2009 Honda S2000

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2000 Honda S2000

This 2000 review is representative of model years 2000 to 2009.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 9
Pros:
  • Gorgeous looks
  • Crisp handling and oh-so-firm chassis
  • Quicker from 0 to 60 mph than a Z3 and Boxster
Cons:
  • Loud, non-stop revving
  • No airbag turnoff to allow kids to ride
  • Small storage space

Get ready to reconsider what that Honda badge means on the front of a car. The automaker with the reputation for building solid sedans and other responsible vehicles gets hearts pounding with this new, 2-seat roadster. The S2000 is all sports car—lightweight, quick, noisy and extremely responsive in its handling.

Wow! This is the initial reaction to Honda's new S2000 from nearly everyone.

If the gorgeous looks outside don't make you say it, the gee-whiz ignition system and instrument panel graphics likely will. And if you're unfazed by all that, the car's performance will, for sure, make that 3-letter word spring to your lips: Wow.

Miata looks, but more
It's easy to look at the Honda S2000 and think it's another Mazda Miata. After all, it's styled like the affordable Miata, which is the world's best-selling roadster. Both are 2-seat soft-tops. Both have 4-cylinder engines. And both come from Japan-based automakers. But you would be missing the point if that were the sum of your knowledge about the S2000.

Premium positioning
The S2000 is Honda's embodiment of the “next generation” open-top sports car. This means the engineers at Honda were looking at the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3 when they designed this car. One report said a Honda engineer admitted the Lotus Elise was in the picture, too.

And despite the Miata-like looks, the technology-packed S2000 carries a decidedly higher sticker—by some $10,000. The good news is that same S2000 sticker is at least $10,000 lower than the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of a Boxster. But with only 5,000 or so S2000s due in the United States annually, who knows what the going prices of the S2000 will really be?

Think Honda racing
Everyone knows Honda for its popular, solidly built Honda Accords and long-running Civics. Some of us have enjoyed Honda motorcycles, and some have Honda lawn mowers in the garage.

But Honda has a racing heritage, too, in everything from superbikes to Formula One. The S2000, with its front-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration, is designed to draw on and highlight that heritage. And it does so superbly.

Rigidity to a new level
It's noticeable, almost immediately, as you drive the S2000: This car feels so rigid, it makes the 1999 Porsche Boxster seem like an earlier-generation sports car. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't driven the Boxster and S2000 back to back.

The Porsche feels, well, like a Porsche—rigid, yes, but not quite as buttoned up as this S2000. Note that I am talking relative degrees here, since both sports cars are obviously taut in body and handle crisply. But on mountain curves, the S2000 just seems to move more as one lean piece of metal. There's virtually no sway in this low-to-the-ground sports car, either.

Honda boasts that it built into the S2000 the ultimate weight distribution: Essentially 50/50. Note this is on a car that weighs all of 2,809 pounds. In comparison, the mid-engine Boxster's 2,822 pounds is split 47 percent front/53 percent rear, and the front-engine Z3 is 51 percent front/49 percent rear.

Newly engineered chassis
Honda uses a new, “high X bone” frame in the S2000. It incorporates a center tunnel area in the middle of the car that's raised so it joins with the front and rear frames at the same height. This design compares with a traditional car chassis, where the structural center axis is lowered and, therefore, can't offer the same body rigidity. As a matter of fact, Honda said the open-top S2000 “achieves a rigidity equivalent to a closed-top vehicle” but doesn't include extra weight to accomplish this.

Meantime, large-section doorsills are at each side of the car, and you can see, and feel, the floor cross members beneath the carpet where driver and passenger legs extend inside the vehicle. Honda says the whole package is designed to perform well in crashes.

High-revving power plant
Then there's the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine. It puts out an incredible 240 horsepower in typical race-car style: accompanied by high revs.

In fact, this Honda power plant—new and from the same engineers who developed 1,000-horsepower engines for Formula One cars—takes the company's Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) farther than ever before.

The engine cylinder head is redesigned for lower weight and low friction, even while the engine runs at such high rpms. I ran the test S2000, for example, well into the 5000-rpm range nearly all of the time, even in the city.

The engine just wants to be there, and it's how you get to experience the real spirit of this car since there's a good amount of torque available in the middle rpm range. Peak torque is 153 lb-ft at 7500 rpm.

While the thought of this might make drivers of other, everyday vehicles cringe—after all, maximum engine speed in a Nissan Altima is all of 6100 rpm—realize 5000 to 6000 rpms is merely two-thirds of the way up the S2000's rev range. Peak horsepower comes at 8300 rpm, and the redline is at 8900 rpm. And yes, Honda says this high-revving engine should show good longevity, despite its performance stresses.

Noisy inside
But I have to warn you: Getting above 5000 rpm does cause a lot of racket so you may not enjoy the ride much. Certainly, you won't be able to carry on a conversation with your passenger without shouting.

And I'm not joking when I say my ears were buzzing afterward. They seemed unable to pick up a whole range of sounds, in fact, right after I spent the day in the S2000. It took a couple hours for things to return to normal.

I won't try to fool you and say the revving sounds were melodious or pleasant. They're not. “Grating” would be a better characterization, especially after a few hours in the car. On the other hand, the expected vibrations into the interior of the car from an engine running at these high revs were absent, surprisingly. The engine, by the way, meets low-emission level standards.

One transmission only
Honda pairs the engine with a new, 6-speed, close ratio manual transmission—the only transmission offered. Note that the Boxster and Z3 offer automatics as well as manuals, but Dan Bonawitz, vice president of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., said the company has no plans to offer an automatic.

The S2000 shifter has a finished, gray metal knob that's slippery. I often wound up just sort of pushing it or guiding it into gear, since I couldn't really get a good grasp on the knob. It's a fun shifter, though, and like the Miata has short throws. Honda worked to ensure the car reacts smoothly to the shifts, too.

Fast top, low seats
The soft-top is easy to operate—just undo two clasps at the top of the windshield and press a button. Voila, in six seconds the top is down. It goes up with similar quickness and ease. This time compares with 12 seconds for the Boxster's soft-top.

The S2000 seats are sporty and sculptured. They envelop you, while you sort of sit atop the firm seats of the Boxster. Legroom in the S2000 is good, even for 6-footers. But note that you sit low in the car. At 5-foot-4, I peered over the doorsills when I looked out to the side.

And head restraints aren't in the best position. They sit a ways back from the back of your head. Safety advocates say the best head restraints are close to your head, providing a ready cushion in the event of a rear-end crash.

Storage space in the S2000 is at a premium. There's no glove box on the dashboard, though there is a storage spot behind the seatbacks. Trunk space is limited to five cubic feet. Notably, there's a cupholder in the S2000, while there's none in the Boxster.

No kids, please
But the S2000 has one glaring deficiency: No turnoff switch for the passenger frontal airbag, which means it can be dangerous for young ones to ride in this car.

Because of the threat of child injuries and fatalities caused by airbags, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises children age 12 and under to ride in a vehicle's back seat, away from frontal airbags. That's not possible in the S2000, obviously, and with no switch to turn off the frontal passenger bag, I was forced to ask: What's a parent to do? Pressed on this issue, a Honda spokesman said drivers shouldn't take children in this car.

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BB04 - 9/1/2014 1:55:50 PM