Many manufacturers claim to produce performance cars that cater for the driving enthusiast, and while they may have a sports car or two in their line-up, they inevitably fall short on some crucial points. With rear wheel drive, 50:50 weight distribution, double wishbone suspension and a short shift manual gearbox, the Honda S2000 ticks all of the necessary boxes, and as a bonus added one of the greatest naturally aspirated engines of all time into the mix.
Maximum power of 237bhp from 2.0-litres may not sound like a lot when today’s turbocharged hot hatches comfortably exceed that figure, but to achieve this with a naturally aspirated engine was nothing short of techno wizardry. With a 9000rpm redline and two stage VTEC valve gear the S2000 had the highest specific power output of any naturally aspirated engine ever sold at the time (and has only recently been beaten by the likes of the 991 GT3 and Ferrari 458 Speciale)
As long as the revs are kept above 6000rpm to take advantage of the variable timing valve gear it provided rapid acceleration. Initial impressions highlighted twitchy on-the-limit handling but numerous suspension tweaks over the years yielded one of the best all round drivers cars ever sold.
Today the S2000 remains a highly desirable modern classic, with a mix of attributes that are still unique in the sports car world.
Which one to buy?
Externally there is little to differentiate a 1999 car from a 2009 one, bumpers and wheels where revised in 2004 and an optional hard top, standard on the GT was introduced midway through production.
The majority of changes were carried out to the suspension and dampers, initial complaints of twitchy on-the-limit handling meant that Honda kept tweaking the underpinnings to improve the cars dynamics throughout the production run. The biggest changes took place in 2004 and cars built from this year on were easier to handle when pushed. A stability system become an option in 2006 and was standardised from the 2008 model year.
The most impressive aspect of an S2000 is its 9000rpm 2.0-litre engine. The US and Japanese markets received a 2.2 litre engine with the 2005 model year update which traded the hard edged top end of the 2-litre engines for a torquier low rev response. UK-spec cars used the smaller powerplant throughout, and while they do perform best at high revs the latter cars seem to have a bit more torque throughout the rev range than the very early examples.
The GT versions launched in 2002 came standard with a hardtop so make sure this is included with the car. A run out Edition 100 example was introduced in 2009 and these cars were only available in white with graphite alloy rims and red leather interiors. As the name suggests only 100 were built which makes these the rarest versions.
Limited edition Club Racer models and S type cars were made available in the US and Japan respectively. These featured numerous changes to suspensions and featured unique body kits.
The electronic steering is a weak point in the otherwise engaging driving experience and tall drivers should check if they can fit comfortably behind the wheel, post 2004 models had height adjustable steering columns.
Performance and specs
Engine 1997cc 16 valve DOHC I4
Power 237bhp @ 8300rpm
Torque 153lb ft @ 7500rpm
Top speed 150mph
0-62mph 6.2 seconds
Fuel consumption 28.5mpg
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
• Despite the 9000rpm rev range, the 2 litre engines are durable. They tend to use a lot of oil, requiring a top up every 1000miles or so. Low oil levels and irregular oil changes are the biggest cause of engine problems.
• The timing chain tensioner can fail. A rattle on start-up is an early indicator, and if it does break can cause some serious damage to the engine, so have this checked out.
• VTEC systems are known for their reliability however infrequent oil changes can result in sticky hydraulic pins. Bearing shells can also wear out prematurely.
• The interior is not as robust as the rest of the car, and the roof can leak around the screen pillars. Seating position is a bit high and tall drivers may struggle to get comfortable.
• The gearboxes are strong with the post-2004 cars getting upgraded carbon fibre components helping extend the synchromesh ring lifespan.
• Suspension bushes tend to require replacing after 70,000 to 80,000 miles with the lower control arms being the weakest component.
1999: Honda S2000 (AP1) is launched with 237bhp 2.0-litre engine
2002: GT version with removable hardtop launched. Plastic rear window is replaced with glass item and suspension upgrades carried out to improve handling
2004: AP1 face lift version introduced, with major changes carried out to running gear. Additional suspension changes including structural bracing to further improve handling, and standard wheel size increased from 16 to 17-inches. Steering ratio reduced by 7 per cent. US markets receive 2.2-litre engine and receive AP2 label
2006: Stability system becomes optional extra. Seats upgraded with speakers integrated into headrests and Japanese market receives 2.2-litre engine
2008: Stability system standard fitment and suspension receives further revisions. Club Racer model introduced for US market – numerous changes made to imrpive on track performance. 699 units built in total. Type-S version introduced in Japan featuring lighter body and high down force body kit. – 1755 units built
2009: Edition 100 versions launched in UK, limited to 100 units. Ultimate Edition released for European market. Final S2000 manufactured with just over 110,000 units built over ten years
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
S2000s start at around £5500, which will get you one of the early cars with 100 000 miles on the clock. Full service histories are more important than ultra-low mileages as these cars are as reliable as any other Honda, as long as they are properly maintained.
The best value to be had is nearer the £10,000 mark, which is where the facelifted 2004 models can be found. The changes to their suspension and updated alloys make them a well-balanced option. At the top end of the scale the Edition 100 and very low mileage 2009 models, which are still currently trading for £17,000.
There is no doubt that the S2000 will become a future classic. It combines the core aspects of a pure drivers car with a characterful engine, all without compromising reliability. With the future of sports cars moving towards forced induction and hybrid technology the high revving naturally aspirated S2000 will become a rare pleasure which is sure to increase its desirability.
Words: John Tallodi