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What Might Have Been: The Honda S2000

October 25, 2011 by Matt

Honda S2000 S-2000 Red Convertible Roadster Cabrio Cabriolet

So, what’s up? This is a great car; what about its model run could have possibly been better? Don’t I have bigger fish to fry?

Well, let me be clear: None of this will change the car’s status as one of the very few cars of recent vintage I’d seriously consider owning. Honda concentrated their strengths in the S2000; from the eager 240 hp 4-cyl to the light 2850 lb weight to the laser-beam steering and shifter, it’s a usable, focused, angry, fling-about sports car.

The design in particular is very well done. The shape is simple and monolithic, befitting such a single-minded, “pure” car. And details like the rocker panel undercuts and meager distance between the tops of the front wheel arches and tops of the fenders truly shine.

Honda S2000 S-2000 Red Convertible Roadster Cabrio Cabriolet Interior Inside Cockpit

It’s no coincidence, then, that what Honda could have done differently doesn’t include altering the existing car, only “augmenting” the concept with some add-ons, like a coupe version of the car. Cars originally designed as roadsters don’t always make a smooth transition stylistically to being enclosed, as in the case of the Triumph GT6 or the BMW Z3 Coupe. But done carefully, a coupe can breathe new life into a previously convertible-only sports car; witness the BMW Z4 M Coupe or even the sadly-unproduced Mazda Miata Coupe. A nicely-fitting hardtop was offered for the S2000, but it’s not the same. I wish they’d shown us what a smooth resolution of the roof and trunk lines into an elegant fastback could have looked like. And then made it.

Additionally, between the CRX, NSX and then the S2000, Honda has an unfortunate history of “one-and-out” cult cars. Like the other two models, the S2000 had the potential to become a dynasty, but instead of continuing to develop the car, releasing a full update instead of a revision like they did in ’04, Honda unceremoniously axed the model altogether in ’09. At least the automaker didn’t let the car age into complete irrelevance (see: NSX), but there was so much potential to build on their front-mid-engined, RWD foothold, if not with a completely new model, then with a freshening of the S2000 concept. As it is, Honda is frustratingly absent from a market segment they belong in.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting key decisions I wish automakers had made differently, for divers reasons. Read the other installments here:

Filed under: Honda, What Might Have Been

10 Comments

  1. John D says:

    These cars were generally the ones to beat at any given autocross. In our division in Kansas City there was a S2000 driven by a very talented (and aggressive) driver who was regularly very competitive at a national level. He was definitely the one to beat for most people and often had the fasted time at any given event with his bone stock model (except for semi-slick tires). I was able to get within shouting distance of his time once…but never seriously thought I could catch him even though I had significantly more power in a similar sized car. With a few straights it could have been a different story, but I was impressed time and time again at what that lil’ Honda would do…

    • Matt says:

      That’s interesting. What do you think it was about the S2000 that made it so competitive compared to the FD? The 3rd gen has ideal suspension design, comparable weight, well-nigh perfect handling, etc. On paper, it should be a wash.

      In the case you mention, was it the driver that made the difference? In other words, were you able to keep pace with other S2000s, not just that one?

  2. John D says:

    The driver was definitely a part of that equation, but I let another more experienced driver take my car out a few times just to see what he said about the car and to see what tips he may have for me. He was very impressed with the power it put down and said it felt very much like a Japanese GT car (comparable to the Supra but more nimble). But I really had it set up more for high speed track use with very high spring rates and wide tires (255 up front and 275 rear), which probably helped it feel more planted but compromised the agility on a tight autocross type course. Come to think of it, I bet a stock FD would probably have been more suited for an autocross course than mine was. Then again, I’d rather be on a road course open track any day of the week. ;)

  3. John D says:

    Now that I think about it, the only other car in my class on on many occasions (Unlimited Modified) was a supercharged S2000 with upgraded suspension, wider tires, etc. I was able to beat him 4 out of 5 events and they had two drivers who ran it. I guess that car was probably more comparable to mine because of similar modifications that actually made it more difficult to handle in a tight auto-x course…

    • Matt says:

      Interesting. So less (power, tire, etc) is more in those cases?

      Agreed about autox vs. road course. It would be nice to have more than, say, 4 minutes total of track time on a given weekend.

      Do you remember the first dyno day the Car Guys went to where the guy brought the turbo’d S2000 and was dumping 105 octane race gas in it, trying to eke out 5, 10 more hp even though his intake temps must’ve been through the roof? Car had OZ SLs on it, as I recall.

      Good times.

  4. John D says:

    I think so. Having a superfluous amount of power in auto-x actually makes a car more difficult to drive as you have to be very careful not to break traction or slide around, wasting time. Relatively softer springs allow for more weight transfer at lower speeds, aiding traction, while wider tires generally require more effort to steer in tight corners. It was interesting being around the autocross crowd after my (fairly limited) experience at road course driving schools. You certainly learn that it is a very different methodology and skill.

    I think I like the road courses best because you get to drive crazy fast. ;)

    Hm. I don’t remember that. (I think the last thing that engine needs is a turbo charger…) Which shop was this at?

    • Matt says:

      It was at the dyno in Greensboro, Turbo Tune I believe. The place with the dyno in the shed, right across the railroad tracks where we took your ’69 the first time. Apparently the place went bust after the owner died in ’08.

  5. Jack says:

    An old post I know, but now that Toyotabru has the BR-Z/ FR-S, do you think this will push Honda into making another FR layout car? I sure hope so, that would make for a great little rivalry

    • Matt says:

      Perhaps. Sure, the Miata, Z3 and Boxster had been on the market for a while, but the S2000 still seemed to pop out of nowhere and didn’t really have any direct Japanese competitors, when usually they come in waves. So it’s a bit of an oddity there.

      I sure hope Honda responds to the Scibaru threat; the S2000 was by all accounts a very well executed car, so we know Honda can do it right.

  6. areopagitica says:

    Honda S2000 was a great concept and executed well with the following exceptions. It was too heavy by 200 lbs. The high strung engine’s torque was insufficien to launch it. An ideal sized 2400mm wheelbase and not too broad, but bulky in its detailing. The bumper protrusions front and rear were too prominent. The inartful taillamps and deck height made it disappear in a row of Accords. The early 90s Prelude coupe was prettier and indeed sleeker. The deep S2000 trunk accomodated a flat tire vertically however in an emergency if the toolcase was removed. The worst S2000 issues were knife-edged handling and a ravenous rear tire wear, both resulting from massive toe in. On par, a 2 liter MX5 (with a little interior upgrade) would be a friendlier road companion for a smaller outlay, and my garage has held a pair of each. Sadly, Honda has lately lost its Mojo as far as motorsport is concerned.

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