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The Legend of the high-revving Honda S2000 Roadster

Looking back at how the S2K went from Honda’s celebratory trophy, to industry icon.

Nick Yekikian
Feb 18, 2021
Author: Rodrez

Super Street: It didn't even make any sense back in 1999 when Honda announced that its S2000 was on its way to dealerships. Knee-deep in all things Honda during an era when the 5th gen. Civic, a monumental hit for Honda's aftermarket hungry fans was just being followed up by the 6th generation Civic - a branch of the family tree that wasn't a huge hit among enthusiasts immediately after introduction due to its absence of an Si hatchback, but quickly rose to become one of the most beloved of the Civic line - the idea of a RWD, convertible 2-seater just didn't fit Honda's successful '90s compact car reign that was almost entirely made up of FWD cars. Designed to celebrate Honda's 50th anniversary, it would shake things up considerably and stick around for a decade, though its presence has never waned, and its popularity has only increased year over year.

Powered by an engine designation that, on paper, appeared to fall within the Accord segment's F-series mill, we'd all soon learn that it was on a different level entirely as its F20C was intended to live at high RPM and what it lacked in torque, it more than made up for with high-revving fun from a chassis that begged to be thrown into as many turns as you could find. With that said, here's a look back over the years at the S2000's initial impact and its remarkable staying power.

002 red ap1 Photo 15/15   |   The Legend of the high-revving Honda S2000 Roadster

MotorTrend: We knew the Honda S2000 was a sweet handling little two-seater sports car when it was new, but many of us didn't realize just how much we'd yearn for it after it was discontinued in 2009. Don't believe it? Check any auction or car-buying site. S2000s are now being sold at well over their original $34,995 asking price. And with good reason.

It's Still A Honda

It's not like we're talking about mid-engined Ferraris or Porsche 911s with a "GT" somewhere in their name—cars we'd expect to appreciate for all the obvious reasons. However good the S2000 was, at its core it was no exotic, but rather a rival for the Porsche Boxster—and 20-year-old Boxsters aren't changing hands at a hefty premium. You can pick one of those up for as little as $10,000 these days, and few of the more potent S models touch $20,000. So is the Honda S2000 worthy of all the praise enthusiasts heap upon it, and what made it so special in the first place?

Just The Good Stuff

To determine that, we have to look back a few years. The Honda SSM Concept was unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show in 1995. After a few years of tinkering with the concept, the production version of the S2000 was launched in Aril of 1999. The recipe was deceptively simple: It had a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter (hence the 2000 in its name, standing for cubic centimeters of displacement) I-4 engine up front, a sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearbox in the middle, and power was sent to the rear wheels.

003 f20c engine Photo 15/15   |   The Legend of the high-revving Honda S2000 Roadster


While that recipe sounds similar to that of the Mazda Miata, the S2000 was significantly more expensive and sophisticated than its Mazda-badged counterpart. If you account for inflation, a brand new S2000 would start at just under $55,000 in today's money. However, you can still pick up a brand new Miata for just $27,775, and when you factor that all together it becomes apparent that the S2000 was a much more premium machine than some of us might recall.

It's not as though the S2000 didn't have the performance credentials to back up the hefty asking price. The first version, known as the AP1, was a screamer, with a naturally-aspirated I-4 that produced 240 horsepower at an immense 8,300 RPM, with a redline at a mind-boggling 9,000 RPM. As wild as its stratospheric redline was, the specific output was the headline: 120 horsepower per liter without forced induction, the stuff of pure race engines. There was also a limited slip differential, a racing-style digital instrument cluster (both cool and ahead of its time), Honda's traditional (and excellent) double-wishbone suspension, and a million miles of headroom to boot.

When it was first launched, the S2000's output was in the realm of the more expensive BMW M Roadster and Boxster S, but the S2000 was lighter at a svelte 2,800 pounds. In 2003, Honda introduced a series of updates (the AP2 version), and one of the changes was increasing the stroke of the I-4. The resulting 2.2-liter engine had an extra nine lb-ft of torque and lowered the redline by 1,000 RPM—the changes increased low-end torque and tractability at the expense of exotic high-RPM operation.

004 apex blue s2000CR Photo 15/15   |   The Legend of the high-revving Honda S2000 Roadster

If the normal S2000 wasn't tough enough for you, there was (eventually) the S2000 Club Racer, or CR for short. It featured a purpose-built body kit, had wider wheels for a greater contact patch and therefore more grip, some slightly stiffer suspension, and was up to 99 pounds lighter than the already-not-fat S2000. These cars are more than just desirable, they're lusted after in the contemporary market. Today CRs can command up to $70,000, and if that doesn't prove just how special these cars are little else will.

005 modulo climax prototype Photo 15/15   |   The Legend of the high-revving Honda S2000 Roadster

Extra Sauce

There were other special models too, many of which never saw the light of day in the U.S. There was the S2000 GT, a U.K. only special that had a hard top fitted and the S2000 Type S, a special JDM-only model that was similar in philosophy to the CR but lacked the wider wheels and had a different suspension setup. Other concepts like the S2000 Modulo Climax that featured a number of Honda-built aftermarket parts and a more upscale interior. Modulo is a brand name for Honda accessories in Japan (and some other Asian markets), and Modulo models are typically luxed-up versions of standard Hondas (but they aren't Acuras). Honda, however, has never offered a Modulo model on the states, and the S2000 Modulo Climax never progressed past the concept stage.

Why was the Modulo Climax a big deal? The concept was first shown at the 2012 Tokyo Auto Show—three whole years after S2000 production ended. Even though it was basically an AP2 car with a chrome bar slapped onto the front grille, it showed the world that Honda was still interested in its little roadster. After all, the Modulo made its first appearance right as sports car fans realized what they were missing. Where else were you going to find the S2000's magical combination of driver fulfillment, clean looks, and reliability? Practically nowhere.

006 modulo anniversary s2000 Photo 15/15   |   The Legend of the high-revving Honda S2000 Roadster

For a while, rumors swirled that Honda would bring the S2000 back. Nothing ever came of it, but Honda hasn't stopped fanning the flames. Early in 2020 Honda released the S2000 20th Anniversary—again at that year's Tokyo Auto Show. It was based on the AP1 S2000 but featured a modernized front bumper, fresh suspension, and a new sound system. Love and adoration abound for this little roadster, and as values of old S2000s continue to skyrocket there's a chance Honda eventually offers factory restorations of old S2000s, much like they do with the original NSX (provided you can spare the cheddar). In the meantime, new-production factory parts will help keep the S2000 fleet on the road

So, is the S2000 the legend we all seem to so fondly remember it as? All you have to do is look at MotorTrend's original road test to find the answer. In 2003 we said Honda's goal "was to develop a convertible two-seater with quick acceleration, taut handling, crisp shifting, great braking ability, and looks to kill we feel it's reached the goal." We loved every minute we spent with the S2000 all those years ago, and if you headed us the keys to one today, there's little chance anything would be different.

By Nick Yekikian
12 Articles



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