Japanese cars aren’t featured all too often on this blog, mainly because if you’re not a true fan of a wing-clad hot hatches of different kinds (as I’m not), there really hasn’t been that much to write about from Japan in the last years – or actually, make that decades. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule of Japanese cars being very high quality, but also very clinical and rather impersonal. The most obvious ones are certainly the beautiful and today very sought after first version of the Honda NSX, and of course the Mazda Miata, the world’s most sold sports car ever and which has been a true source of enjoyment in the classical roadster sense for now more than 30 years. And then, there is the far less sold and thus also less well-known direct competitor to the Miata that we’ll look at today – the Honda S2000. Because if naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines that can be revved until eternity is your thing, then there’s really no better car out there!
The S2000 was introduced in 1999 at the Geneva Autosalon and it was a rather successful start since the car was straight away elected Convertible of the Year, but this was still ten years after the Miata had been launched, so clearly Honda were late to the party. The S2000 would subsequently be built during ten years in the NSX factory in Japan to a total of around 110.000 cars which really represent Japanese car making at its finest. Honda’s ambition was clearly to tap into the successful roadster market especially in the US but also in Europe, in presenting a car that corresponded to the traditional roadster brief, combining low weight (in the case of the S2000, around 1300 kgs) with rear-wheel drive, and exploited so successfully by the Mazda Miata. To the difference of the latter though, it did so with an engine that had much more power and may well be the finest four-cylinder engine ever built.
Before we get to the engine, if we look at the car itself, there’s, really not that much to say. It looks good, in my eyes less “cute” than a Miata and more purposeful. Optical changes during the 10 years of production were if not far between then at least few, so all S2000’s look rather the same, making the year of production less important (one mechanical exception being the throttle by wire system, that was featured on US cars and on European cars from 2006, with many enthusiasts preferring the wire system on earlier cars. Moving to the interior, as so often, there’s no points awarded for design or creativity, but on the other hand it’s a no-frills, purposeful interior that works as you would expect it to. It is very digital though, in a very early 00’s way. All in all it’s a package that has stood the test of time really well, or put differently, that you could easily update to something that wouldn’t look old at all.
So what about that engine? As mentioned, all European cars were equipped with a 2-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder putting out 241 hp at 8300 rpm, and where the limiter only kicked in at 9000 rpm (a larger 2.2 litre engine was fitted to US cars from 2004 but didn’t give more power). Those are pretty extreme values for any car engine, especially when you consider that it was also efficient enough to be categorized as Ultra Low Emission in California at the time, and also to produce exactly the same power when run on everything from 92 to 98 octanes. The engine gave the S2000 a top speed of 240 km/h and a time of 6.2 seconds to 100 km/h, but what it didn’t give it was much torque. As you would guess, the high revs come at the expense of torque and with only 208 Nm at (also quite high) 7500 rpm, it really is simple: you need to rev the car close to the limit to get to the full power, but what a pleasure it is to do so! If you don’t want to take my word for it, the 2-litre engine actually won the international Engine of the Year award in its category five years in a row, between 2000 and 2004!
Except for a somewhat high seating position, the S2000 is really enjoyable to drive. It was criticized in the first years for its unpredictable rear end, and an ESP therefore became available in 2006. The balance is superb, helped by the engine being front-center mounted, sitting behind the front axle. Even though it’s a roadster, the car is very rigid with typically few cracks of any kind. It also usually has few problems of any kind as long as it’s been properly looked after. Therein lies a bit of the issue as the S2000 is popular in the tuning scene, with everything from sports exhausts sounding great to paint jobs and spoilers looking less great being very frequent. They don’t all look like the S2000 featured in “Fast & Furious” but as always, it’s the original cars that preserve their value best.
Speaking of value, S2000’s aren’t cheap, holding their value really well given they have a loyal following and are clearly well appreciated by a perhaps increasing group of owners. Given the fundamental solidity of the car, chasing low-mileage cars isn’t really necessary, but these tend to be around EUR 35-40′ with higher-mileage ones starting at around EUR 10′ less, i.e. around EUR 25′. The very limited CR (Club Racer) racing version of which only 699 were ever built, and which is basically a harder version of the original, but without any speed advantage, cost way more than EUR 100′ these days – if you can find one.
If you’re a fan of the classical roadster concept but not of mechanical failures and quality issues, if you love naturally-aspirated engines with a heavy right foot that likes revs, and if you think the driving experience is everything and you’re not bothered by black interior plastic, then you really can’t go wrong with an S2000, and you can also expect values to stay stable with upwards potential. This is also since Honda has never gotten round to produce a successor to the car. It is now rumoured again that one may come for 2023, but it’s too early to tell whether it’s more than just rumours. Until then, why not enjoy the original and to paraphrase a classic, keep on revving in the free world!