Long-term review: Honda S2000

Max power: 236 (bhp)
Torque: 153 (lb/ft)
Acceleration: 6.0 (secs)
Max speed: 150 (mph)
Transmission: RWD, 6 gears

I’ve owned by S2000 now for two years – it’s a 52 plated Silverstone Silver with the legendary 2.0 litre engine that made the little roadster so famous. I will, of course, try to remain objective in this long term review, however I should make the point that I do love this car, and it’s secured a place in my heart forever as my first real sportscar, and a great one to boot.

Purchasing

Porsche Boxster

What it could of been

At the time of buying the S2000, I had a Ford Cougar, and was looking to go up in the world. I was considering at the time a reasonably old Porsche Boxster – certainly a step up. I talked to a fair number of people about this and while they all seemed to think it wasn’t altogether a bad idea, the running costs and such like were a bit of a put off. Then, one of the guys at Blueleaf (the digital agency I part own) mentioned about a car I didn’t really know anything about – a Honda S2000. Better running costs, better reliability, cheaper, and still bloody quick. Having check the great S2KI (S2000 forum) I was sure this felt like the right car for me.

As a result I decided to test drive one over at Honda in Stoke (as they already had one in the forecourt. It was a Berlina Black 56 plate. I was only given half an hour (stingy monkeys) and as I was around the A500, the were hardly any good fast, twisty roads to test it on (well that I knew of anyway), and also, it didn’t have any petrol in it. Not a good start. It did feel good as I accelerated on the A500 though.

A few days later, I decided to check out another example – a silverstone silver 52 plate which was hanging around at Autoperform – a boutique dealership in Cheshire run by a petrolhead and racer (who I can’t recall the name of right now). He did what I think every fast car dealership should do. He took me out in the car, and shot me round some country lanes – really showing off what the S2000 could do, late braking, fast acceleration out of corners and much more. Then it was my turn. Of course I was more nervous and tame, but I’d already decided I was buying this car.

Performance

Me at Oulton Park

Me at Oulton Park

As this is the first truly ‘quick’ car that I’ve ever owned I’ve had a great deal of fun with it’s performance. It’s also my first rear wheel drive car and so the whole dynamics of the car was pretty new to me as well. The S2000 has a 9000rpm redline, and is in VTEC from around 6000rpm, in a similar way to a Civic Type R, but much more frantic. It pulls from 5000rpm all the way to 9000rpm and on shifting, you’re back towards the bottom of the sweet spot so you can keep flying forwards at a rate of knots.

There’s a lot of reviews of the S2000 that say it needs to be really worked hard to get the most out of the engine. While I would agree that this is true, I also think it’s one of the best things about it. When it’s going nuts in VTEC it’s really singing and screaming as it pushes harder and harder to the redline. It’s addictive as any S2000 owner will tell you. With it being a small car, low to the ground and with less than great sound deadening it feels very visceral, very real. In the Civic type R, you don’t feel like you’re going as fast as you are. In the S2000, you feel it, in a really good way – in a ‘connected to the road’ kind of way.

The clutch feels good – not very heavy and not really light just seems to work well. One of the top things about the S2000 though is the gearbox and the movement of changing gear. I’ve not used a single car before or since (yet anyway) that has a better action. It’s like a rifle bolt, short shift and feels really good to slot home the gears as you fly through VTEC. I also changed the gear knob to be a heavier and slightly shorter number – adding even more to that great feeling.

Handling and ride

Honda S2000 17" wheels

Just after the 17"s went on

Being rear wheel drive, under power the rear end can have a tendency to go wayward, especially in the wet. With any performance car like this though, you should expect that and drive accordingly. A lot of modern cars can be seen as overprotecting drivers with so many aids that they don’t really ‘know’ what good driving is. There’s none of this with the S2000. No traction control on most models, only available on the later year ones.

As a result, you get a very uninterrupted driving experience, if not always a comfortable one. Originally I was on 16″ wheels which was a little more subtle and forgiving. Now though, on 17″s things are a little harsher. If I didn’t love the performance and handling so much, the ride would probably be a little hard to bear. Especially if you’re a saloon / GT cruiser kind of person, the ride can come as a bit of a surprise.

The plus side of course is that it handles very well. Over the years, Honda did slightly change the suspension setup and geometry of the S2000s. The early ones in 1999 were as raw as it got – hard and quite unforgiving. They gradually softened it up and in the mid 2000s it was more compliant and acceptable to the greater population. It is generally accepted though that it went too far and it was hardened up a bit more towards the last models. If I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t notice a great deal of difference between the year models. The key to the S2000 is to make sure your geometry is correctly set up. They’re pretty sensitive cars and over time, the adjustments get out of line and need to be reset. Once set up right, the car will feel more stable and predictable than if it’s out of wack. I think this sometimes contributes to people’s view of it being ‘unpredictable’.

The second part of the sensitivity of the S2000 is tyres. It needs a decent set of tyres and they need to be matched. When there’s a lot of power going to the rear wheels, if they are not matched, with decent tread, the handling and predictability will suffer greatly. It’s also important to ensure you don’t wear down the types too much, even down to the wear marks make it more unpredictable.

Make sure of tyres and the geometry though, and it handles beautifully. Sharp steering, easy to use and docile at low speeds, but with good feeling and weight at higher speeds.

Interior and comfort

The cabin is for the driver. A simple well laid out set of controls wrap around the driver all within a few centimetres of the steering wheel for easy access while driving. It’s a small cabin (I can easily reach to my left and touch the passenger window) and I think it’s actually quite comfortable. I use mine as a daily driver and have driven down to Cirencester (from Chester) and even Plymouth and back on the same day without really feeling very tired or backache or anything of the sort.

The seats are supportive, leather numbers and have some adjustment although I’d recommend you find a comfortable driving position before you buy as there’s a not a lot of adjustment room. There’s a glovebox and 2nd compartment in the centre console which gives reasonably good storage space (for the sunglasses of course). In my opinion, it feels great inside and really suits me and my driving style. The centre console feels great to rest my arm on and my hand rests perfectly on the gear knob. It’s superb.

The GT (which mine is) came with a hardtop as well. I have mine on from around November until around March/April when it starts to warm back up again. It offers a bit more sound protection, faster warmth and generally a bit less rain drops insider when you open the door! I would recommend getting hold of one if you can for a reasonable price. Finally the boot is not massive and if you take out the tools in the compartment at the bottom of the boot it gets even bigger.

Servicing and maintenance

S2000 engine bay

My S2000 engine bay (added AEM cold air intake)

One of my favourite parts about the car is that it’s actually very reasonable to run. Servicing is every 9000 miles (and needs to be adhered to) and as long as you keep the oil topped up (especially on earlier models) the car is bulletproof. There’s lots of examples where the mileage goes beyond 200,000 miles and you shouldn’t be worried about getting one that’s well maintained even if it’s got higher mileage.

There’s a couple of things to look out for. The suspension adjustment bolts for the geometry can become seized and are a nightmare to free up and so potentially an expensive job. The TCT (timing chain tensioner) can rattle/make a ticking (making it sound a bit like a mini tractor) and if it goes it’s a big problem, so make sure it’s changed if the car has higher mileage and there’s no ticking.

Final thoughts

S2000 in North Wales

Wales in my S2000

Top down driving in the S2000 on a great summers day, hooning round Wales, its hard to think that this car could be much better. Sure there are cars that are faster, more focused, more comfortable and such like; but all that fades away as you’re screaming in VTEC, the wind blowing through your hair, sunglasses on. It goes fast, handles well and is super reliable, it looks pretty damn good too. If you have a spare 5k hanging around and have never driven one, get one, drive it for a summer and sell it again. You won’t regret it.

About Rob

I'm an average petrolhead - I love cars and get as much driving experiences as I can out in the world from test drives to track days.