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Honda S2000 Roadster (2000)

SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig

Honda Full Line Video footage (14:23)
MODEL:  Honda S2000 Roadster
ENGINE:  2.0-liter DOHVC inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 240 hp 8,300 @  rpm/151 lb-ft @ 7,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Six-speed manual
WHEELBASE: 94.5 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 162.0 x 68.9 x 50.6 in.

It's interesting that a company that builds primarily mainstream cars for distribution in the United States, can come up with two of the more unique vehicles of the 2000 model year. One of these vehicles is the Honda Insight, the gas/electric hybrid we drove a month or so ago, while the other is the S2000, a sports car.

S2000 is built to compete with the Mazda Miata and the new Toyota MR2 Spyder. It is a convertible with a power-operated top that is very easy to operate and disappears into a well behind the seats. Continuing with the top operation, there is a tonneau cover included that goes over the stowed top to make the entire package a lot neater.

We drove the S2000 in a couple of beautiful days in April that invited top-down driving. We also had one day with a couple of inches of snow that definitely didn't invite top-down driving. We didn't get to enjoy that portion of the car's appeal as much as we would have liked.

S2000 is powered by a 2.0-liter double overhead cam inline four that pumps out an impressive 240 horsepower. Honda brags that 120 horsepower per liter is the most horsepower from any other mass-produced normally aspirated engine on the market. And even though there's a lot of power available, the engine isn't overpowering. It is mounted in the front and drives the rear wheels through a six-speed manual transmission that offers the driver excellent control of the available power. The gearbox is a classic sports car gearbox with short throws, easy locations of the gears, a short lever that falls right into your hand when you're driving and well-spaced ratios that give you a reason for shifting and a sensible choice of gears to choose.

This is a fun car to drive on all counts. I initially questioned whether the engine would have enough power to make the S2000 go and of course it does. This is a small engine by modern standards. I say "modern standards" because I was thrilled to have a 1622 cc engine in my MGA many years back and that gave me more power than the other MGs on the roads of the time.

Instrumentation was interesting. There was an analog tach that arced across the top of the instrument cluster. Below it was a digital speedometer, so you have no excuses for not knowing how fast you were going. A water temperature gauge and fuel level gauge completed the instrumentation.

The heater was excellent and had interesting fan controls. The sound system was hidden behind a flip-down cover and contained an AM-FM stereo radio and in-dash CD player. There was a volume control on the radio, of course, but there was also a volume control on the dash. If you wanted to flip up the cover, you could change the volume and station or even mute it if you wanted.

Getting into the Honda S2000 is difficult for someone my age, but it wasn't that difficult. You put the key in the ignition and you can turn the key from now until doomsday and nothing will happen. The S2000 brings back the separate starter, and you activate the horses with an "engine start" button on the dash. When the engine comes to life it has a nice little roar that makes it sound like a sports car.

I have concentrated on the engine, but the handling of the S2000 also qualifies it as a sports car. I took the car on my favorite winding roads and had a ball with the twists and turns. I didn't enjoy driving it on Interstates, though. There were too many trucks around and the experience brought back memories of the time my MGA was run over by an 18-wheeler. Save this car for back-country jaunts.

Not many people remember that Honda began car production with a two-seater, 600 cc-powered sports roadster in the early 1960s. That car could compete with the Austin-Healey Sprite, but not much more and soon earned larger engines. Honda also learned quickly how to make sedans and how to make excellent sedans. While the S2000 is the natural ancestor of those original Honda sports cars, it is miles ahead in terms of design and technology.