A gritty and hardcore roadster that's not for everyone
Mar 9, 2009
(This review is for the 2005 Honda S2000, but the majority of it applies to the 2004 and later models, which were not revised much over the years. Whenever possible, I will mention if a certain issue was resolved or if something was changed later on.)
Intro -- What is the S2000? Honda is typically associated with ho-hum passenger cars like the Civic and Accord, and the smaller CR-V SUV. It's also tied to Acura, the luxury arm that sells the TSX, TL, RL, and others. The general public doesn't think "sports cars" when they see a Honda commercial. But I think that Honda has proven they can build more than just a typical family sedan or SUV, and the S2000 is proof.
The S2000 is Honda's foray into the world of two-seater roadsters. It is in direct competition with the well-known and loved Mazda Miata, BMW Z3 and Z4, Nissan 350Z, Porsche Boxster, and Audi TT -- all of which are strong competitors. What Honda did is take all the fun and performance found in those cars, and infuse it with a dose of their legendary reliability. This makes for a very attractive package that has sold well, and really given the competition a run for its money. Read on to learn why.
Interior First and foremost, the S2000 is a sports car. Some prefer the term roadster, or just simply "convertible". Regardless of what you call it, it's a small two-seater car built for one thing: performance. It is a very purpose-driven car, and you can tell from the minute you take a seat in the cockpit. The dashboard is very plain-jane -- no metal or wood accents, or faux carbon fibre. There's not much in the way of grace or sculpture to it. No tacky "S2000" embossing or silly styling marks. The radio is hidden behind an attractive silver door with the S2000 logo painted on. When closed, the sleek and simple look is continued. Secondary radio controls are available in a small area to the left of the steering wheel: volume, mode, mute, and channel. They're placed appropriately so you aren't moving your hands much for basic operation, and you can focus on driving. To the right of the steering wheel are the very simple climate controls. Rather than giving hideous knobs and dials, Honda opted for interesting toggle switches that use less room but give more control. They're unique and easy to use. Bright green LEDs count up the fan speed. The center console is home to just two switches: the convertible top and the hazard lights. Later years (2006+) moved the rear defroster button down there as well.
Again, the interior is very simple and stark. The intent is to allow the driver to focus on the road and to avoid distractions caused by all the controls. You barely move your hands and have about 95% of the car's functionality by the steering wheel. The wheel itself is a nice one: leather wrapped and very small in diameter, with a simple Honda emblem in the middle. The wheel feels nice in your hands, as the wrap uses a high-quality leather. The wheel feels tiny compared to a Civic or Accord, but this lends to better control and feedback.
Behind the steering wheel is the unique and fun instrument cluster. Borrowing from its long race history and heritage, the instrument cluster is all-digital and resembles a Formula 1 race car's. The tachometer is a series of tiny LCD sections that follow a large sweeping arc. It's cool to look at, and everyone comments on it. The speed is shown in a large LCD screen beneath the tachometer. Fuel and temperature gauges form arcs to the other side of the cluster, also all-digital. A small clock and odometer is available at the very bottom. In all, the cluster is very easy to read in any lighting, and gives you everything you need at a glance -- truly purpose-driven.
Being a sports car, great seats are a necessity. Too many sporty cars simply carry over unsupportive or boring seats from other production models. The S2000, however, uses Recaro racing buckets. Recaro is a well-known name in the racing world, developing seats for race cars. The buckets are truly some of the best you'll ever sit in. The hip support is very good without being too tight. The same can be said for the shoulder and chest bolsters. They hold you firmly in place at all times. There's minimal adjustment other than recline and sliding forward/back...but most people will find they fit perfectly despite a lack of limbar and tilt adjustments. The headrest is a bit unusual in that it really isn't a headrest -- it has a huge cutout for a helmet. That's right, Honda has actually designed the seats so you can comfortably race the car on a weekend.
The seats are trimmed in leather. The leather is just average in quality -- I expected something a bit softer and more supple given the car's price tag, but the seats are comfortable and that's what counts.
One of the car's shortcomings is the lack of interior storage space. The center console has two cupholders...that struggle to hold more than a can of soda. Early models had only a single cupholder! There's no glovebox, though the large hump between the seats has two small compartments to hold a tire gauge, flashlight, owner's manual, and a few other small things. The doors have tiny pockets in them too. If you're buying this car with the hopes of shuttling a lot of 'stuff' around, you'll be disappointed. The trunk can swallow a few small things, but it is not going to be useful for trips to Home Depot. I can fit two small suitcases in with some wiggling. The trunk is actually bigger than the Miata and Z4's, and has a bigger opening than the 350Z and TT's. It's not so bad once you get used to it, but if you're coming from a midsize sedan...be prepared to travel light.
Exterior styling Honda stays true to the roadster ideals with the S2000's styling: a long flat hood and stubby rear. You sit very far back in this car -- the hood is very long. The engine itself sits behind the front wheels, meaning there's a lot of empty space at the front of the engine bay. This is intentionally done to improve handling and balance. It also lends nicely to a sharp-looking vehicle. There's no outrageous styling elements anywhere on the car. The fenders are muscular and flared out to give that sense of power, with a properly-sized opening below to feed the radiator. The headlamps are an aggressive shape with clean-looking projector assemblies inside. They illuminate the road nicely and actually give the car a more aggressive appearance.
The fenders have the S2000 emblem and a simple rectangular sidemarker lamp (turn signal). The only real stylistic element on the side of the car is a small crease along the bottom of the door. It's likely there for aerodynamics. The back end of the car follows with a strong but subtle appearance. The tail lamps have a dark grey housing with chrome trim rings. LEDs are used for the brake lamps -- very bright and very unique. The trunklid is home to a small LED brake lamp as well. Dual oval exhaust tips finish out the rear end, sitting below a lightly scultped cut-out. They look very nice and are unique -- no boring round tips or tucked mufflers.
Overall the car looks aggressive without being too garish. Honda went with a classic roadster look that has aged very nicely. There's very little to dislike about the car's appearance. It is highly subjective, of course.
A variety of colors have been offered over the years: yellow, white, red, silver, blue, black, and so on. It looks great in any of them.
There have been several wheel designs, with the 2004 and up models receiving larger 17" wheels and tires. For 2004 & 2005, they're a nice split-spoke pattern that complete's the car's styling nicely. They have a polished face and silver paint on the inside of the spokes. The wheels fill in the fender openings and give it a serious look.
My only criticism is that a front license plate really ruins the car's lines. Your laws may require one, but you should consider not installing it.
Performance This is of course what you care about, right? It's a sports car -- it should accelerate hard, handle on-rails, and stop on a dime....and it does.
The S2000 is a tiny car, weighing only 2800 pounds and change. Compare this to the Z4, 350Z, TT, and Boxster that all tip the scales at over 3000lbs, and it's easy to see why the S2000 performs like it does. A huge motor isn't needed, nor are huge tires or huge brakes.
Power comes from the tried-and-true F22C motor, a 2.2L inline-4 used only in the S2000. For 2004 and up, Honda tweaked the motor to be a bit easier to use around town. No performance was sacrificied. As is typical Honda-fare, the tiny motor revs very quickly and easily, and sounds amazing. There is plenty of useable torque for around-town, meaning you can keep engine speed low and save on fuel. 3500rpm and below is all that's needed. The motor is smooth and responsive no matter how fast you're going thanks to the legendary VTEC system. You receive power at low and high RPM, giving a smooth and flat powerband.
So yes, it's civil around town. Relatively quiet and easy to drive. But what happens when you want to make use of all 240 horsepower? The S2000 moves. FAST. 0-60 takes just under 5.5 seconds, and you'll be reaching 100 far sooner than you'd think. 240hp is not much when compared to the competition...all of which are putting out 300 (or more). But again, the S2000's low curb weight mean it needs less power to get moving. So despite being down 50 or more horsepower, it can actually outrun all the competitors. The motor screams beyond 6000rpm, giving off an amazing sound that conveys power. It's a unique sound, but won't be unusual if you've driven other sporty Hondas (Civic Si, Integra GS-R, etc).
The transmission is also typical Honda -- smooth and easy to operate. Clutch take-up is quick, as you'd expect in a sporty car, but it's easy to control around town. The gearing is a tad unusual in this car; 6th gear is almost worthless. The gearing is intentionally short for good acceleration, but doing 75 on the highway is tiresome when the motor is spinning at 4000rpm. The car is still fairly quiet at that speed, so it's still livable. I would have preferred some better gearing in 5th and 6th.
The car's low weight and great engine placement give you a 50/50 weight distribution and phenomenal handling. Handling is on-par with cars like the Dodge Viper and Chevrolet Corvette -- just look at any racing organization. The S2000's steering is razor-sharp, responding instantly to steering wheel movements. The sticky tires certainly help here. The handling is a bit twitchy at times, so drive with both hands on the wheel. It is still very easy to control, and the handling limits are so astronomically high that anyone losing control on a public road doesn't deserve to have a license. Note that there is no traction or stability control system, so drive cautiously in inclement weather (this feature was added in 2006). Tires are sticky and soft, and wear out fast...budget for new ones every year at about $200 each.
Braking is good too. The pedal has a linear feel to it, and isn't overly-sensitive. The factory brake pads should be sufficient for street driving, and the car comes to a halt quickly when needed. It does not get twitchy or scary under panic stops thanks to the 50/50 weight distribution. Brake jobs are a tad pricey too since the S2000 doesn't share parts with anything else.
All this performance comes with great reliability. Service intervals are the same as a basic Honda Civic, unlike the Z4 and Boxster. Any Honda dealer can work on it for a reasonable rate, again unlike the Z4 and Boxster. At 30,000 miles I have not experienced a single problem with the car.
Daily driving The S2000 makes for a resonable daily-driver. The motor is controllable at low speed, and the transmission shifts smoothly. Braking feel is just like any other typical street car, and the car handles well. Over rough pavement, the car is a bit bumpy and rough, but this is to be expected. If you keep both hands on the wheel things will be fine.
Visibility with the top down is of course excellent. With the top up, there is a nasty blindspot to the driver's left side. You will need to get used to using your mirrors a lot, and learning that people tend to ignore small cars. Honda put a large glass window in the back with a defroster, so rear visibility is acceptable.
The car offers enough room for two people as long as they are no taller than 6' 3". Forward visibility is tricky for taller people since the windshield is so low. Occasionally I find myself sinking in the seat to see if a traffic light is still red. The mirrors are small, so that blind spot is tough to adjust for.
The factory stereo is acceptable, though given the car's price I would've expected something stronger. Being a small car means it doesn't need a lot of power. It should be sufficient for most, but if you're coming from a higher-end system in another car this one will sound a bit weak. With the top down, you'll need to turn it way up.
Trips to the grocery store aren't too bad, and the trunk swallows plenty of bags. As I said earlier, don't use this for buying things at Home Depot...rent a truck or van.
Conclusion The S2000 is a sports car, plain and simple. It gives strong performance at the expense of some creature comforts. A strong competitor in its class, giving you more performance for the same money. It's a great car for a daily driver or just a weekend car. The S2000 has won numerous awards from the car publications, so I'm not the only fan of it.
Go take one for a spin -- 2009 is the final model year for this car. You will not be disappointed!
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About the reviewer
Dan Parmelee (dparm1984)
Mar 9, 2009
Jun 26, 2009 01:07 AM UTC
About this topic
The Honda S2000 is a 2-door roadster produced from 2000 to 2009. It was originally built to honor Honda's racing heritage, but demand was so high that production continued for many years. It is being retired after 2009 with no replacement in the works.
The car was left largely unchanged from 2000-2003, with only minor improvements made (largely with standard equipment). For 2004, the exterior was refreshed and the motor was slightly changed.
A large enthusiast base exists for the car, with S2KI.com being the largest S2000-only messageboard on the Internet.