The next big classic? Inside the fast, reliable Honda S2000
Search Driven for Honda S2000 for sale
The Honda S2000 is a fast and capable roadster from a golden age of old-school engineering. It proved popular in the Australasia, and if anything its reputation has grown with the years.
Now the S2000 looks to have hit the bottom of its depreciation curve and it should hold its value and reward you with many miles of high-revving fun, says Tony Middlehurst.
What’s your favourite engine type? The low throb of a big V8? The creamy whizz of a mid-sized V6? Or the never-gets-old shove of a heavily turbocharged four? For some, it’s none of the above. It’s the high-revs scream of a sporting Honda.
You can pretty much pin it down to that one company because, apart from the rotary-engined Mazda RX-8, which likes to stop starting when it gets hot, no other affordable brands offer that exotic whiff of life at 9,000rpm.
More than one Honda pulls off that trick, too. They generally have an R somewhere in their name, but there’s one model that doesn’t.
We’re talking about the S2000 roadster, on sale between 1999 and 2009, and popularised not only by Gran Turismo and Fast And Furious but also by the world’s motoring press.
Some of you may raise a whippersnapper’s eyebrow at the idea of investing in a Japanese sports car that hasn’t been available new since 2009. Uncle Bob, our in-house expert at picking out slow depreciators, will put you straight on that if you’ve got ten minutes to spare and the price of a pint in your pocket.
For a start, he’ll tell you that there were more S2000s on UK roads in 2018 than there were in 2017. That means there’s still a strong demand for them, either as imports or restoration projects.
Then Bob will outline why that might be.
He will talk about the Honda Blackbird 1100 motorcycle in his garage. In a 2019 car, an engine of a similar size will produce somewhere between 70kW and 100kW, depending on turbo boost.
Eighteen years ago, Bob’s non-turbocharged Blackbird came out of the Honda dealership with over 125kW. It remains totally reliable to this day, despite Bob’s efforts to burst it. The point being that Honda knows how to make performance engines that don’t go pop.
Depending on where you bought it, the S2000’s normally aspirated VTEC 2-litre engine produced between 237bhp and 247bhp at a bonkers 8,300rpm.
In terms of horsepower per litre, it was the most powerful non-turbo engine ever, but 20 years on S2000 engine failure remains about as common as spotting a unicorn.
As he slams down his empty glass, Bob’s final piece of advice to you will be to check out the prices of other turn-of-the-century or earlier Japanese performance cars like the Nissan R34 Skyline, Toyota’s Supra and Honda’s own NSX.
The S2000 gives you 0-100km/h in six seconds, a 241km/h top speed, classic rear-wheel drive independent double wishbone-suspension handling, a slick six-speed manual gearbox, 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, a limited-slip differential and a really cool driving environment – all at prices starting from a measly $15,000.
Interested now? OK. Let Bob tell you the many pluses – and the surprisingly few minuses – of Honda S2000 ownership.
Honda S2000s: The good stuff
If you want roadgoing fun in a traditional format rear-wheel drive sports car, your choice isn’t that wide. There’s the Porsche Boxster, BMW Z4, Nissan 350Z or Toyota GT86 – or you could do what everybody else does and get a Mazda MX-5.
There’s no harm in that. MX-5s provide affordable fun and will always put a smile on your face. But, unlike the S2000, an unmodified MX-5 won’t get you giggling like a loon as you hang onto the lower gears in search of that 8,300rpm power peak and 9,000rpm redline.
For an example of what we mean, here’s an S2000 giving Porsche 911s and Nissan GT-Rs a run for their money at the Nürburgring.
The S2000’s aluminium 1,997cc 16-valve four-cylinder engine is all about power. With a mere 152lb ft torque at 7500rpm, and the famed VTEC kick coming in at just under 5,900rpm, it’s not so much Lee Marvin as Lee Evans. You’ll be working that aluminium gearknob hard, but that’s no hardship.
For a slightly more relaxing drive, post-2004 facelift UK models came with a less manic power curve, courtesy of a new intake manifold and a drive-by-wire throttle. Or you could try to find a US spec AP2 model with a slightly larger 2.2-litre engine.
As long as you look after your S2000 with regular oil changes – ideally every six months or 6000 miles – the motor is tougher than Bob’s old boots. It runs a timing chain rather than a belt, which is good, but the chain tensioner can wear out, which is not so good. It’s an easy fix though.
Some cars swig oil at a fair rate, which you might see as a good thing as that means it’s always using fresh oil.
The most important point is that S2000 engine failure is practically unheard of, which is remarkable given its high-revving nature.
The VTEC variable valve timing system has a strong reputation too. If it suddenly stops working, it could be down to a too-low oil level: the car’s electronic brain will respond to that by taking VTEC offline. Clever folk, those Honda engineers.
Chassis-wise, S2000s are very sensitive to properly set up suspension. If you’re feeling slighty disappointed by the handling, and your suspicions are being confirmed by uneven tyre wear, a professional suspension alignment will bring rich rewards. So will greasing the double wishbone suspension bushes, something Honda reputedly didn’t bother to do at the factory. Odd folk, those Honda engineers.
The S2000 cabin is a delight, with comfy leather seats and an LCD strip tacho plus digital speedometer dash that still sets a standard for clarity and style. Climate and stereo controls are within a hand’s span of the steering wheel - a layout that a few of today’s designers might care to study.
Although the electrical mechanism for the soft top rarely gives trouble, you’re almost bound to see some rub wear or even tearing of the fabric in the section behind your shoulder.
Honda S2000s: The not so good stuff
The very first S2000s were a bit skittish under pressure, especially in bad weather, and they also liked to follow longitudinal ruts (tramlining). That was all down to less than brilliant original equipment tyres and slightly mismatched springing and damping.
As a stopgap measure, Honda tweaked the suspension in 2002. In 2004 they brought in additional suspension and body stiffening mods, along with bigger wheels (up to 17in from 16in) and slightly slower steering. That was a really significant step forward.
A post-’04 car is a good bet if you can afford one, though one downside of the facelift is a slightly fussier look to the front and rear ends.
VSA stability and traction control was added to the options list in 2006, and to the standard equipment list in 2008, when the suspension was again reworked to sharpen up the handling.
As regards the body, the usual Japanese recipe of poorly-rustproofed steel (only the bonnet is aluminium) means you do need to keep a close watch on creeping rot, especially in the hard-to-inspect areas behind the rear wheelarch liners. Putting problems right there won’t be cheap.
MX-5 owners will be familiar with that phone call from the MOT inspector to say that their car has failed on a seized brake caliper. S2000s get that too. Given the type of use that S2000s experience, it’s perhaps not that surprising that the synchromesh on the higher gears can wear out on well-used cars.
The cabin is well put together, but the trim and hinged cover for the stereo head unit has a habit of coming loose.
Finally, never buy an S2000 without trying one for size. If you’re on the lanky side, the driving position will be cosy to say the least, and if you have a GT model with the hard top you may have to leave your top hat at home.
- Daily Mail