New Car Review 2004 Honda S2000
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS 2004 Honda S2000
With the first changes since its introduction four years ago, Honda's S2000 sports car has matured. It's lost some of its frenetic, semi-exotic character, and has become a better all-around car for that.
A quick glance at a 2004 S2000 won't show much difference, although there are minor styling changes. What has changed is under the skin, in both the driveline and chassis departments.
Engine displacement has been increased from 2.0 to 2.2 liters. Although horsepower is the same, 240, it is developed at a lower engine speed, and low-rpm and midrange torque have been improved.
Ratios in the six-speed gearbox have been changed to take advantage of the new engine characteristics.
Larger wheels and tires have been fitted, and the chassis structure further reinforced.
My introduction to the S2000 was back in 1999, when Honda debuted it to the press at Laguna Seca Raceway. I could find no fault with its handling, but the car's gearing and power characteristics kept it out of its powerband over much of that tight, twisting, and hilly track. Afterwards I drove one home through pretty hideous rush-hour traffic and found it to be as composed as a Civic in the real world. It was very impressive, with truly exotic engineering at a reasonable price in a car that could be a daily driver. With a top-end rush that could only rarely (but joyfully) be sampled, it was a two-liter sports car with an afterburner.
After a week with a 2004 S2000, I can say that Honda has addressed any shortcomings the S2000 ever had. Yes, I miss the screaming top-end power, but the retuned engine is much, much more useable. And performance is better because of it.
Handling differences are hard to tell in street use, but should make life easier for any owners who want to use their car for autocrossing or time trials.
The result of the changes is a car that is only a touch softer, and much easier to drive in the everyday world. It's still one of the most impressive vehicles ever made.
APPEARANCE: Only the most hardcore S2000 fans will notice the changes to the 2004 model without a very close inspection. The classic long hood, short deck sports car proportions remain. The major body panels are unchanged. Sleek curves in the fenders and hood are defined by crisp edges, and moderate fender flares suggest speed and power without being overbearing. The headlight covers have been slightly reshaped, and the lights underneath have been changed for better illumination. Ditto for the taillights. The 2004's S2000's front bumper fascia has been restyled, and its grille is wider and incorporates the brake vents that were previously to the side. The rear bumper is also new, and twin oval exhaust peek out from underneath.
COMFORT: There are even fewer changes to the interior. Despite redesigned doors that give an extra inch of shoulder room, the S2000 is still a small, snug car. It's made for high-performance driving, with wonderfully comfortable and supportive seats, great placement of the steering wheel and shift lever, and pedals designed for heel-and-toe control. Yet it's well-equipped, with power windows and mirrors and even a power top and remote entry. A new console has cup-holders and a bit of storage, with small, locking compartment on the rear bulkhead taking place of the glove box. The trunk is large enough for a duffle bag or even a small set of golf clubs.
SAFETY: In addition to the usual air bags and crumple zones, the S2000 has built-in roll bars and seriously impressive antilock brakes.
ROADABILITY: With its engine placed behind the front axle centerline, the S2000's weight distribution is an optimal 50/50 and its mass is centered in a manner similar to that of a mid-engined car. Like a mid-engined car, it turns almost telepathically in response to steering inputs. Also like a mid-engined car, an earlier S2000 could be tricky for any but the most skilled driver when pushed to its (high) limits. The 2004 S2000 uses the same fully-independent double wishbone suspension as earlier models, but it has been retuned to improve high-speed stability, to decrease bump steer, and to be more easily controlled at extreme cornering limits. Larger wheels and tires, and stiffer front springs and softer rear springs (with matching shocks) do the trick. The larger wheels and tires and a little more bracing for the backbone-cum-monocoque frame (which was quite possibly the stiffest convertible chassis ever anyway) add a trivial 24 lbs. to the overall weight. The ride is firm but not overly so; the biggest impediment to long-distance travel is the same as found in any convertible roadster - road and wind noise through the convertible top. That can be reduced with the optional aluminum hardtop. The wider tires increase the contact patch, making it stick even better. The S2000 is still a laser scalpel for carving corners, it's just a touch friendlier.
PERFORMANCE: The 2.0-liter S2000 engine made its 240 horsepower at 8300 rpm, with the fuel cutoff at 9000. This was great for bench racing bragging rights, and the top-end surge between 7000 and 9000 was truly exhilarating, with a sound like a 1970s Cosworth-powered Formula One car. But at lesser speeds, power was adequate but not all that impressive, and the light flywheel which allowed fast revving also allowed revs to drop precipitously below the heart of the power band when upshifting.
For 2004, the light switch has been turned into a rheostat. A stroker crankshaft increases displacement to 2.2 liters, and lowers the redline from 9000 to 8200 rpm. But, although horsepower is the same 240, it peaks at 7800 rpm, with maximum torque now 162 lb-ft at 6500 rpm - more torque at lower engine speeds. Really useful power is now available from 3500 rpm, rather than 6000, to redline. It keeps building until the rev limiter steps in, and the healthier midrange blends into the top-end rush.
The six-speed gearbox gets new ratios, with first through fifth lower for better acceleration and sixth higher for better highway cruising. The shift linkage is still as great as ever, and revs don't seem to drop as much when upshifting. I found myself usually a gear higher than in an earlier S2000 in any given situation. Still, unless you're used to modern sport motorcycles, an S2000 will require recalibration of your mechanical sympathies. 65 mph in sixth gear is a busy-sounding 3500 rpm, but the engine has just begun to get happy at that speed.
CONCLUSIONS: Maturity has only improved the Honda S2000.
SPECIFICATIONS 2004 HONDA S2000
Base Price $ 32,800
Price As Tested $ 33,290
Engine Type: dual overhead cam aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with VTEC variable valve timing
Engine Size: 2.2 liters / 132 cu. in.
Horsepower: 240 @ 7700 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 162 @ 6500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length: 94.5 in. / 162.2 in.
Curb Weight: 2835 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower: 11.8
Fuel Capacity: 13.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement: 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires f: P215/45 WR17, R: P245/40 WR17 Bridgestone Potenza RE050
Brakes, front/rear: vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with coil springs
Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 25 / 22 0 to 60 mph 5.8 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES Destination charge $ 490
Honda Press Release on 2004 S2000
Larger displacement engine and revised suspension tuning highlight changes