by Michael Butler
Short of hallowed JDM royalty such as an imported R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R or highly modified Toyota Supra from the late 90s and early 2000s, JDM prestige doesn't get better than the Honda S2000. The S2000 is a car that has cemented itself amongst fans of the brand, and gearheads in general, as possibly the best open-roof two-seater sports cars of all time, and with good reason. They handle as if they're on rails, and the 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine loves to scream at full volume every chance it has. With 237 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of twist on tap, it isn't going to be the fastest thing around, but it's the way in which it delivers its power that makes it one of the greatest performance machines of the 21st century thus far. As a two-door convertible, the S2000 doesn't offer much in terms of practicality, and it has a firm suspension setup, but you'll forget about all that when you climb into the driver's perch. Chief rivals include the Nissan 350Z Roadster and BMW Z4.
There's no mistaking the S2000 for a Mazda Miata. This sleek machine looks good any day of the week and shows off a sculpted body shape with tantalizingly flared arches. It appears planted and poised to attack at any given moment. The S2000 CR takes things even further with its race-inspired removable roof - the only Honda S2000 hardtop model available - seatback cowls, and a massive rear wing. It says a lot about the effectiveness of the design when it can still appear fresh over a decade later - this design will always remain beautiful.
The regular version receives exterior features such as a remote entry system with an auto trunk release, an electrically powered soft top, which is still among the faster-dropping roofs around, and dual-outlet exhaust pipes. For weight reduction purposes, there's an aluminum hood and 17-inch light alloy wheels, silver on the base derivative, and gray on the CR.
When the S2000 was first launched in the US, it came with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder codenamed the F20C. This motor could rev out to a sky-high 9,000 rpm but it lacked the low down torque that American drivers prefer. The change was then made to a 2.2-liter mill with a slightly lower rev limit (8,000 rpm) but more twist, but check in the engine bay, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Even by 2009 expectations, it was never really fast, but it still manages to impress, especially considering the fact that it's a small capacity four-banger. Outputs are rated at 237 horsepower and 162 lb-ft. Low-speed acceleration can be lethargic as the powertrain needs to cross over into the VTEC zone at around 6,000 rpm to truly get moving, but this comes at the cost of fuel economy. Drive is sent to the back end by possibly the best shifting six-speed manual transmission you'll ever row. When it comes to numbers, it'll complete the 0-60 mph sprint in the mid-five-second range, and continue on to a maximum speed of 150 mph.
When Honda designed its roadster, it envisioned a pure driving experience, as was the case in S cars of the past. With minimal electronic interference, it handles in precisely the same manner as sports cars of old, and you'll have to search long and hard to find a vehicle as connected to the driver such as this, especially at this price. With a steering ratio of 14.9:1, or 13.9:1 in the CR, the S2000 turns on a dime and will seem almost telepathic in how it changes direction according to inputs. Fling the roadster into a corner, and it will stick to the road like superglue. Both variations have 17-inch alloys with 215/45 tires in the front and either 245/40, or 255/40 tires in the rear, and both wear Bridgestone Potenza tires which provide a good balance of grip and tail-happy antics. But, the Club Racer's RE070 rubber is more biased towards outright grip. The tradeoff to all this handling prowess is a stiff ride at lower speeds, enough that it will put off some buyers. An Audi TT Roadster of the same era will offer softer damping, but it will be devoid of the visceral levels of feel.
Far from frugal, mpg figures from the EPA work out to 18/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined. Still, this is marginally better than the 350Z Roadster's 17/24/20 mpg. That means with its 13.2 gallon fuel tank filled to the brim, the S2000 could cruise on for around 275 miles before needing to find a gas station.
The S2000's ethos doesn't allow for a plush interior, and we wouldn't have it any other way. All the basics are there, but that's really all. As with any high-end model from the manufacturer, build quality is superb, but as the years pass, a few rattles and squeaks will intrude inside the cabin; an unfortunate symptom of that rigid suspension. The seats are perfectly bolstered for spirited driving and stand up to abuse quite well. Amenities include a red start button, air conditioning, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum shift knob, integrated rollover bars, and a 12-volt outlet. The seat is adjustable in four directions. A stock AM/FM/CD radio is fitted, with eight speakers, of which some are integrated into the roll bars.
From a space perspective, legroom is 44.3 inches and headroom is 34.6 inches, regardless of whether you opt for the rag-top or the hardtop S2000 CR. The Club Racer is further differentiated from the standard variant by deeper bolstered buckets upholstered in yellow and black fabric, while the base iteration boasts black leather-upholstered thrones.
The safety specs on the Honda S2000 convertible aren't that great by any stretch of the imagination, but at least you have the essentials. It's equipped with dual front airbags, side-impact door beams, ABS brakes, stability and traction control, as well as brake assist. Those features were enough to see the NHTSA evaluate the 2009 Honda S2000 and reward it with 4 out of 5 stars on most tests.
Not only does a review of the S2000 prove it's good, but it could be one of the best 2-door convertible sports cars ever. It looks like a million bucks and it still goes like stink. The heart of it is still its biggest claim to fame: the VTEC screamer of a motor might not be the most powerful, but it has more character than any modern small-capacity turbo power plant. Tracking down a clean used example for sale will set you back a few dollars, but seeing as these machines have already reached classic status, it would be wise to snap one up before they become too expensive, especially the CR versions. Pre-owned S2000 prices have already dropped below the original MSRP of the Honda S2000 when new, which ranged from $34,995 to $37,995.