If not Honda, what other major automaker could offer a $40,000 sports car with a tiny, normally aspirated four-cylinder engine, a functional, no-nonsense interior, and no transmission option beyond a six-speed manual?
Indeed, the S2000 perfectly distills what has traditionally made Hondas so appealing. The 2.2-liter engine can be either efficient and well-behaved or raw and thrilling depending on how high you rev it. Lighting quick, accurate steering makes you want to slalom through construction cones. And that shifter, oh that shifter. It feels like it’s plugged into your brainstem. And the car even rides well – we’ve become so accustomed to 3500-pound “sports cars” with twenty-inch wheels that it’s shocking to drive something that exhibits practically no body roll yet absorbs every bump Michigan’s roads have to offer. Put all this together, and you have a no-compromises track car that’s also a perfectly reasonable daily driver.
No, the S2000 won’t win many drag races against other $40,000 cars (think about it – everything is fast these days), and you might even lose to a Chrysler Town & Country if you don’t squeeze the engine past 7500 rpm. But there aren’t many cars left that follow so pure an engineering mission and that put the driver in so much control.
The S2000’s departure after this year with no foreseeable replacement again raises questions as to whether Honda’s luster is fading. I’ll withhold my judgment until the CR-Z sporty hybrid comes out, but it’s safe to say that it’ll have a lot to live up to.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The S2000 has had a good run. I was happy to have one last turn behind the wheel of this 2009 model, since there will not be a 2010 model. Although the S2000 is a lot of fun to drive on a good road, you really need to take it to a racetrack to fully take advantage of its capabilities. The S2000 has always had a very-high-revving, DOHC four-cylinder engine; taking it above 7000 rpm, you’re rewarded by a fabulous high-pitched shriek. An ultrasharp chassis, a stiff body, and communicative steering complete the picture. Let’s hope that Honda’s upcoming CR-Z hybrid, which will evoke the popular CRX, is at least half as fun to drive.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
For a while, I was lamenting the fact that this S2000 didn’t come equipped with a top that I could lower or deploy single-handedly, but one drive in the CR changed my tune. Scrapping the folding top makes the transition to topless running a two-person affair, but it gave engineers space to add additional chassis braces. The result is a roadster that’s virtually free of the flex and shimmy usually associated with its ilk. Impressive.
So, too, is the driving experience–the S2000 fits like a glove, screams like Janet Leigh in her final scene in Psycho, and rotates faster in the corners than an F5 twister tearing through Kansas. I purposely relegated my commute in this car to the most curvaceous roads in the area, although it made me hours late for an office festivity one evening. I wasn’t bowled over by the tight cockpit, the fixed steering column, or the ergonomic curiosities, but compared to the only other roadster that handles better–the Caterham 7–these are but minor complaints.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I’ve been fortunate enough to drive three Honda S2000s during my career as an automotive journalist. Sadly, only the first was a regular S2000 with a cloth top. The CR is, as Joe DeMatio points out, a track star, but it doesn’t suit regular roads quite so well. Taller drivers have a hard time seeing traffic signals when the removable hard top is in place. I realize this top is needed to make the CR track-ready right from the dealership, but the best way to enjoy a roadster on public roads is with the top down, and that’s always a two-person job with the CR. A “base” S2000 also has slightly softer suspension that does a better job absorbing road imperfections but gives up almost nothing in the corners on the road.
The S2000 will certainly be missed by the enthusiast community. Perhaps the silver lining is that an Acura NSX replacement will be more affordable than the original NSX, which might give the S2000 buyer a place to go in the future. It seems unlikely that an NSX replacement could be as light, nimble, or bare-bones as the S2000, but we’ve all got high hopes for that car. Perhaps it will appear at an auto show in the next year to give the Honda faithful some hope.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
It’s a shame that Honda can’t clean up the interior and perform a minor face-lift to keep this rare masterpiece around for another ten years. The S2000 CR comes with quicker steering than the base Honda roadster, and it is absolutely fabulous. The connection to the road is pure, and it’s weighted to inspire confidence. Wonderful! A solid chassis and a tight suspension complement that steering to round out corner-carving goodness.
The hyper 2.2-liter is a key component in the character of lightweight purity, but I can’t help to think how much more fun this car would be with some low-end torque. I think I’d be willing to accept a 6500 rpm redline in exchange for a small turbo that pumped a quicker, punchier response into the driving experience. Oh, and wider gear spacing might work with this new boosted engine. Currently, the engine hums at 4000 rpm when you’re cruising at just 74 mph.
I’m 6’3″ and had no trouble fitting into the cockpit. In fact, the seat didn’t need to be all the way back to be comfortable, and the fixed steering wheel position also worked well for me. Thanks to a hard top designed to accommodate helmets, I had plenty of headroom. My only gripe about the position was visibility, having to crane my neck to see traffic lights. But the view over the low and long hood is great, reminding you that you’re behind the wheel of something tidy, light, and sporty. And different.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I’m sure going to miss the S2000 when it goes away after the ’09 model year. I’m not a huge fan of this racy CR edition, what with its garish wing, hard top, and wild fairings behind the headrests; I’d honestly prefer to own the $2000-cheaper base S2000 and have the benefits of a stealthier appearance and an easier-to-lower roof. Depriving a CR of regular track exercise would be a crime, but if I had the money for both an S2000 and regular track time, I might change my S2000 preference.
The best part about every S2000 is the six-speed-manual gearbox. The short, firm throws and slick, stout action make it the best stick shift on the market today. No other car compels me to make unnecessary, just-for-the-fun-of-it shifts like the S2000. The engine’s great VTEC performance high in the rev range is enthralling, but it doesn’t seem quite as binary as I remember it in other S2000s. Nonetheless, this is a fantastic car to bang through the gears in. But then you turn the wheel and experience the S2000’s impeccable balance and lovely steering feel, and all of a sudden it’s 10 pm, you haven’t eaten dinner yet, and you’re a hundred miles from home. I completely understand how Evan was late for that afterhours barbecue …
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2009 Honda S2000 CR with A/C & Audio
Base price (with destination): $38,705
Price as tested: $38,705
No Extra Options
18 / 25 / 21 mpg
Size: 2.2L DOHC in-line 4
Horsepower: 237 hp @ 7800 rpm
Torque: 162 lb-ft @ 6800 rpm
Weight: 2855 lb
17 x 7 front / 17 x 8.5 rear aluminum wheels
Bridgestone Potenza RE070 tires
215/45WR-17 front, 255/40WR-17 rear