The Honda S2000 - The Roadster of our Times?
Staying at home has given me a lot of time to reflect. Not that I do it sparingly; I do it a lot, sometimes too much admittedly. I guess that when you let your mind wonder, you end up overthinking a lot of things. So when I was browsing through the archives for this week’s story, I noticed a pattern among most of the imports that have passed through my lens around the world. Across the various places I have visited: The States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong etc, I always seemed to spot a Honda S2000 at whatever show or meet I attended.
It’s no surprise Hondas are popular among the tuner crowds worldwide: they are some of the most accessible platforms out there. But even with very capable platforms in the form of Civics and Integras, more appear to be going for the S2000 instead.
Which leads to the title of this week’s feature: is the Honda S2000, truly the roadster of our times? The perfect rear-wheel-drive, manual, easily-modifiable tuner car that every aspiring tuner has to experience at least once? The tuner that this generation, is ever more vested in? And why?
First, a little background into the Honda S2000. The first generation, the AP1, was launched in 1999, as the production version of the ‘Sports Study Model’ concept car shown at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. Much of what the concept showcased remained in the production model: rear-wheel drive, a lightweight chassis with 50:50 weight distribution, and a rigid ‘X-bone’ body to ensure the front could remain planted when pushed through the corners, yet be comfortable during regular driving.
More significantly, the S2000 was built in the same production line as a distant relative: the NSX. Much of the production techniques incorporated in the NA1, made their way into the first generation of the roadster.
One of the areas this was prevalent in was in the S2000’s ‘midship' design layout. With the engine placed behind the front suspension, it allowed for a perfect 50:50 weight distribution between the front and rear wheels. At the time, this was a setup usually found in more expensive cars like Ferraris, so seeing a mainstream brand like Honda offer it, was a game-changer.
The unique layout was combined with its power train: a naturally-aspirated F20C inline-four, which produced 247 hp and 161 pounds feet of torque, the S2000 possessed the highest specific output of 124 hp per litre: the highest for any production car below $100,000. This was revolutionary in the industry, to the point Honda won the ‘International Engine of the Year’ (1.8-2.2 litres category) award five times in its production period, from 2000 to 2004.
A refresh came in the form of the AP2, released in 2004. Typical face-lift changes were made: such as new headlights and front/rear bumpers. But beyond aesthetics, Honda decided to enhance the car’s already perfect setup. The sub frame was strengthened; the gearbox syncros were now made of carbon fiber; and the suspension was adjusted to reduce over-steer (a characteristic complained about in the AP1). USDM, and eventually later JDM-models also received an upgraded F20C motor: while it now only revved up to 8,9000 rpm and lost 3 bhp, it was bored out to 2.2 litres as the F22C1.
Engineering achievements aside, that doesn’t answer why the S2000 attracts so many enthusiasts today. No matter how attractive their rivals may be, especially the equally-engaging Mazda Miata, why has the S2000 has drawn more attention and passionate owners?
Could it be due to the fact it's a Honda? Honda: the byword for reliable and dependable motoring? While equivalent two-door sports cars from Europe, like the BMW Z4 and Audi TT, are comfortable and powerful, S2000 owners benefit knowing they are relatively trouble free; free from most electrical and mechanical issues more sophisticated Germans cars faced, especially as they get on with age.
No wonder the S2000 placed first in the Top Gear Customer Satisfaction Survey for three consecutive years. The S2000 was the perfect package: fun to drive yet built to last and easy to maintain.
Even among the most passionate of Honda fans who love their Civics or Integra Type Rs, the S2000 has always stood out in its own special way. AP2 owner Heimond Ching explains: “As a Honda enthusiast, the S2000 was always on my bucket list [of cars to own]. “
“Unlike most performance Hondas that are front-wheel-drive and hatchbacks or coupes, I like how the S2000 stands out from the rest of the range: being a convertible with rear wheel drive.”
There’s also the minimalist cockpit design that aids the S2000's driving experience. No fancy features that became obsolete in five years, or expensive gadgets that become a financial liability to fix by ten. Both the AP1 and AP2 were strictly available with a six-speed manual transmission, three pedals, a digital tachometer, and a stereo: that’s it. Nothing to distract the driver, just as Honda intended.
Along with impeccable reliability, the engine offers plenty of aftermarket support. With the degree of diversity aftermarket companies provide the S2000 with, from intakes to exhausts, and even turbochargers, many enthusiasts love this motor’s versatility. Even without performance enhancements, the F20C/F22C motor is perfect for most.
As Heimond elaborates: “Many Honda fans love experiencing its engine as it revs up to 9,000 rpm: both the sensation and the sound of the power building up, add to the driving experience.”
Plus, compared to a similar roadster in weight, the Miata, the Honda could deliver twice as much power, thanks to the power of VTEC.
Aesthetically, owners could choose from body parts from J’s Racing to Honda specialist brands such as Mugen and Spoon Sports. Even Mode Parfume, primarily known for their specialization in VIP parts, have made a wide body kit for the S2000.
The robust engine and driving dynamics also explain why tuner companies fell in love with the platform. Just watch any episode of Hot Version, and it’s not uncommon to see at least one AP1 or AP2, modified by a tuning shop to best tackle the Gunsai Touge time attack.
Also, there is no denying the Fast and Furious films had a role in making the S2000 as popular as it is today. Not necessarily as the car Johnny Tran drove in Race Wars, but as the hero car for Suki in the sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious. Devon Aoki (sister of musician Steve Aoki) may have retired from acting, but her character's pink S2K left a mark among many enthusiasts today.
Like my friend from the Bay Area, Ariel. Suki’s S2000 was instrumental in cultivating her interest in cars, especially as a female one. So much, that when she got the opportunity to buy one, she was inspired by the very car Aoki drove.
“Suki was the first "girly" female racer I ever saw on screen.”,Ariel explains. “She proved that you didn't need to be masculine to like cars; there was never a character like her before. She was also half white, half Asian like me; it made me feel represented at a young age.”
“As we get older and re-watch films like The Fast and the Furious, we then learn more about the actual cars themselves. There was always something to learn about Tuner History. And that's what tied us down into the cars we aspire, or own today.”
The S2000 being one of those very cars, enthusiasts today have either dreamed of, or eventually, worked their way into attaining.
While production ended in 2009 and Honda has not announced a successor since, it is easy to see why ten years on, the S2000 still receives attention. Sure, it might not be as comfortable as some other roadsters, nor as powerful, but offering a pure driving experience in a reliable package, on a platform that offers multiple avenues of experimentation to any driver’s content, has allowed it to be such a hit. All considered, has made it the perfect recipe for a future classic.
“It’s a timeless, simple, driver's car. It was made purely for the driver's experience: around the track, mountains, and even around town. It’s a car with history. And it never tried to be something it's not.”
- Adrian Ma Photography (@therandomjdmfan97)
- Johnathan (@johntan_)