Review: 2009 Honda S2000 is a champ to the end
It's been ten years since Honda released the S2000 to celebrate its golden anniversary, but since Autoblog's inception, we have somehow never managed to publish a proper review of the high-revving roadster. With the final S2000 having rolled off the line on August 7, we figured it was time to make amends and get some serious seat time in one of the few pure sports cars left in existence.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
To create a roadster, you've got to have the proper ingredients. It has to have two seats and a retractable fabric roof, but above all else, it's got to be light and agile. The S2000 qualifies on all counts. While it's not as minimalist as a Lotus Elise (or even a Dodge Viper), the S2000's cabin is devoid of over-the-top luxury or techno-wizardry. There's no navigation system, Bluetooth or iPod connector, and there certainly isn't anything on the order of an iDrive or MMI controller. No need – there isn't much to control.
The only high-tech element of the interior is the (frankly rather dated) electronic instrument cluster. It's flanked by a handful of switches for the air conditioning and radio along with a stability control switch and push-button starter. Aside from that, the dashboard is essentially bare. Just ahead of the shifter is an aluminum panel that flips down to reveal a basic stereo and aft of the shifter lies the rear defogger, hazard lights and top switches. By modern standards, it's a sparse working environment and – if you fit – a great place to conduct the business of driving.
In proper sportscar fashion, the cockpit is set well back in the chassis and the front axle is mounted ahead of the four-cylinder engine creating a front/mid-engine layout. The result is a perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight balance with the driver's posterior sitting just aft of the center of mass. Compared to other segment stalwarts, the S2000's cockpit errs on the side of snug. While not as tight as the aforementioned Elise, it's much smaller than the BMW Z4, and although it packs an additional five inches of length and three inches of wheelbase over the Mazda MX-5, it only nets an additional inch of legroom and comes up short by three inches in head and shoulder room.
Despite the lack of an adjustable steering column, the S2000 fit us well, and while the cockpit is snug, the seats are excellent. Between the door and center tunnel there isn't much room for lateral motion, but the thrones provide fabulous support no matter the environment. The S2000's minimal nature and limited space mean you won't find any adjustments for the bolsters or lumbar support – the seats simply adjust fore-and-aft, with a lever for the seatback angle.
Compared to the MX-5, the electric roof mechanism seems like overkill, but dropping the top is simply a matter of popping two roof-mounted latches, flicking a switch and watching the unlined roof store snuggling behind the seats. The whole process takes less than ten seconds and just slightly longer when putting the roof back in place. Again, it's simply a matter of simplicity. But the S2000 isn't without its ergonomic errors. The position of the window and mirror switches below the door pull is awkward, the small storage bin between the seat backs makes it virtually impossible to reach while seated, the cup holders can barely hold a beverage while accelerating, and the hidden gas door release lurks somewhere between a secret handshake and a Where's Stig? book. However, none of these issues affect the practice of driving.
As devout disciples worshiping at the altar of torque, we've always been slightly suspicious of the S2000's engine characteristics. From 2004 onward, the roadster received a slight displacement bump to 2.2-liters, leaving peak output unchanged at 237 horsepower with a bump in torque from 153 to 162 pound-feet. Maximum twist also moved down from its ludicrously high 7,500 RPM peak to a "mere" 6,800 RPM. Looking at the numbers, we assumed the S2K would be far too peaky around town. Thankfully, we were wrong.
The upside of the low-torque engine is a relatively light clutch that makes driving in traffic a breeze. Fortunately, the engineers picked low enough ratios for the first three gears to compensate and pulling away or trolling along is fairly effortless.
With its 8,000 rpm redline, the S2000 idles at a relatively high 1,000 rpm and even that feels surprisingly lumpy when sitting at a red light. Launches were smooth and bog-free, never necessitating a slip of the clutch or excess revving. The S2000's FR layout means the transmission sits directly below that lever and there's no linkage to muck things up. The throws are short, although we found our tester didn't like to be rushed. Take it easy, time everything right and the action is just short of brilliant.
Once clear of downtown traffic, the real fun begins. At 6,000 RPM – where most engines run out of steam – the VTEC kicks the valve actuation into high power mode and the electronic tach makes a mad dash for the 8,000 RPM redline. It's a magnificent rush few vehicles can deliver, although the penalty comes in the form of a slightly irritating drone when trundling along at highway speeds above 4,000 RPM.
Even more compelling than the revverrific four are the chassis and mechanicals to which it's fitted. With double wishbones and 17-inch wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza RE050 summer rubber at all four corners, the S2000's composure and engagement remains unmatched. When the road turns twisty, the chassis rotates just a point ahead of your hips and when you've finally reached the limits of adhesion, the back end steps out smoothly and progressively. All you need to do is keep your foot planted and dial in a few degrees of correction through the perfectly weighted steering wheel.
Our only gripe with the driving environment is the slightly large gap between the brake and gas, which made heel-and-toeing an issue. Depending on your foot size and ankle dexterity, it might not be a problem, but there were more than a few missed rev-matches during our week. Otherwise, motoring with the top down was a surprisingly serene experience. With the side windows up, buffeting in the cockpit was surprisingly low. Honda does fit a wind-blocker – a small piece of glass that flips up and sits between the roll-bars – although we didn't notice much difference when it was deployed.
Our base level Formula Red S2000 stickered for $35,705, including destination – hardly cheap, but far less expensive than an Elise, one of the only pure sports cars currently available in America. Now that production has ended, Honda tells us that there are around 1,000 S2000s sitting on dealer lots awaiting a home. If you're under six-foot tall, have finally parked the sport bike in the garage, and want more power and exclusivity than a Miata, the S2000 might be the last great attainable roadster. Don't be like us and wait too long. Drop the top and take the ride before the S2000 is consigned to the dustbin of history.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
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