SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide
Honda's new sports car, the S2000, is one of the most important cars of the present day. Why? This little technological tour- de-force points to the future. And the future as indicated by the S2000 is a very good place.
Once upon a time, high performance was gained at the expense of clean air and fuel economy. Think back to when astounding power was made from huge, carburetted engines. Fuel economy was poor (double-digit gas mileage was a surprise) and emissions levels were intolerably high.
With 240 horsepower from 2.0 liters (122 cubic inches), the S2000 has the highest specific power output -- horsepower developed per unit of engine size, a measure of efficiency -- of any street-legal non-turbocharged car ever built. Despite this, its engine burns cleanly enough to achieve California's stringent "Low Emission Vehicle" (LEV) status. Power can be clean and efficient.
This shouldn't be surprising. Efficient use of fuel converts more of the fuel to power and less to waste -- pollution. A simple statement to make; a very difficult engineering feat. Honda has called on knowledge gained from over 40 years in racing for the technology used in the S2000. The result is astounding, and the knowledge gained is sure to find use in other Honda products in the future.
Be assured that the S2000 is far more than just an engine. The chassis is just as amazing as the powerplant. The S2000 is a convertible that's more rigid than many coupes and sedans, and it's fully-equipped with all of the amenities expected in a car today, not a Spartan retro-fantasy. It's also one of the best-handling cars ever made, utilizing the same suspension design as found in Honda's Acura NSX.
The comparison to the NSX is appropriate. Both cars are built on the same assembly line. The S2000 is priced lower than the NSX -- around $32,000 versus almost $90,000 -- and more will be built. The production estimate for this year is 5,000. Unfortunately, far more than 5,000 people want one, and the first year's production is sold out. Is it worth waiting for? Absolutely!
Because of the rarity of the S2000 at this time, I didn't have one for the usual week. However, I was able to drive it under extremely varied conditions. Honda introduced the car to the local press Monterey, CA. I had the chance to drive it on some of the many "sports car " roads in the area, and on the track at Laguna Seca Raceway . Then I drove it home -- in Silicon Valley rush hour traffic. From the sublime to the ridiculous...but the S2000 worked perfectly in all situations, with a moderate appetite for gas. Of course -- it's a Honda.
APPEARANCE: The S2000 has the classic long-hood, short-deck sports car look, with a good blend of rounded surfaces and angles. From the front, it has a definite face, and looks much like something from current Japanese animation styles. It's aggressive without being macho. One bystander remarked "It's cute!" Yeah, cute like a baby tiger. It's friendly-looking, but rest assured that the S2000 has serious teeth.
COMFORT: No side curtains here. The S2000 is a fully-equipped car, with very comfortable, supportive leather seats, a great climate control system -- heat on the hands on a cool top-down evening is wonderful -- and power windows, mirrors, and doorlocks with remote entry, and a power top. The trunk is big enough for a long weekend for two, even if golf is in the plans. This is a real car, not a poser's toy.
SAFETY: It has powerful antilock disc brakes, built-in roll bars, and all of the expected equipment as well.
ROADABILITY: Driving the S2000 quickly down a tree-lined, twisting road, or on a race track is like playing a high-intensity video game thanks to its fast reactions and wonderfully wailing engine. The"High X-Bone" chassis combines the best elements of a backbone frame and unit construction to give solid anchorage to the compact double wishbone suspension. The S2000 may be the most rigid convertible ever made. It feels carved from a solid billet. There are no shakes and rattles over bumpy surfaces, and its handling is very, very precise. Because of the rigid chassis, the suspension is reasonably soft and compliant for a serious sports car, resulting in great comfort. There are no sacrifices between comfort and performance. Although it is a front-engine, rear-drive design, the lightweight engine is placed well- back in the frame for optimal 50/50 weight distribution and centralization of mass for mid-engined nimbleness and quick turning.
PERFORMANCE: Although the figures that first grab attention are 240 horsepower at 8,300 rpm and a 9,000 rpm redline, the S2000's 153 lb-ft torque maximum is good for a two-liter engine. It's at a high 7,500 rpm, but there's enough low down to make the light S2000 as easy to drive in ugly stop-and-go traffic as any stick-shift car can be. Power begins to get serious at 4,000 rpm, and gets very serious when the VTEC cam-change kicks in at 6,000. Below 6,000 rpm, the S2000 feels and sounds like a healthy two-liter sports car, with a nice growl to the exhaust. Above that, it quickly sees its 9,000 rpm redline thanks to a very light flywheel, and screams like a CART champ car or Formula One racer. (The sound reflected off of tunnel walls and underpasses reminds me of F1 cars echoing off the buildings at Long Beach years ago.) Acceleration is not like a big V8. It's modestly quick until 6,000, then takes off like a rocket, much like a scaled-up sportbike -- think CBR2000 and you won't be surprised. The 6-speed ultra-short throw gearshift is a joy, just remember the light flywheel. With useable power between 4,000 and 9,000 rpm, shifting is not as necessary as one might think. The aluminum shift knob does get warm to the touch after a few hours. Happiness is a warm gearshift knob.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ N/A (est. $32,000 base) Price As Tested $ N/A Engine Type inline 16-valve four-cylinder with dual overhead cams and VTEC variable valve timing Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in. Horsepower 240 @ 8,300 Torque (lb-ft) 153 @ 7,500 Transmission 6-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 94.5 in. / 162.2 in. Curb Weight 2,800 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 11.7 Fuel Capacity 13.2 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires Bridgestone Potenza S-02; P205/55 VR16 front, P225/50 VR16 rear Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone / independent double wishbone Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 26 / 24 0 to 60 mph est 6.2 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) est 14.5 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES information not available