The all-new Honda S2000 has a 240 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission, independent double wishbone suspension, and a unique interior with a separate starter button and bright orange electronic analogue gauges. S2000’s are priced at $48,000.
Racy S2000 sports car has high-revving engine
It’s not often I sit behind a steering wheel and gaze down at a tachometer with a redline of 9000 rpm. A typical four cylinder overhead cam engine has a redline of about six or seven thousand rpm. Honda’s extensive experience with racing engines in Formula One and CART racing helped with the development of the S2000’s 240 horsepower 2.0 litre DOHC 16 valve VTEC four cylinder powerplant. With 120 horsepower per litre of engine displacement, it has more power per litre than any other normally-aspirated engine on the market today.
The high-revving 2.0 litre VTEC engine is the centre-piece of the all-new two-seater S2000 sports car, Honda’s first front engine/rear-wheel-drive sports car since the 1963 S500, and subsequent S600 and S800 versions. Priced at $48,000, the S2000 slots somewhere in between the Mazda Miata and Porsche Boxster, but its closest equivalent is probably the BMW M Roadster.
The secret to the S2000’s high-revving peformance is Honda’s VTEC (variable valve timing and lift electronic control) system. A three lobe, dual/triple cam follower arrangement changes the valve timing at higher revs to boost horsepower. This is relatively easy to experience during a test-drive: simply accelerate quickly, and at about 6000 rpm (when most cars have petered out) the VTEC system kicks in and the S2000 throws you back in the seat and takes off up to its 9000 rpm redline. 0 to 100 km/h is achieved in under six seconds, a very quick time for a 1274 kg sports car with a 2.0 litre engine.
The experience of the S2000’s engine is not just its power. The engine lets out an indescribable, high-pitched race-car-like scream that reminds you of CART racing cars. It’s a great sound, but at peak revs, it sounds like the engine is going to blow up! I felt a little guilty about thrashing all those mechanical bits around at such high speed, but knowing Honda, this engine could be run indefinately at those speeds. After all, the S2000 does have a five year/100,000 km powertrain warranty!
Here’s the kicker, though. Despite its performance, the S2000’s engine actually meets California’s LEV (Low Emissions Vehicle) standards, proof that high performance is not incompatible with environmentally-friendly automobiles.
Impressive as the engine is, it’s the S2000’s manual transmission I really liked. The standard 6-speed manual transmission is simply the best manual transmission I’ve ever had the pleasure to operate. Its shifts are even shorter and more fluid than the Mazda Miata’s 5-speed and 6-speed manual transmissions, which are considered a benchmark. The S2000’s transmission features a direct shift linkage and an internal pressurized lubrication system, a first for Honda in a production car. Reverse gear is over to the left of first gear, so there’s no worry about accidentally shifting into Reverse when trying for sixth, as there is in the Miata.
I was also impressed with the S2000’s tight drivetrain and strong body. Normally, in a convertible with this much power, you expect some driveline twisting and flexing, but the S2000 is rock solid. The S2000’s chassis structure is what Honda calls an “X-bone frame”, a rigid design that improves torsional strength.
The S2000’s independent double wishbone suspension features a design borrowed from Honda’s racing applications. With the ball joints inboard of the wheel centerline, the system reduces unsprung weight and improves tire contact and adhesion. With a 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, front and rear stabilizer bars, and low-profile performance tires (front tires are Bridgestone Potenza S-02 205/55VR-16 inch, and rear tires are 225/50VR-16 inch), the S2000 offers quick, nimble handling with very high cornering limits. Handling is similar to such front engine/rear-wheel-drive cars as the BWM M Roadster and Mazda Miata, but like those cars, the S2000 is lighter in the rear-end than mid-engined sports cars like the Porsche Boxster. The S2000 could be a handful on slippery winter roads.
To make the driving experience even more enjoyable, S2000’s offer quick, precise steering with electric variable-power-assist, and standard front ventilated disc brakes and rear solid discs with ABS.
The S2000’s well-equipped interior has a number of unique features that add to its sporty character. Twin, perforated leather sport seats with lots of thigh and upper body support do a great job of resisting centripetal forces. However, I found that the rake adjustment lever on the side of the seat was too close to the door sill, making it difficult to operate.
A bright red starter button to the left of the steering wheel, similar to those on genuine race cars, looks very cool. But I suspect its appeal will fade after the first few months of ownership – each time you start the car, you must first turn the ignition switch with your right hand, and then push the red button with your left hand – double the duty of an ordinary car.
The S2000’s bright orange electronic instrumentation includes a sweeping tachometer readout, a speedometer that includes both analogue and digital readouts, a coolant gauge, and fuel gauge. While the gauges are easy to see, even in bright sunlight, I’m not convinced orange is a great colour for instruments – it’s not as easy on the eyes as green, blue or red.
The S2000’s attractive, small, three-spoked steering wheel has a thick, easy-to-grip leather-wrapped rim. Controls for the heater are just to the right of the steering wheel, making them easy to adjust. A unique fan-speed button features single-push operation to increase or decrease fan speed, and rotary ventilation and temperature dials easy to operate.
An aluminum shift knob is perched atop a short lever mounted on a high centre console. A standard AM/FM/CD player is hidden behind a flip-down panel in the centre dash area. To the left of the steering wheel are auxillary stereo controls, including a push up/push down volume control, a button for radio station pre-sets and AM or FM selection. Two lockable storage compartments are found behind and between the seats.
Other standard features include air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, power mirrors, remote keyless entry, engine immobilizer, and dual airbags. Side airbags are not offered. S2000’s are available in three racy colours: New Formula Red, Berlina Black, and Silverstone Metallic.
Its black vinyl top is power-operated and takes just 10 seconds to raise and lower. When lowered, a flexible boot cover fits over the lowered top to keep it clean and dry. When raised, the top is secured with two latches on the windshield header.
Driver and passenger sit fairly low relative to the door sides and rear decklid – forward and side visibility is good with the top down, but rear visibility is hampered slightly by the boot cover over the convertible top. With the top up, three-quarter rear vision is poor, as it is in most convertibles, and the rear plastic window doesn’t have a defroster, so winter driving could present some fogging and icing problems.
The S2000 has a small trunk with a temporary spare tire which protrudes into the trunk area. If you store the boot cover in the trunk when the top is up, trunk space is reduced even further.
For rollover safety, the S2000 has twin roll hoops behind the seats and a small clear plastic wind deflector between the roll hoops to reduce wind buffeting.
S2000’s are built in Tochigi, Japan, the same place where the Acura NSX-T is built. In fact, the project manager for the development of the S2000, Shigeru Uehara, was also responsible for the engineering and design of the NSX.