The Honda S2000 debuted as a 2000 model, and celebrated the company’s 50th anniversary. Some perceived it as a competitor to Mazda’s Miata despite costing $32,600 against the Miata’s $23,545, but in reality the S2000 was a more direct competitor of the Porsche Boxster, Mercedes-Benz SLK and BMW Z roadster. All of those cars cost much more than the Honda, and none of them has garnered the same kind of enthusiastic following.
With VTEC variable valve timing, the fuel-injected 1997cc DOHC 4-cylinder engine produced 237 bhp. Its 124 bhp per liter was touted as a record for a normally aspirated engine. With an 8,900 rpm redline, the S2000 delivered 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds, a 14.4-second quarter-mile at 98 mph and a 147 mph top speed. It weighed 2,790 lbs.
The engine was set behind the front axle for a 50/50 weight balance, and power delivered through a 6-speed manual gearbox to a Torsen limited slip differential. The X-bone AP1 chassis was rigid, and the body was steel with aluminum hood and doors. Rollbars were built-in and the power top dropped in just 6 seconds.
Four-wheel independent suspension featured coil springs, unequal length control arms and sway bars. A rear multi-link setup included toe-in control for hard cornering. Steering was electrically assisted with only 2.4 turns lock-to-lock and the S2000 delivered 0.9G on the skidpad.
In 2004 Honda gave the S2000 its most significant update, with the 2004-09 second generation models known as the AP2 model. The engine’s stroke was increased for a 2175-cc displacement, and redline reduced from 8,900 rpm to 8,000 rpm. The less extreme revving disappointed some enthusiasts, but the longer stroke increased torque to 162 lb-ft which made takeoffs easier. Peak power remained 237 bhp but was reached at 7,800 rpm. The first five gears were lower but the 6th raised to act as an overdrive.
Suspension was modified to reduce oversteer, and the steering rate slowed. A front strut brace was added, and front spring rates and shock absorbers were stiffened. Meanwhile, the rear springs were softened and rear toe-in was reduced under extreme Gs. Wheels increased to 17 inches and weight rose slightly to 2,835 lbs.
On the styling front, Honda revised the front and rear bumpers, adding new headlights and LED tail lights. New red paint was introduced in 2005, with a black interior. Improvements for 2006 included drive-by-wire throttle, new wheels and optional Laguna Blue Pearl paint. Headrest speakers were fitted to redesigned seats, and door panels reshaped for more elbow room.
By 2008 the S2000 was nearing the end of its run. In its best year of 2002 it had sold 9684 examples in the U.S. and the total by the end of 2007 was only 63,124 – about 50 percent of Miata sales in the same period, when that design was already 10 years old. But Honda had one last trick up its sleeve.
The Honda S2000 Club Racer addressed critics who thought the car was too hardcore by doubling down on its bet. The CR debuted at the New York Auto Show and, as its name implies, was aimed at track use. Weight was down by 90 pounds, while the power top was replaced by an aluminum hardtop and a tonneau. Air conditioning and stereo became optional rather than standard, the front fascia was more aggressive, and a large spoiler attached to the trunk, cutting the roadster’s aerodynamic lift by 70 percent.
A brace behind the seats reinforced the chassis and spring rates stiffened 47 percent in front and 27 percent at the rear. Front and rear sway bars were bigger; front shocks 65 percent stiffer and rear shocks up 39 percent. The steering rate was even quicker and the rack mounting 39 percent stiffer. A peak power light was fitted to the dashboard but horsepower stayed the same.
Honda hoped to build 2,000 S2000 CR models but only sold 668 in 2008 and 31 in 2009. At final accounting, Honda had sold 66,549 S2000 units in the U.S. as production officially ended in 2009.
While some prefer the higher-revving engine and cleaner styling of the first generation (AP1) Honda S2000 of 2000-03, others prefer the more usable power and refinements of the second generation (AP2) cars of 2004-09. There’s no right answer. It’s all down to personal preference, and any clean S2000 will be a rewarding car to own and drive. As always with a used sports car, it pays to do research and avoid cars that were abused, neglected, or extensively modified. That said, Hondas of this period offer remarkable build quality and reliability, and maintenance isn’t particularly expensive.