2005 Honda S2000
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Review and photos by Paul Williams

During the early 1990’s, it looked like the market for “traditional” sports cars was disappearing, but all that has changed. Has the selection ever been better for two-seat, rear-drive sports convertibles? The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky arrive for 2006, giving some competition to the Mazda Miata (or MX-5) at the “lower” end of the market, where it has ruled since its introduction in 1989. The Porsche Boxster , BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 , starting at around $60,000, occupy a more rarefied price zone.

In between, the $49,800 Honda S2000 offers a tantalizing blend of performance and exclusivity (Honda sells about 250 S2000s per year in Canada). Word has it that 2006 is the last year for the Honda S2000, so if you were serious about buying one, very soon would be a good time to make it happen.

The S2000 has a personality all its own. Powered with a four-cylinder, 2.2-litre VTEC engine making 240 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 rpm, the S2000 is definitely a screamer. Its 8,000 rpm redline arrives surprisingly quickly through the six forward speeds, and it makes a banshee howl while getting there.

2005 Honda S2000
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If you think this sounds highly strung, you should know that like the 2004 model, the 2005 S2000 is more refined than the original car from 2000-2003. The engine displacement was raised from 2.0L to 2.2L, and it gained a little more torque at lower rpm’s. There are slightly wider seats, bigger wheels and gear ratios that improve acceleration times.

In contrast, the original S2000 would spin to 9,000 rpm, more like a race-car than your average grocery getter.

Pure performance types may lament the changes, but they were designed to make the S2000 more tractable; more manageable. Honda has somewhat succeeded in this attempt.

2005 Honda S2000

2005 Honda S2000

2005 Honda S2000
Click image to enlarge

The dashboard is a model of simplicity, from its tidy digital instrument cluster to the absence of knobs, switches and superfluous paraphernalia in the cockpit. Even the audio system can be hidden from view with a hinged aluminum panel, its remote controls handily located to the left of the racing-style steering wheel (on the right are a few knobs for the climate control, and that’s about it).

Aluminum racing pedals complement the form-fitting seats and stubby shifter. There’s a big red “start” button below the audio controls, for that extra sporting panache. Unfortunately you still need to put the key in the ignition, rather than having the car sense the presence of the key so you could just hop in and press the button. But it’s a small conceit.

Our tester was black with red leather interior – a combination that seemed perfect for the S2000 – complemented by 17″ alloy wheels with 215/45 tires on the front, and 245/40 tires on the rear. (The red interior is standard on the white exterior, and optional for the black, silver and grey cars. The yellow S2000 gets a black interior).

Accessories on our S2000 included a front skirt, side “strake” (Honda’s term, not mine) and rear spoiler, which added $2,685 to the price.

Anti-lock brakes and a Torsen Design limited slip differential are standard equipment. But there’s no electronic stability control, no electronic brake force distribution, and no electronic traction control – presumably these would contaminate the purity of the driving experience.

F1 drivers relax with S2000
As a prelude to the 2005 Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, Honda ran a driving event featuring F1 BAR Honda drivers Jenson Button and Enrique Bernoldi at the PMG Technologies test-driving facility in nearby Blaineville, Quebec (Autos was invited). Each was handed an S2000 for some frolicking on the track. Yes, you can do doughnuts F1-style with an S2000 as Mr. Button quickly discovered, and yes it will easily lay rubber from a standing start. No, 8,000 rpm is not enough for these guys, who continually banged into the rev-limiter, and yes, they actually had a blast as the Honda exec’s watched through their fingers, their hands covering their eyes, while their champions shredded the rubber off those attractive 17″ wheels.

“Hey, that was fun,” said a smiling Jenson Button, as he took off for another run around the temporary track. The seat position seemed just fine for him.

BAR Honda Formula 1 driver Jensen Button
BAR Honda Formula 1 driver Jensen Button

Jensen Button, Nadine Filion
Jensen Button and journalist Nadine Filion

Enrique Bernoldi, BAR Honda Formula 1 test driver
Enrique Bernoldi, BAR Honda Formula 1 test driver

This is a driver’s car: elemental, communicative and very fast. Its operation is a lesson in precision. Rest your right arm on the centre console, for example, and you can pretty much shift from first to sixth by simply moving your wrist (there’s almost no time to get your hand back up to the steering wheel, when zipping through the close-set gears).

Once up to speed, the small, thick, steering wheel requires only minor inputs to change direction, enabling sharp corners to be taken fast and flat. The superbly rigid X-frame chassis with centre tunnel, four-wheel independent double wishbone suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars (26.5/25.4 millimetres front/rear), electric power assisted steering and monotube gas shock absorbers give go-kart like quickness. You get the feeling that you could make high-speed, right angle turns in this car, such is its ability to stick to the road.

Accelerate hard, and the S2000 supplies extra kick at 6,500 rpm. Run through a few gears at that engine speed and you’ll hit 200 km/h in no time.

The brakes are, dare I use a worn term, awesome. The S2000’s 300 x 25 mm front vented discs and 282 x 12 rears just haul the car down to nothing in scant seconds. The deceleration forces have to be experienced.

The S2000 would surely make a fantastic track car right off the showroom floor. For new owners who really want to explore its performance potential, I’d advise joining a motorsports club right away and doing just that.

On the other hand, for driving to work, or for casual weekend drives in the country, the S2000 doesn’t really have a docile bone in its body.

It is by nature, a sprinter.

But it does have cruise, although I swear the engine sounds annoyed when you employ it. Nonetheless, you can zip up to your preferred highway speed, flick the switch, and spend your time getting your bum to fit comfortably in the snug driver’s seat for the duration. The seat, by the way, has very limited adjustability. Forward, backward and rake is about it – heck, even my vintage MGB has that. No movement of side bolsters in the seat or the back, no lumbar, no height adjustment (no tilt or telescope on the steering wheel either).

In short, either you fit, or you don’t.

2005 Honda S2000

2005 Honda S2000

2005 Honda S2000

2005 Honda S2000
Click image to enlarge

Compared with its competition, there are other absences on the S2000 (it is $50,000, after all). No side airbags, no glove box (well, there’s a little box between the seats, but it’s not much), no stability control (you could at least have the choice), no analog gauges (other writers say the electronic display fits the high-tech demeanour of the car, but I think it should be supplementary to real instruments), no rain sensing wipers or similar driver amenities, no place to put your phone. Not much room in the trunk for your luggage, either. And the interior carpeting is fragile in the extreme (carpets in the passenger footwell were already badly worn on a car with under 5,000 kilometres).

But it does have remote keyless entry, power windows, High Intensity Discharge headlamps, CD player and air conditioning, among other non-sporting features. And you can order a removable hard top (which looks great) for an additional $4,985, and headrest (sic) speakers for $1,104.

And it’s got looks (even though too many people said it was cute). The long hood is dramatic and the wheels are sweet. The dual exhaust is a bit NASCAR, but what the heck.

What it’s really got, though, is performance. Flat-out, pure performance. You know the engineers and designers at Honda would gladly dump all the air conditioning and power windows and CD players if they could. Lose the leather and the power top, ignore the fancy lights and get right down to basics, because that’s the kind of car they really want to build.

That’s one with screaming acceleration, amazing brakes, and fantastic handling in a precision, no-nonsense, package.

As far as sports cars go, it’s the Honda way. The S2000 is a thoroughbred, even though it’s been slightly nobbled by the marketing department. If you’re looking for a pony or a cart-horse, look elsewhere.

Technical Data: 2005 Honda S2000

Base price $49,800
Options $2,685
Freight $1,425
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $54,010
Type 2-seat, 2-door, convertible sports car
Layout longitudinal front engine, rear wheel drive
Engine 2.2 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve VTEC
Horsepower 240 @ 7800
Torque 162 lb-ft @ 6500
Transmission six-speed manual
Tires Summer high performance, Front 215/45R17; Rear 245/40R17
Curb weight 1286 kg (2835 lbs
Wheelbase 2400 mm (94.5 inches)
Length 4120 mm (162.2 inches)
Width 1750 mm (68.9 inches)
Height 1270 mm (50 inches)
Trunk space 152 litres (5.4 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City 12.0 L/100 km (24 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
  Hwy: 8.5 L/100km (33 mpg) (Imperial gallons)
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km

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