The original S2000 dropped in 1999 as a 2000 model to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Honda. And what a celebration it was because eight years later, the upcoming 2008 S2000 CR does no better in terms of power output. This is not only a testament to the advanced engineering of a model that appeared almost a decade ago, but also the reason why the special edition CR is not adorned with one of those lusty red Rs.
Honda did not give the CR--which stands for Club Racer--a Type-R or even a Type-S badge because those designations are reserved for cars with substantial performance increases over their base model brethren. The DOHC 16-valve F22C in the S2K has already been tuned to the ragged edge as many an aftermarket tuner can attest to after struggling to improve upon the 237 little ponies Honda has wrung from this manic mill.
But this is not to say that the CR doesn't offer a little more sporty spice than the base S2K. Honda, being Honda, found other ways to pump up the performance of its already hyper roadster, most notably by lowering the weight and upping the handling. Honda claims the CR was designed for a customer who wants to drive a car to the track, drive it on the track and then drive it home from the track. We had no doubt in this claim before we even fingered its little red starter button--all because of the engineer in charge of the CR.
Shigeru Uehara is a senior chief engineer at Honda, better known as the father of the NSX. In the late `90s when you were livin' la vida loca and stocking up on canned goods to prepare for the Y2K scare, Uehara-san was hard at work preparing his own Y2K. Uehara-san is on the eve of his retirement now, but his swan song is the CR. "Twenty of my 36 years with Honda have been spent designing sports cars. Think of the CR as a farewell gift from me."
After bombing the CR through multiple strafing sessions at Mid-Ohio's undulating 2.4-mile road course, we can attest that this is the best present we've received since our G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip. We conducted our own S2K challenge with a base '07 model, the revised '08 base model and finally the saucy CR. Throughout the entire course, the CR just felt more planted with no unsettling traits. The CR's greater cornering stability was most pronounced going through Mid-Ohio's Turn 8 (a.k.a. "Madness"), a third-gear left that changes drastically from uphill to downhill just at the apex. At this apex point, where most cars get light,the '07 and '08 base model S2Ks would also get loose although never to a tighty-whitey staining point; just enough to require some steering correction and throttle modulation. And the CR? It never lost its composure through this corner. Let's see how Uehara-san and crew worked their magic.
It should be noted that the '08 base model S2000 is improved with revised spring and damper tuning. We appreciated this firmer suspension setting on the track, although we weren't able to pit both base models against each other on a street drive for one of our dreaded manboob-jiggling evaluations. As improved as the base '08 S2K is compared to the '07, so is the CR when compared to the standard '08 model.
The biggest visible change to the CR are the aero tweaks, which seem a wee bit aggressive when compared to Honda's standard fare. The CR receives a front underbody spoiler and rear trunk lid wing as well as speedster-style roll bar cowling, all conspiring to reduce lift and keep the car stable at speed. With the aluminum hardtop in place, even more airflow is sent to the rear wing to create more downforce. The front spoiler and deck wing have a tacked-on feel and even the garish wing of the JDM DC5 Integra Type-R has more of an OE quality when compared to the CR's wing.
While the CR definitely felt more hunkered down in the corners, we cannot confirm how much of it came from the aero. We did notice that both base models (especially the '07 with more mileage) topped out at some 6 mph more than the CR along Mid-Ohio's high-speed back straight, which can be attributed to the additional drag that comes with the increased downforce.
The chassis work on the CR is even more extensive than the aero bits with even stiffer springs, dampers and thicker stabilizer bars than the base model. The CR's Bridgestone RE070 tires are even gummier than the RE050 rubber on the base S2K and the rears 10mm wider at 255/40R17. Both the S2000 CR and the base model ride on the same wheels, although the CR's come in a specially-colored Kaiser Silver. The CR is available in the same white, black or yellow as the base model, although the Apex Blue Pearl is exclusive to the Club Racer. CRs also receive an exclusive interior treatment with yellow stitching on the seats for that Recaro Tomcat feel.
While the power cannot be improved upon on the CR, the power-to-weight ratio can, and Honda took the less-is-more philosophy by removing the soft-top, sound insulation, spare tire and jack for a 51 lb reduction. Another 42 lb can be dropped with a hardcore A/C and audio system delete option. If you go without the aluminum hardtop you can save an additional 48 lb. All of this weight reduction allowed for the addition of a rear body brace (occupying the space reserved for the soft top) and a steering box brace. With the aero bits and heavier suspension components, this adds another 42 lb. Even with the extra heft of the bracing, theCR trims 99 lb from the base S2K if you go without the hardtop or A/C (which sort of complement each other, don't cha think?).
The only other major change with the CR is a quicker steering ratio of 13.8:1 (base model is 14.9:1). The CR's steering ratio is actually the same as the '00-'03 AP1 S2000. In '04 Honda tamed the S2000 with the slower steering as well as softer suspension settings and finally a larger displacement 2.2L engine with a lower 7,800rpm redline (the F20 revved to 9K!). For those of you whose minds are already racing, every upgrade on the CR carries a Honda part number, and with the removal of the soft top it is conceivable to Frankenstein your own AP1 CR. But if you don't want to go to the trouble, Honda will offer a limited run of 1,500 CRs, which will be on sale by the time you read this.
The AP2 with more torque, less twitch and a more tolerable redline was Honda's attempt to bring the hyper little roadster up-market, but purists bemoaned the kinder, gentler S2000. The CR is Honda's "gift" to us purists and it's a fitting tribute to a car that may or may not be in its final year of production. Sadly, S2000 sales are not what they used to be, and 2008 may be the last year you'll be able to get your hands on one. If the S2K is to go away, we couldn't think of a better send-off than the CR.