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Retro drive: Honda S2000 Edition 100. Image by Honda.

Retro drive: Honda S2000 Edition 100
Our man disgracefully abuses his position, in order to try and further the value of his own car...


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Honda S2000 Edition 100

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

For: that ridiculous F20C engine, the greatest manual gear shift action known to man, the searing high-revs noise, the feeling when 'VTEC just kicked in, yo', the thrilling rear-wheel-drive handling

Against: the steering needs work, the interior is starting to show its age, are non-VSA models better?

What is it?

Honda's 50th birthday present to itself. Right, now we've got that tedious old chestnut out of the way, let's get on with the main story. Here we have a car that, until the Ferrari 458 came out in 2009, had the highest specific output per normally aspirated litre of any piston-engined car ever made (the rotary-powered Mazda RX-8 is INADMISSABLE). Yup, 120hp-per-litre, from an unadorned 2.0-litre four-pot. It's remarkable, really, as there are plenty of turbocharged motors of similar capacity that don't even get such returns these days (NB: the 458's serrated 4.5-litre V8 obliterated the Honda's record with a stunning 127hp-per-litre, but then the Ferrari did cost about 160 grand when it was new, sooooo...).

That fact alone should be enough to get us nerdy petrolhead types salivating about the Honda S2000, but then you note it revs to 9,000rpm, with peak power at 8,300rpm. Or that it's rear-wheel drive, with a limited-slip diff and a stiff 'High X-bone' frame, to neutralise the usual handling and structural rigidity issues of a convertible/roadster. Or that it delivers 240hp in a shell weighing a mere 1,230kg (balanced 50:50 front-to-rear), making it potent enough to run 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds - a number that's still well up on most hot hatches these days, save for the ones with 350hp-plus and four-wheel drive. Oh, and the latest Civic Type R. And it never cost anything more than 30,000 when it was new, which is quite remarkable, given the level of sheer engineering genius that went into it.

Why are you driving it?

The S2000, for all its on-paper brilliance outlined above, never won adulating critical acclaim in its pomp - and, from some quarters, it still doesn't now. The earliest 1999-2001 'AP1' cars were notoriously spiky, on their 16-inch wheels and Bridgestone Potenza S-02 tyres, with a reputation for snap-oversteer that wasn't clearly telegraphed by fuzzy steering. An update to the pre-facelift S2000 in 2002 focused on sorting the geometry to an extent, while the rear window in the folding hood became glass, but it was in 2004 that the real changes came - and for the better*.

Often erroneously referred to as an 'AP2' in Europe - a designation only really correctly appended to the US-market and later JDM S2000s, which gained a bigger, longer-stroke 2.2-litre version (F22C1) of the otherwise-2.0-litre F20C VTEC motor to boost the Honda's reedy peak torque figure - the 2004MY facelift saw the looks of the S2000 gain a real boost, with LED rear clusters, neater headlamps with integrated indicators, and beefier bumpers fore and aft. The wheels grew in size to 17-inch items, now fitted with Bridgestone's RE050 rubber, and the suspension was overhauled again, with stiffer front springs and dampers, but softer rear items (plus a more compliant rear anti-roll bar). The steering was also recalibrated with a less reactive ratio. After that, 2006 saw further cosmetic tweaks in the form of five-spoke alloy wheels and a Laguna Blue Pearl paint, while a fly-by-wire throttle and VSA stability control were added as well. The latter of these additions took away much of the S2000's notorious reputation as a hedge-seeking missile, and perhaps some of its excitement with it.

And then, at the end, the Edition 100 - a UK-only special model of 100 units, natch - was launched. In Grand Prix White with a red-leather interior and smoked alloys, it could, and should, be an undisputed collector's piece. As, indeed, should any S2000, as only around 8,000 were sold here and just shy of 111,000 were made for the entire world during its decade-long production run. But is it? Is the S2000 genuinely going to assume the 'classic car' mantle, like its S500, S600 and S800 ancestors?

* there is no ulterior motive in this statement. We mean, it's not like Matt owns a facelifted 2004 S2000 GT in Berlina Black, with the excellent black-and-red leather interior, and he's trying to artificially inflate used values of S2000s or anything... - Ed

Is it any good these days?

Oh, yes. And it always has been, truth be told. Maybe it doesn't win everyone's heart, for the simple reason that the S2000 is not a car to flatter the lazy; it's hard work to get the best from it, but when you do, it rewards you handsomely - and isn't that what the best cars in the world should be like? Their talents only accessible to those who commit to them?

By the same token, it's not perfect. The magnificent VTEC engine sounds anodyne until you've got anything like 4,000rpm on the digital 'rainbow' dial, the dim-witted steering - while improved for the 2004-2006 cars - feels odd and uncommunicative on the fly-by-wire cars like the Edition 100, and the ride will be way too firm for some. Indeed, interior refinement is not the S2000's forte, as it has a typical, older-Japanese-car-cramped cabin that won't benefit the, um... more robust driver. We're also not fans of the round gear knob from a contemporary Civic Type R that's foisted on the Edition 100, which is oversized in said cockpit when compared to the neater, older, oval-shaped titanium shifter.

But again, homogenous perfection in a car is not necessarily exciting. And flawed though the S2000 is, when it's on song and on the right road, it remains an absolute stunner - so much rawer and more visceral than a comparable Porsche Boxster, leagues ahead of a BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK/SLC or Nissan 350Z/370Z Roadster, and a sharper, more involving and just downright better steer than the default 'My First Rear-Drive Roadster', Mazda's MX-5.

It is, of course, dominated by that fizzing F20C engine, which sounds utterly tremendous from 6,000-9,000rpm; take off the airbox lid and it barks in an even more maniacal fashion, while we're reliably informed that fitting individual throttle bodies to it (at great expense) results in one of the best noises in automotive history. The mechanical, snick-snick gearshift is deserving of every superlative under the sun; we've never encountered one finer in any car, of any age. The rigid body control and lack of any notable scuttle shake should gain all the glowing plaudits going, given the S2000's lack of a fixed roof. And the performance is just fast enough to make the Honda still feel capable of cutting it in the forced induction age we now live in.

A perfect dynamic performance, then? No. But a sensational one? Undoubtedly.

Is it a genuine classic, or just some mildly interesting old biffer?

If we could write down the noise of sucking air over our teeth in an agonised, non-committal fashion at this point, we would do. To be honest, other people have assured us that the S2000 is a nailed-on certainty to become a future classic - and the longer Honda prevaricates on replacing it, the better its chances will be. Even if an S-badged roadster does appear in the coming years, it's unlikely to have an as unashamedly old-school technical make-up as the S2000 - as it would most likely be a turbo hybrid of some sort, like the second-gen NSX. Also, the limited build numbers of the S2000 in comparison to its rivals, and the currently bottomed-out values (which are still hovering around a fairly strong 10,000 mark, on average), all point to a rosy reputational and financial future.

But the ambiguous critical consensus on the S2000 feels like it might hold it back from true greatness. There's no doubt the 2004-2006 period cars offer the greatest ownership propositions^, balanced as they are between the lairy early models and the somewhat sanitised end-of-the-run versions, but even those examples of the Honda might be kept from the exalted classics' club that already holds some of its illustrious, VTEC-powered stablemates. So we're undecided on giving it classic status... yet. Only time will tell if we look back more favourably on Honda's self-aggrandising 50th birthday present. And this author, for one, will be crossing his fingers in the desperate hope that it gains universal acceptance, and can one day be sold for 100,000-plus to some unsuspecting mug who doesn't know any better...

^ = Matt, can you stop this now, please? We're well aware of what you're up to, here, and we're not paying over the odds for your S2000! - Ed.

The numbers

Model tested: Honda S2000 Edition 100
Price: when new in 2010, 29,086 (circa 35,455, inflation-adjusted for 2018); good used examples from 5,000-16,000 today
Build period: 1999-2009
Build numbers: 110,673 (global sales); UK circa 8,000 units
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder VTEC petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive with limited-slip differential, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door roadster
Combined economy: 28.2mpg
Top speed: 150mph
0-62mph: 6.2 seconds
Power: 240hp at 8,300rpm
Torque: 208Nm at 7,500rpm

Matt Robinson - 12 Aug 2018    - Honda road tests
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- S2000 images

2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.

2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.2010 Honda S2000. Image by Honda.


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