When you think of classic sports cars that have been sold throughout the US over the years, there are a few cars that come to mind—certainly the venerable Corvette and the Porsche 911 take the lion’s share of the credit (and deservedly so), but what others? Maybe a car like the Mazda Miata which has been going strong for more than twenty years, or more recently cars like the Porsche Boxster or even a Lotus or two might spring to mind. But more often than not, one of the most impressive traditional sports cars to ever grace a showroom in America gets almost no credit whatsoever: The Honda S2000.
Yes, the S2000! It was and easy car to overlook in the annals of automotive history. In a way, the S2K was a victim of its own successful design. Don’t believe it? Well, let’s see just how much you might have known about the high-revving Honda…
The Honda S2000 debuted as a concept at the Tokyo Motor Show way back in 1995 and instantly became a hit with crowds everywhere it went. Not being one to leave an opportunity on the shelf, Honda introduced the world to the production version of the S2K in 1999 as a 2000 model. There were two model versions of the car—the AP1 produced from 1999-2003 and the AP2 that was produced from 2004-2009. The AP1 introduced the world to a 2,800-pound phenom powered by a naturally aspirated DOHC 1,997 cc inline four-cylinder engine that sported VTEC and a power band that looked more like a Honda motorcycle than a two-seat sports car. The S2K made 240 horsepower at an astounding 8,300 rpm and 153 ft-lb of torque at an incredibly lofty 7,500 rpm. The F20C engine in the AP1 redlined at a mind-numbing 9000 rpm! That mighty mini-motor was backed by a six-speed manual (with no automatic option) and a Torsen limited-slip differential that powered the rear wheels (and only the rear wheels). Over the next few years, Honda continually improved the roadster’s amenities slowly but steadily—a better radio and digital clock replete with tweeters added to the doors for better sound, chrome rings on the taillights and exhaust tips, more powerful HVAC fan speeds, and let’s not forget an actual glass rear window (instead of plastic).
In 2004 the first major revisions were made to the Honda S2000. Designated the AP2, the second generation S2K got a boost in displacement—up to 2,157 cc (marketed as a 2.2L engine). This ten percent bump in size didn’t do much for the Honda’s horsepower, which stayed at the same 240 ponies, but torque was improved by 9 ft-lb to make a total of 162. The larger engine (designated F22C1) did, however, require the little Honda to rev a bit lower than its predecessor, due to the increase in piston stroke, creating its peak horsepower at 7,800 rpm and peak torque at 6,500 rpm which were still higher than just about every production car in the world outside of a few hyper-exotics from Maranello and Sant’Agata Bolognese.
Along with the new engine, the AP2 received other techno-advances—revised transmission gear ratios, carbon synchronizers, drive-by-wire throttle control, Vehicle Stability Assist, a clutch release delay valve, new wheels and tires, revised spring rates and shocks as well as a complementary retune of the suspension to help with the car’s chronic oversteer. Updated front and rear bumpers as well as LED tail lights helped give the S2K a refreshed look.
In 2008 Honda offered a second version of the S2K called the S2000 CR. The CR was a back-to-basics stripper model that presented the baddest version of the S2K to date. Lighter, faster, and better handling than any other S2000, the CR dropped essentially everything that did not help performance. No spare tire, air-conditioning and stereo available only as options, no power-folding top all helped to drop 90 pounds of dead weight while features like bigger rear tires, a rear spoiler, body kit, stiffer suspension, lower-ratio steering rack, and trick tonneau cover all helped the CR become the closest thing to a club racer Honda had built in some time. It was only available in North America, and just 699 were built. As a consequence it’ll cost you a lot more than a regular S2000, but they’re well worth a look.
At its best, the S2000 was able to sprint to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and through the quarter mile in 13.8 seconds. It could pull 0.95 g around the skid pad and still manage to turn an average mpg in the mid-20s without ever hitting a sticker price of 40k. The last of the 65,000 S2K models sold in the US (110k worldwide) rolled off the line in 2009 without much fanfare, which seemed to be a lot like how the S2000 spent most of its life. Although it was all the rage when it first debuted, the S2K was something of a victim of its own success. No shoddy handling, no strange rearward weight bias, no disappointing trait that marred its sporting fame with infamy.
The S2000 that was quite nearly flawless—created to be a sports car, and did so without question, compromise, or attempt to do anything more or less than meet that goal for an entire decade. The S2K was a car that although may not be the first car most people think of when it comes to sports cars, but it certainly should has earned the right to be far from the last.
If you’re interested in an S2000, don’t put off your purchase for particularly long. Values are starting to rise, so now is almost certainly the time to buy.