SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide
In a small dark dingy office in south London the sound of the Friday evening rush-our reverberated round the room, rain ran down the window. "Ring Ring", it was the Honda PR Dept, asking if I was able to come and test drive the eagerly awaited S2000 for 3 days. "On one condition" they said, "here we go" I thought to myself, I had to fly down to the South of France to do so. It's a dirty job but somebody's got to do it. I confirmed that I was able to go, even without checking my diary. If I had anything booked it could wait, nothing was going to stop me from taking this assignment.
Friday 5.00 am
It is very unusual to wake up at some ungodly hour of the morning looking forward to going to work as much as I was. It was raining and the sun had not yet broken through, but did I care! After a fairly uneventful flight to Nice, we were transported by helicopter to St Tropez. Imagine flying not more than 300 feet above the sea at 180 mph, the brilliant sunshine reflecting of the rolling waves, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Luckily I was brought back down to earth by a pretty smelly and nauseous coach journey to the hotel, some things never change eh! After a relaxing afternoon at the infamous and very lavish Hotel Byblos, a haven for the rich and famous, we got dressed for dinner and were whisked of to soak up the ambience and riches of St Tropez harbour. After a very enjoyable meal, washed down by a couple of bottles of Pommade it was time to go to bed and dream of the delights that awaited us tomorrow.
Saturday 8.00 am
The over indulgence of the night before took its normal toll and sure enough I was a trifle dewy eyed. Luckily the remedy was not far away, however it wasn't to be found in the medicine cupboard, but the Hotel car park of all places. Few could imagine exactly the effect that this seemingly inanimate object could have had on me that morning.
The jewel in the crown was there for all to see, glistening in the Riviera sunshine. My approach was tentative, after a build up of 24 months, the speculation of the launch of a new Roadster from Honda was finally put to bed. No I was not going to rush this moment, I wanted to savour every last drop, this stealth like silver dart really had me mesmerised, and the roof wasn't even down. Yet.
The designers of the S2000 have gone for a solid and chunky look, making it somewhat more masculine than its curvaceous contemporaries. However as I later found out, the demands of driving the S2000 are not as physically and mentally exhausting as a TVR for example. Concluding that the S2000 is suited equally for both Men and Women, Boys and Girls, young or old.
Once comfortably installed in the Recaro contoured seats, a turn of the ignition key does not bring the 2.0 litre DOHC VTEC engine into life. Apart from the digital instrument panel lighting up, reminiscent of a 1960 Wurlitzer, nothing else happens. Oh no! The heart of this beast is awakened by the push of a racer-style starter button, aptly marked "Engine Start".
The time had come to plan our route, whilst allowing the S2000 to warm up. Once happy that the journey to the first pit stop was chartered, a release of two catches and the touch of a button unveiled the softop and the true splendour and functionality of the S2000 was unequivocally apparent, finally we were on our way.
As we headed along the coastal roads towards Monaco, I could hardly contain my excitement, primed with prior knowledge from previous trips of the mountain roads that lay in waiting for my newly aquatinted silver friend and me. The journey into the mountains is spectacular to say the least, and one doesn't need to be in a two-seater sports car to appreciate it, but it does help produce a certain je ne sais quoi? (We are in France after all) It was as if the S2000 and the mountainous French terrain came from the same mould, they were made for each other. The combination of a highly rigid chassis, fabulously eager engine, close ratio 6 speed gearbox and pedals ideally suited for heal and toeing, made mincemeat of the demanding hairpins. We blitzed past the all too common Belgian tourists in their campervans struggling to ascend the inclines, allowing the engine to rev to a staggering 9,000 rpm before needing to engage left foot. My co-driver only too glad to point out the obvious attention that we were receiving, confirming my previous thoughts that this car was destined to be a real head turner.
Grasse, Digne Les Bains, Sisteron, Gap my co-pilot had navigated in her usual flawless manner. It was time to say good-bye to the beauty and unparalleled fun we had enjoyed so much, as the snow capped peaks of Grenoble signalled the untimely arrival of the motorway. The control panel on the dashboard alerted me that a fuel stop was imminent, however it is worth mentioning that it is a miracle that we did not need to stop sooner. A sure indication that the S2000 is not fuel hungry like most 0-60 (5.5 second) 150 mph max speed, sports cars, no names mentioned….T gas guzzler R.
The wind rushed through our hair as we sped along the deserted French AutoRoute's, our progress only marred by the all too common traffic jam in Lyon. Evening was fast approaching and when we finally drove through the mercurial gates of the Chateaux de Chailleuy, 9 hours hard charging had produced one very contented but shattered driver.
Sunday 8.00 am
Pack, breakfast, hoods down, "gentlemen start your engines" autopilot engage, the final leg of our Bond-esque adventure had come, destination Le Shuttle. Armed with enough change to keep the payage monitors (motorway tolls) at bay, cruising speed established, I had the perfect opportunity to reflect on the weekend. Planes, Helicopters, five star hotels, mountain roads, endurance driving and sunshine! It certainly had enough thrills and spills to keep the majority of petrol heads contented, most of them willing to endure a stretch in Broadmoor for the privilege.
The S2000 embodies and reflects the advances in technology made by Honda, during its accomplishments in Formula One over the last 4 decades. In an already crowded market place the S2000 will pose a serious threat to the Porsche Boxster , BMW Z3 and Mercedes Benz SLK, as it remains highly affordable estimated to carry a price tag of £28,000. Obviously it does not carry the same badge prestige that the others contenders can boast, however with the waiting list well into next year, this does not seem to be a problem. Standard features on UK spec will include CD player, cruise control, air conditioning, dual airbags, anti-lock brakes and roll bars behind the seats, in essence you'd be hard pushed to get more for your money. Luggage space is adequate and although the S2000 has been designed to be driven fast it behaves very similar to a Honda Civic until 6,000 rpm is reached, owing to the nature and mechanics of VTEC technology. One serious point to note is that to really enjoy the S2000 performance, one must be prepared to enjoy the sound of a noisy engine, and a high revving car. The brakes are excellent, with good feel and power, but a word of caution for the enthusiastic driver. The S2000 is a 240bhp-rear wheel drive automobile, and even though shod on ample 225/50 VR16 Bridgestone's, the rear of the car can be tempted out quite easily through mid-turn lift-off. The resulting slide is easy to catch and a pleasure to correct - if you know what you're about, although the slightly woolly steering doesn't help.
On the downside, well! It is difficult to criticise, because it is such a complete motorcar, but if I had to I would question the overall feeling and involvement that S2000 asks of the driver, your granny could drive it! Another niggling point is that for some strange reason it was decided that it was necessary to put a button to wash the front headlights in the very place where you would rest your arm! Imagine spending 3 hours washing, lathering and waxing only to accidentally lean on the "button", I can hear the expletives now!!
We arrived at the tunnel to a reception of beeping bad tempered Brits frustrated at the gridlock due to a cancellation of trains, fortunately those very nice people at Honda had the foresight to book us on Club, end result no queuing. We arrived back at Chiswick (home to Honda UK) early evening, dropped of the S2000 and headed for home, what a weekend! However I was saddened, it is only when you get back into your own car that you realise how inferior and unresponsive it is in comparison, the S2000 lives in a class of its own.
----------------------------------------------------- The Facts E N G I N E Type 16-Valve DOHC VTEC™ Inline-4 Bore & Stroke (mm/in.) 87.0 x 84.0/3.42 x 3.30 Displacement (cc/cu. in.) 1997/121.9 Horsepower (SAE net @ rpm) 240 @ 8300 Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm) 153 @ 7500 0-60 mph 5.5 Seconds Block Material Aluminum Alloy w/Fiber-Reinforced (FRM) Cylinder Walls Cylinder-Head Material Aluminum Alloy Length 162.0 in Width 69.0 in