Driven: Saying Goodbye To The Honda S2000
By Steven J. Ewing
August 10, 2009
Throughout the 1990s, the Mazda Miata was the go-to choice for inexpensive, lightweight, whipping-boy roadster fun. But all of that changed in 1999 when Honda launched the S2000 with its mean little style, simplistic interior, and high-revving (9000 rpm!) 2.2-liter four. And while the Miata went through a series of refreshes and shortened its name (to MX-5) since that time, the Honda proved to be a very stiff competitor without many changes over its lifespan. We grew to love the S2000 because of its taut, firm suspension, incredible steering feel, and impeccable transmission—the six-speed manual gearbox is, to this day, one of the best sticks we’ve ever driven—and we were indeed saddened when American Honda announced that 2009 would be the S2000’s last model year.
So just like saying goodbye to a dear friend, we took a New Formula Red S2000 out for one final spin down some of our favorite local backroads to see if it still feels as solid and magical even at ten years old. After almost 500 miles of top-down flogging, the verdict is clear: We’re going to miss this little car.
After you press the red Engine Start button, remove the soft top, and power on into first gear, the first thing you notice about the powertrain is how you have to rev the hell out of the little four-pot mill to really get the most of the available 237 horsepower. For spirited driving, we found it best to leave the revs sitting above 4000 rpm, have a heavy right foot, and quickly move your way through third, fourth, and fifth gear. A lot of people will take issue with the lack of power in the low range of each gear—something the Mazda MX-5 does quite well—but we had no qualms with really wringing out this engine to its peak revs (now only 8000 rpm) over and over. But what this car lacks in power delivery it makes up for in other driving sense points. The steering, for example, is perfectly weighted, with only minimal, quick inputs required by the driver. This go-kart like feeling is almost Lotus-like in terms of response and enjoyment, and our hands rarely had to leave the traditional nine-and-three position, even during tight turns. The firm suspension very confidently handles the power, and the S2000 has tons of grip available at all times. In fact, during some very fast runs, we turned off the traction control and had lots of fun correcting the minimal oversteer—trying to get the back end to kick out ever so slightly. This car begs to be driven hard all of the time—an offer we graciously accepted.
The minimalist, out-dated interior is perfectly fine, too. All necessary driver controls are found within six inches of the steering wheel, so we never found ourselves scanning over any sort of center stack looking for the appropriate audio or HVAC buttons. We even like how the radio is hidden behind a pop-down panel, and we laughed at how the head unit looks like it was slotted in at the last minute. To quote editorial assistant John Beltz Snyder, the radio “looks like the aftermarket one my sister put in her 1994 Chevy Blazer.” None of this bothers us, though, because S2000 enthusiasts aren’t looking for a top-dollar, luxurious interior. And even so, Honda’s pedigree of quality cabins stands true in the S2000. It may look ancient, but it’s still better than a lot of stuff in brand new cars from certain manufacturers (ahem, Chrysler).
On our short list of requests for Honda, we wish that the S2000 would stick around for a couple more years in its current form. Yes, an update would be nice, and an all-new sports roadster would be even better, but since the future forecast for the automotive industry points towards hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles, we’re sure that Honda won’t disappoint in bringing some sort of gas/electric performer to our market sometime soon. There are already rumors of a hybrid sports car based off of the CR-Z concept, and while it probably won’t be as enjoyable as the current S2000, we’re sure it’ll still be pretty entertaining.
But for now, we’ll hang onto the memories that we’ve made with the Honda S2000—the wonderfully fun, eager, and competent little roadster that it is. And to all of you S2000 owners, hang onto your cars, baby them, and enjoy them. After all, there’s no point in saying goodbye unless you absolutely have to.
2009 HONDA S2000
Engine: Inline-4, 2.2 liters, 16v
Output: 237 hp / 162 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Weight: 2864 lb
Fuel Economy: 18 city / 25 hwy mpg
Base Price: $34,995
Price as Tested: $35,705