The Honda S2000 had great handling, RWD, an eye-catching design, and an awesome VTEC engine. So, where did it go and why?
Sometimes my wife indulges me with my car obsession by letting me know if she saw any interesting cars while out and about. One day, my wife came home and said she saw, “Some car that looked like a BMW, but mixed with like a Miata?” I hurriedly pulled up a picture on my phone to see if it was what I thought, and sure enough it was the high revving beauty of the early 2000s, the Honda S2000.
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Most car enthusiasts didn’t get the chance to fully appreciate the Honda S2000 until it was too late. The model only lasted from 2000 to 2009 and was priced between the Mazda Miata and the BMW Z3 of the same time. It wasn’t luxury. It wasn’t cheap. It was all performance and it was something Honda fans had wanted for a long time. The S2000 was one of the very few rear wheel drive cars Honda ever produced and they made sure it was the best one.
So, why did it get discontinued if it was everything car fans wanted? Even the Fast and Furious franchise knew it was a great car, having included it twice! Once to beat the crap out of a Jetta and the other holding its own against an R34 Nissan Skyline! I mean Honda, come on. You had a great thing here and everyone saw it, why discontinue something so impactful to the car world? Let’s take a look at the history, the creation, and the life of the S2000. Maybe that will explain why there aren’t newly updated S2000s on showroom floors anymore.
The history leading up to the S2000 starts back in 1962. Honda was known for motorcycles at the time, but the company needed to expand their operation. Bikes just didn’t sell well in the winter months, so a car was the next logical step. On June 5, 1962 Honda unveiled their S360, a compact roadster sporting a 360cc I4 engine. It was met with a lot of interest from Honda’s franchise dealers leading the company to showcase 3 new models in October of the same year – the S360 roadster, T360 mini truck, and the larger S500 roadster.
The S360 never actually made it to market, but the S500, with its larger body and engine, made for a great seller. The S500 made its showroom debut in 1963 with a DOHC 531cc I4 engine that made 44hp. Combined with its tiny light body, the S500 could reach 80mph. It had a four-speed manual and a four-wheel independent suspension. Only 1,363 S500 models were ever produced.
The following year, Honda introduced the new S600. The S600 was similarly styled to the S500, but it also came available as a fastback coupe and carried a 606cc I4 engine that made 57hp. The S600 saw better production numbers than the S500 with 11,284 roadsters and 1,800 fastback coupes produced in its lifetime. However, Honda would once again replace the roadster model in 1966.
The S800 was the pinnacle of their roadsters of the time as it had a 791cc I4 engine that made 70hp and could finally reach 100mph. It was said to be the fastest production 1L car of its time thanks to its high revving engine. The S800 made its way into the European market, but never fully made its debut in America. Sadly, it too would be discontinued in 1970 after having produced 11,536 models. Another Honda roadster was never able to fill the gap as Honda reoriented its product line to focus more on family vehicles with better fuel efficiency. That is until a conceptual teaser grabbed people’s attention in 1995.
In 1995, at the Tokyo Motor Show, Honda showed off their conceptual roadster as a design study. The Sport Study Model, or SSM, was a RWD roadster powered by a 2.0L DOHC-VTEC I5 engine. The Honda SSM was constructed with all aluminum body panels, a 50/50 weight distribution, and a rigid high X-bone frame claimed to improve the vehicle’s collision safety and rigidity. It was sleek and styled like nothing else from the decade. Honda showcased the model for some years following 1995, and thankfully saw the positive public reception of the vehicle. In 1999, Honda announced the arrival of the production roadster named the S2000.
A Honda roadster had finally officially made its way to the American domestic market, and it was well worth the wait. The S2000 was a track star straight from the dealership and made for an enjoyable driving experience. Not only did this car perform impressively, it sounded even better. The S2000 was tuned to be a high revving engine with the redline at 9000rpm. This, coupled with the performance dual exhaust, made for a satisfyingly loud engine noise. The thing was a racecar in every way, and it made the driver know it.
I mean, just look at the interior. All of the controls, switches, and clusters wrap around the most important person in the car, the driver. The climate controls were with the driver, the radio controls were with the driver, and there wasn’t a glove compartment because the passenger doesn’t need to fiddle with the driver’s stuff. The passenger was just along for the ride; just as it should be in sports cars. There was a radio in the center of the vehicle, but it was hidden behind a stylized silver compartment cover. And as for the missing storage space, Honda added a nice little compartment between the back of the seats as well as some storage netting by the passenger’s feet.
Another huge selling point of the S2000 was the Club Racer. The Club Racer S2000 was a special edition trim level that received weight reduction and added track level performance. It updated the vehicle with a revised exhaust, stiffer suspension, wider rear tires, revised front lip, a huge spoiler, a hardtop roof, and plenty of visually redesigned components. Better yet, we got a Club Racer trim that Japan didn’t even get. That’s almost unheard of with Honda! American car enthusiasts are trying their hardest to get their hands on rare JDM variants that don’t make it here, but then we got the special version for once! I mean they got one called the Type S that was pretty similar and also cool, but still ….
The S2000 went through two iterations in its lifespan. From 1999 to 2003 was the AP1 versions and from 2004 to 2009 was the AP2 versions. For the most part the body style remained virtually the same between the two, but there were quite a few nuances that made them distinct.
Under the hood of the S2000 AP1 you’ll find Honda’s F20C 2.0L DOHC-VTEC I4 engine making 240 horsepower at 8300 rpm. This was mated with a six-speed manual transmission and featured a standard limited slip differential at the rear. The S2000 AP1 had an independent double wishbone suspension and 16-in. wheels with Bridgestone Potenza S-02 tires installed. A common customer complaint of this version was that the engine didn’t have enough low-end torque. The VTEC didn’t really start pushing until the car hit 6000 rpm and that’s where most of the power began to truly show.
Some noticeable changes outside the S2000 for the AP2 was the updated front bumper, rear bumper, revised headlights, updated LED taillights, oval exhaust tips, and the wheels were increased to 17 inches while sporting Bridgestone RE-050 installed tires. The suspension was updated with a retune that reduced oversteer and created softer spring rates along with updated shock absorbers. The subframe experienced a revision to its design, increasing its rigidity.
Then, under the hood, the engine was updated to the stroked out F22C1 2.2L DOHC-VTEC I4 engine made for the American market. This updated engine still maintained 240hp, but it produced a bit more low-end torque and redlined at a lower 8200 rpm. This was further enhanced by the updated transmission. The gearbox’s brass synchronizers were replaced with carbon fiber ones and Honda shortened the first five gears while lengthening the sixth in conjunction with the new engine.
Public perception of the Honda S2000 was positive. It looked like a fun, desirable car. The only problem there is the keywords of “looked” and “desirable.” People just weren’t buying them up as they weren’t practical for the everyday driving. That idea was only furthered by the 2008 Great Recession and attendant automotive industry crisis that felled the likes of Pontiac and Mercury.
Honda was luckily poised pretty well during this time with their affordable and fuel-efficient models like the Civic, Pilot, and Odyssey. Sports car models were great to talk about and look at, but they weren’t the breadwinners in automotive lineups. Honda sadly knew this and halted production of the S2000 with just 355 S2000s being produced in its final year, 2009.
Now, if Honda’s history with roadsters is anything to go by, then a return of the S2000 in the form of redesigned successor isn’t out of the question. Recently, the automotive world has been hankering on nostalgia with models like the Bronco, Hummer, and 240esque Nissan Z car, all intended to capitalize on the bygone thrills of yesteryear. So, there is still a chance we could see a return of the Honda S2000. However, if you really want a fun car to drive, then a used S2000 is worth the investment. And I really mean investment, they have greatly appreciated in value over the years and should continue to do so.
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