.

    I remember a clunker of an 1989 Ford Probe I drove and its display was as high-tech looking as the Honda’s. Ouch. Then there’s the radio concealed behind an aluminum door. What’s the deal with this? Sure there are dials to the left of the steering wheel for volume and switching from FM to CD but there isn’t anything that tells the driver what station, track or volume setting he’s on when the door is closed. If you leave it open the door rubs against the shifter. This is just odd. The stereo does sound great though.

    The environmental controls are at least easy to figure out and make you wonder why they take up so much space in other cars.

    And last there’s the bright red ignition button. OK that’s pretty cool.



    Honda S2000

    It seems everyone wants me to take this car flying down the open road. The talkback comments are pretty interesting. The S2000 is an enthusiast's car for sure but it offers absolutely zero for the everyday driver. To me the best vehicles are the ones that can combine the two. I still rave about the Mazda RX-8 because it had so much sports-car soul but was still a decent daily driver.

    The S200 is definitely not a daily driver.

    The clutch is a spring-loaded affair that can build muscle. The shifter is also a bit hard to get used to and I found myself missing first a few times which is very unusual for me. The trick seems to be to shift into second then straight up into first before launching. That way you’re confident 1st gear is engaged.

    Revving the S2000 is also an interesting exercise. Others have mentioned that you have to get to 5500 to get the real feel for the power. At around 4000 the car is screaming, literally, for a shift even though the redline is way up at 8000. Anytime I tried to get it up that high I was afraid the engine would blow. And by then I realized I was flying down the street too fast as it was. 

    Another oddity is that this roadster’s rear wheels like to fly out during semi-aggressive and even casual turning. I am not a fan of rear-wheel cars that do this with any regularity but for some reason the S2000 is easier to control when fish-tailing than others I’ve tested. It’s that pinpoint control and handling that is the true beauty of this vehicle. But beyond the glimpses of superb performance the aches the body will endure may not be worth it. I’d love to race this thing though.

    S2000 Front

    On the last day with the S2000 I decided to shed my critical gloves and put on a pair of rose colored ones. It seems I've been looking down on this car, so this morning I left for work early, took a longer, more open route and threw out the journalist conventions for the enthusiast attitude I've been told I lack.

    The S2000 is much better this way.

    Flying down empty Chicago streets is a high velocity thrill and the ones I chose were generally free of pot holes, bumps etc. With the stereo playing and the wind rushing by it was fun. I didn’t even notice any back problems getting out when I hit the parking lot. Another thing dawned on me. I have finally gotten adjusted to the transmission. It’s not an easy one or as silky as others but it isn’t an unmanageable mess like the GTO’s either. The clutch still needs some extra pressure but it seems I’ve grown a tolerance to that too after a full week of driving.

    Cornering and handling as I’ve said all along are where the car shines. I’m still getting that drift in the back but it’s very manageable. Even high revs were enjoyable but I haven’t gotten used to the engine note. It just doesn’t seem right in the same way the RX-8’s rotary whir doesn’t sound right. But the acceleration is top notch regardless.

    Also as seen in this head-on shot, the S2000 is the best looking car Honda has ever made and I’m including the Acura NSX in that group. I’m not a fan of the yellow and would probably prefer black, but even this hue offers something for the racer wannabes out there. The menacing front grill has even been copied in many an aftermarket body kit. Some people don’t like the interior because it’s so sparse but I find the high quality materials and leather seats very stylish. I even found myself getting used to the digital gauges since they for the most part resemble analog shapes. And actually with direct sunlight on them they’re more visible than many recessed analog gauges.

    The stereo, sans the controls and location, is fantastic. I don’t understand how four speakers can produce such terrific sound while other cars with six or more can’t come close. I generally test Radiohead in every car and the S2000 isn’t at the top where the luxury cars go with surround sound etc., but for the money it’s probably as good as it gets.

    And that’s the final note. For $32,000 there aren’t a lot of performance cars out there that you’ll find, let alone roadsters, that offer so much for the money (I’m still waiting to test a Lotus Elise). There are more trade-offs in this vehicle and I think many buyers would choose creature comforts and more room found in other vehicles in the price range. But for those in sunny locales or with wide-open roads the S2000 could (and obviously does after the last batch of feedback) sway opinion.


    ***I’ve sent a note to Honda about the spacer issue and will report back with an answer.

    The following review is for a 2002 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    Life begins at 9000 rpm.

    Introduction

    Drop the top and mash the gas and Honda's S2000 delivers an exhilarating driving ex-perience. This two-seat roadster is a technological statement from a company that has no peer in the realm of extracting big horsepower from small-displacement engines. 

    The Honda S2000 is similar in size and basic concept to the Mazda Miata. Both are pure sports cars: front-engine, rear-drive, drop-top, few frills. The difference is that Honda's roadster costs about a third again as much the Miata, and offers performance that makes the Mazda seem tame. In fact, the S2000's performance rivals that of much more expensive sports cars, including the BMW Z3 3.0, Mercedes-Benz SLK, and the Porsche Boxster. 

    The big news for 2002 is a new glass rear window with defroster, which replaces last year's plastic rear window that could be creased and distorted. Also new for 2002: Honda has improved the transmission for smoother and quieter shifts, upgraded the stereo, added chrome rings around the tail lights, and introduced minor refinements to make the interior more convenient. 

    Lineup

    One model is available, which retails for $32,400. A removable hardtop is available as an accessory. 

    Walkaround

    The S2000 offers a lot of presence, particularly in Spa Yellow or one of the other bright shades. (For 2002, it comes in a new Suzuka Blue with a blue interior, a new Sebring Silver, as well as Grand Prix White, Formula Red, and Berlina Black.)

    The S2000 features classic roadster proportions: a long hood, which permits the entire mass of the engine to sit behind the centerline of the front axle, and a short rear deck. But its visual appeal doesn't quite measure up to its extraordinary mechanical creden-tials. It looks a little slab-sided and plain compared to its rivals, and I don't care for the angular front styling. But it is executed well, exuding high technology, a look that a lot of sport compact car rodders strive for but seldom achieve. 

    For 2002, Honda has accented the taillights with chrome rings to give them a refined and polished look. 

    Interior

    This is a two-seater without much room for anything else. The leather seats, which are standard, are highly supportive for hard driving and comfortable for cruising. Aside from a couple of tiny bins sequestered between the upper portion of the seatbacks, there's just no place to put odds and ends. Door panel net storage pockets were added for 2002, but there's no glovebox. In this regard, the S2000 is even less practical than the Mazda Miata. In short, there's nowhere to put anything in this car. 

    Rainbow-shaped digital instruments offer relatively poor legibility. A digital tachometer arcs across the top of the array like an electronic rainbow; there's a digital speedome-ter in the middle and the arrangement is flanked by small fuel and coolant temperature gauges. A big tachometer is standard competition practice -- most race cars don't even have speedometers -- but as racy as it is, we'd still prefer an analog speedometer in this car because analog instruments provide rate-of-change information and digital readouts don't. So, while the instruments are playful, they are not as useful as analog gauges. 

    The hidden AM/FM/CD stereo is a nice feature. The buttons on it are small, but that is addressed by redundant controls just to the left of the steering wheel. 

    Thankfully, a glass rear window has been added to the S2000's soft top. The top is power-operated. An aero windscreen was added last year to reduce buffeting when the top is down. As mentioned, a removable hard top is also available. 

    Air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, keyless remote entry, and tilt steering are all standard. Starting the S2000 reminds us we're driving a thinly disguised race car: just press the big red starter button to the left of the steering wheel. Another race car cue: The tall, square, carpeted driveshaft tunnel that runs down the middle is reminiscent of a racing prototype or homemade hot rod. 

    Driving Impression

    Honda's S2000 delivers exhilarating performance: 0 to 60 mph in just 5.8 seconds and the standing quarter-mile in just 14.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver magazine. That's quick. The S2000 is capable of 150 mph at the top end. Most important, it emits a delightful, high-tech tenor snarl while it's doing all this. 

    Its quick acceleration numbers are all the more impressive given that the engine's unique powerband makes it difficult to generate really quick getaways. The engine doesn't really come to life until the tachometer soars beyond the point where most en-gines run out of breath. There's an electric motor quality to its power, like a Japanese superbike -- no punch in the back, just a sense that with enough forward gears, one might keep accelerating beyond the speed of light. 

    The S2000's 2.0-liter engine operates in a realm we ordinarily associate with racing engines. Honda's VTEC system employs a second, more radical set of camshaft lobes that don't go to work until the tachometer has reached 6000 rpm. Peak torque, a mod-est 153 pound-feet, comes on at 7500 rpm. Horsepower doesn't peak until 8300 rpm, and the electronic rev limiter doesn't assert itself until 9000 rpm. All of this is common enough in competition engines -- current Formula One engines, for example, rev be-yond 17,500 rpm -- but it's unique among street cars. The S2000 engine generates 240 horsepower. That's 120 horsepower per liter, more horsepower per liter than any other production-car engine on the planet. 

    At the same time, we were impressed with the S2000's tractability when cruising se-dately. With an engine that doesn't really wake up until the tachometer ticks up to 7000 rpm and suspension tuning designed to eliminate body roll in cornering, we expected sluggish performance and harsh ride quality. Not so. It takes a little rowing through the gearbox to generate passing speeds, but the S2000 is otherwise as composed and comfortable as any other topless boulevardier. Unlike the Mazda Miata, the Honda en-gine does not emit a particularly pleasing exhaust note under these sedate driving con-ditions. But tromp down on the throttle and the engine makes up for that with its terrific growl at higher rpm. 

    The key to enjoying the S2000 is to drive it hard: Take off, wind the engine to 9000 rpm in first gear, shift into second, stand on it, and don't shift until you hit nine grand again. This is what the Honda S2000 has to offer over the less-expensive Miata. 

    That gearbox is a six-speed manual transmission with very short throws and wonder-fully precise engagements that enhance the driving experience. It reminds us of a for-mula car. For 2002, Honda has improved the transmission for smoother and quieter shifts. (An automatic transmission is not available.)

    The S2000 is built on an extremely rigid chassis, among the most rigid of all the road-sters. A stiff chassis is the fundamental prerequisite for precise handling, because it allows suspension engineers to tune spring rates, shock absorber damping, and bush-ing durometers to achieve exactly what they want in terms of ride and response; sus-pension components can do a better job when they aren't called upon to compensate for chassis flex. 

    Like all current Honda automobiles, the S2000's suspension is independent, with con-trol arms (as distinct from struts) at all four corners. It is distinguished from any other current Honda cars, however, by its front-engine, rear-drive layout, a platform devel-oped specifically for this limited-edition roadster. 

    But that's only part of the fun. Though the S2000's 16-inch Bridgestone tires aren't par-ticularly wide, the car can handle impressively high cornering speeds, and its re-sponses are as decisive and precise as a cheetah closing in on an antelope. Not a misstep or false move, regardless of the pace. 

    A set of world-class brakes complements the S2000's speed and agility, augmented by ABS (a standard feature). These are the best brakes. 

    Summary

    Honda's S2000 delivers lightning quick acceleration performance and razor sharp han-dling and steering response. Retailing for more than $32,000 and offering little in the way of cargo capacity, it isn't for everyone. It is, after all, a limited-production sports car. It's great for someone who wants a superbike with the increased safety of four wheels. 

    Model Lineup

    S2000 ($32,400) (AP1142EN). 

    Assembled In

    Tochigi, Japan. 

    Options As Tested

    Model Tested

    S2000 ($32,400) (AP1142EN). 

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