Cult Car Central status report- Honda S2000

CCC STATUS REPORT on Honda S2000

HISTORICAL FACTORS

Honda announced in 1999 that they were about to launch a remake of their S500/600 convertible of the late 60s, a tiny but stunning triumph of engineering over the odds. With a 600cc four cylinder engine that had four side draught Kehin carbs, 16-valves, Double Over Head cams, needle roller main bearings and an unbelievable rpm limit of 11,000 rpm! It was rear driven but via chains to solve the problem of the suspension movement.

Honda first showed the SSM (Sport Study Model) prototype at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show at the height of their confidence to gauge the response but there was confusion when Pininfarina showed their Honda based Vivo Argento Roadster at the Geneva Auto Salon the next Spring.  Of course NSX fans wanted to see another Pininfarina styled car in the Honda stable but it was not to be. The in-house effort was kept resulting in the 1999 launch of the S2000.

REVIEWS

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read the recent update

FORM FACTORS

Little did Honda know that they created one of the best evergreen designs of our time. Even as we look at it in 2010 some 10+ years on, it still looks current as if it hadn't aged one bit. The cabin however has issues but also aged well but not like the exterior.

What has double wishbone suspension all round, 4 disc brakes, rear-wheel drive with LSD, manual 6-speed gearbox, open top configuration with a 50:50 weight distribution and an engine that hits 9000 rpm? One would be thinking of some formula race car but it describes the S2000.

MECHANICAL ATTRIBUTES

If there is one thing Honda knows how to make, its engines, especially the four-cylinder variety. In its AP1 state the high revving F20C had 240 bhp (250 bhp for Japan) and would zing all the way to 9000 rpm without a protest. Later the AP2 with the larger F22C1 2.2-litre engine would only spin to 8200 rpm though it had 6% more torque. Much easier to drive with more low end torque but the smaller 9000 rpm engine was more sought after.

The intermediate model nicknamed the AP1.5 had the newer improvements like the Electronic Stability Control, Throttle by wire and clutch-release delay valve but kept the high revving F20C engine.

The gearbox is the most connected, direct-acting, bearing-mounted example there is in the automobile kingdom ever. Shifting it is the highlight of any drive. It is slightly notchy but with the right kind of gear oil like the Motul synthetic gear oil the shift quality gets even better. The AP1 box is closely stacked and the AP2 has the same first 4 gears but taller 5th and 6th.

In the rear is a Torsen mechanical LSD and also houses the final drive. The quickest performance fix could be an aftermarket lower ratio final drive but be warned that its not without its problems like axle whine. Be warned.

One problem with the S2000 has been the suspension. Honda may know engines and maybe racing but for fast road use it is somewhat unsorted, bouncing a bit too much. Honda tried to tame the wayward rear end with new springs that helped a bit but could not hold a light to the Boxter. Honda actually went bonkers with the CR (Club Racer) version fitting rock hard dampers and the legendary Bridgestone RE070s. As expected it would be great for a trackday but on the road it would rattle one's fillings loose. Unsurprisingly the aftermarket coilovers proved a popular thing among the owners.

The 300mm ventilated brakes (non-Brembo) seem weedy in light of the performance of this car but with a swap to higher temp or semi competition sport pads the brakes delivered good reliable service. Steel braided brake hoses are a must to get better feel. 

PERFORMANCE AND HANDLING CRITERIA

With such a high revving engine it hardly delivers tyre burning starts unless one has no mechanical sympathy. One has to rev the hell out of the engine to get going and then it becomes maniacal. The AP1 gets to 100 km/h in around 6.2 seconds and should reach 240 km/h. Its not the outright acceleration that counts here but how the engine can rev effortlessly to 9000 rpm. Honda has done a good job eliminating the boomy exhaust period at around 3500 rpm but those with aftermarket exhaust systems will have to (cheerfully) endure the in-your-ear exhaust boominess. 

One of the AP1's greatest party tricks is its penchant for oversteer. A wet road and slightly worn tyres is a surefire recipe for tail wagging. The AP1.5 and AP2 had that sorted out and maybe erred too much on the side of caution.  The standard set up is mildly entertaining but aftermarket coilovers seem to bring out the best in the S2000. Not to mention flatten out the ride.

TIME AND MARKETING FACTORS

Over the entire production run which stretched from 1999 to 2009 they produced a total of 110,673 units. Without a proper image and marketing strategy Honda could only appeal to aficinados and to find over 100,000 such fans is incredible. How many people buy Boxters just because its an affordable Porsche? People actually buy the S2000 not because its a Honda(?!) but because they actually want a properly specified roadster and not some styling fluff made for hairdressers.

Thanks to racing partners like Spoon, and HKS the S2000 really did well at the race tracks. Most recently at the Sepang 12 hrs endurance race where the Spoon prepared S2000 trumped its class.

In the first years until 2006 the S2000 sold in respectable numbers but in the last three, trickled to a halt. Honda announced the commemorative final edition called the Ultimate Edition with Honda Racing white, graphite shaded wheels and red leather interior.

Oddly as soon as those were sold off, the interest in the second hand market began to rise as buyers finally realized that Honda were not going to replace the S2000.  There are plenty of S2000 faithful that would gladly pay for the renewal of the COE to keep it past its 10th year.

This is most certainly a Cult car if there ever was one. 

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