The world got its first glimpse of a post-'60s Honda roadster in 1995 at the Tokyo Motor Show, where the Japanese automaker revealed its Honda Sports Study (HSS) prototype that, like many concepts, didn't do a whole lot more than hint at the possibility of a road-going version. Four years later, though, and the world was introduced to the Honda S2000, the undeniable successor to the company's famed S500, S600, and S800 roadsters and a celebratory gesture of Honda's 50 years in business.
The turn of the millennium was a special time for fans of Honda performance. The first Civic Si to be sold in America with a twin-cam engine had just been released. The NSX had only hit mid stride. Limited quantities of the first-ever Type R to be offered in America were now available. Honda's continued success in CART and its reemergence in Formula One reflected its dedication to motorsports and producing performance-minded vehicles, if only for a few more years. And the Honda S2000 was unveiled.
At the heart of Honda's rear-wheel-drive roadster is the F Series engine, a 1,997cc platform indicative of the car's name. Originally released in a 2.0L configuration, at 240 hp the F20C1 boasted the highest mean piston speed and highest specific output of any naturally aspirated production engine in history, only to be beaten by the Ferrari 458 Italia and Porsche GT3 RS 4.0 more than a decade after its debut. In other words, the Honda S2000 F20C1's pistons move faster than and make better use of all 1,997 cc of displacement than just about any other engine on earth. All of this is made possible because of an 11.0:1 compression ratio, roller rocker valvetrain, variable valve timing, and an impressively high 1.82:1 rod-to-stroke ratio that allows the 2.0L F-series to spin up to a factory-warrantied 8,900 rpm. Special composite-embedded cylinder liners that had previously only been used on the NSX and Prelude were also employed by Honda's engineers in an effort to further reduce friction and, for the first time ever, a long-life chain replaced the beltdriven valvetrain that was often susceptible to failure and inconsistency. Electric power steering and a Torsen-style limited-slip differential were also standard for every S2000. In 2004 Honda addressed consumers' perceived concerns and updated its twin-cam F Series engine to 2.2L of displacement, resulting in 9 lb-ft of additional torque. Here, the platform's 87mm bore didn't change but its stroke increased by 6.7 mm, which, as a result, raised compression slightly but also mandated a more conservative 8,200-rpm redline.
Even today, Honda's twin-cam F Series remains one of the company's most impressive four-cylinder engines, but what made the S2000 truly special was its combination of powertrain, gearing, and chassis of which no competitor of its time could compare to. It was indeed the whole package. As it turns out, just about any automaker can build a roadster, as is evidenced by the Pontiac Solstice, for example, but that doesn't mean it'll be any good. To qualify, you need only a pair of seats, a retractable roof, and nimble and lightweight structure. The Honda S2000 is all of this and more. Here, the chassis is based upon a central tunnel with diagonal bracing at each end that carries the load of the vehicle and absorbs suspension movement. The results are an ideal 49/51 weight distribution from front to rear and minimal chassis flex. Outside, despite the car's size, its angular front end, long hood, and flared fenders give it a sense of presence. Engine and transmission placement were also carefully considered. The car's front-engine rear-wheel-drive layout means the gearbox sits exactly where you want it-right below the shifter, which means there are no cables or levers to disturb any communication between you and all six gears. All of this was also positioned as low as possible to preserve a low center of gravity and reduced yaw movement.
Inside, the Honda S2000 is sparse, and by the time the last one rolled off out of Honda's Tochigi, Japan-based Takanezawa plant on August 7, 2009, even its electronic instrument cluster and push-button starter looked dated. But you were never interested in the S2000 because of its gauge cluster. You, and everyone else who knows better, will continue to appreciate Honda's roadster because of its no-nonsense sports car mentality, its lack of an automatic transmission option, its edgy and tail-happy nature, and what's almost universally accepted as the company's best chassis this side of the exponentially more costly NSX.
|Trims and Chassis Codes|
|2000-2003 S2000: AP1|
|2004-2009 S2000: AP2|
|2008-2009 S2000 CR: AP2|
|F20C1: 240 hp, 153 lb-ft torque, 16-valve DOHC VTEC|
|F22C1: 240 hp, 162 lb-ft torque, 16-valve DOHC VTEC|