Spirited engine sounds superb
With the discontinuation of the NSX, the S2000 is the flagship of the Honda sports car range. First introduced in 1999 and most recently revised in 2004, it is a traditional two-seater roadster, but with an emphasis on technology that is typical of the Japanese firm.
With strong competition from mostly premium-badged rivals, the Honda S2000 has a strong technical feel that gives it a different character. Unlike its rivals, the S2000 comes with only one engine option, but the 2.0-litre four cylinder unit is a highly developed power plant with the advanced variable valve timing system that delivers a comparable output to much larger capacity units.
The S2000 also has an electric folding roof mechanism, and although it requires two catches to be released before being operated, it takes just six seconds to fold or raise the fabric hood. The simple mechanism also weighs just 6kgs, and having been designed in from the start, does intrude into the boot space. A hard top is also available that complements the exterior styling well.
The styling itself has also worn well, considering the car was first introduced in 1999, subtle improvements like the revised front and rear lights and larger alloy wheels have kept the exterior appearance fresh. The design is uncluttered and dynamic, in contrast to the fussier styling of some rival models.
Inside, the S2000 is also highly driver focussed, with few controls on the centre console. Instead the ventilation and audio controls are grouped on two pods mounted either side of the steering wheel, while the steering wheel and gearlever are set close together for an intimate feel. A useful extra feature is a clear plastic wind deflector mounted between the seats, unlike the black mesh variety more commonly fitted, which can restrict rearward vision.
Although not the youngest car in the class, the S2000 continues to offer an intoxicating driving experience and a unique character. It is compromised a little in terms of accommodation and refinement, but for keen drivers this will be a price worth paying for the characterful engine and driving excitement.
The S2000 will be relatively expensive to run, thanks to the purchase price and insurance costs, although the fuel economy is quite good given the level of performance on offer.
This is another area where the S2000 shows its age, with limited space throughout. Occupants will find head and legroom sufficient, although elbowroom is relatively restricted. The boot offers just 143 litres and is hampered by an irregular shape thanks to the intrusion of the spare wheel, while storage spaces in the cabin are between the seat backs, making it difficult to access on the move.
The S2000 is relatively unusual in that it has a digital display, with a numeric speedometer and a bar type rev counter. Although it requires a little acclimatisation, the display works well in all types of light and is easy to understand. The rest of the controls are grouped around the steering wheel, leaving the small dash uncluttered and making them easy to operate without taking a hand from the wheel.
Because the S2000 is quite highly strung, it is less comfortable than some rivals when driven more sedately. Motorway cruising is conducted at high revs, the ride is on the firm side and road and wind noise does filter into the cabin. The seats are reasonably comfortable although the amount of adjustment is limited, while the steering wheel position is fixed, so it may not suit all drivers.
A standard fit alarm system designed to detect intrusion attempts but also to ignore minor disturbances due to the fabric roof is a useful inclusion, as is the remote central locking. The fuel flap release is also well hidden on the driver's door pillar.
The Honda comes with twin front airbags, high-intensity discharge headlamps and ABS as standard, although surprisingly for a car in this class is does without ESP or a traction control system. However, the braking power and grip on offer is a contributor to the car's safety, making it better able to avoid an accident situation.
The appeal of the S2000 is dominated by the incredible engine, which delivers a very high output for its capacity thanks to the V-TEC system. It revs to an amazing 9,000rpm and produces a race-car like sound in the process, and while it requires a degree of commitment from the driver to access the full performance, it rewards with a high octane experience. The handling and braking are also focused, with high levels of grip and impressive braking power available.
The S2000's family appeal is limited by the two-seat configuration and the restricted storage space. It is best suited to individuals or couples rather families.
The S2000 is a little extreme for most first car buyers, and the combination of purchase price, performance and high running costs are likely to exclude most owners.
The S2000 feels like a well-engineered machine, with a good level of finish throughout despite the slightly dated feel of some of the cabin detailing. The engineering excellence also feeds into the car's image, benefiting also from the Honda motorsport programme. It conveys the image of being more about performance than cruising, which some roadsters seem more inclined towards.
Roof down, access to the S2000 is decent, although the top of the windscreen pillar is quite intrusive and the seats are a long way down. Roof up, the door aperture is considerably smaller and does demand that passengers bend down to enter, although this is no worse than similar cars.
The S2000 is fitted with a radio/CD as standard, which can be hidden behind a neat panel. The unit is easy to use and has good sound output, aided by an option that mounts extra speakers in the headrests for roof down motoring. Separate audio controls are mounted on the right of the steering wheel allowing for even easier operation.
Inside the S2000 mixes black leather with black and silver plastics, although other fabric colours are available. This gives the cabin a quality feel, although the materials do not quite meet the same standards as more modern rivals.
With the roof folded, the S2000 is easy to park with good all round visibility, with only the slightly heavy clutch and the risk of kerbing the alloy wheels to worry about. Roof up, rearward visibility is far more restricted, particularly over both shoulders.
A full size spare wheel is mounted beneath the boot floor
One engine option: 2.0-litre petrol (237bhp) mated to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. No automatic option is available. Trim levels are S2000 and S2000 GT, with the GT model gaining a detachable hard top.
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