Honda could arguably be called one of the world’s most successful, if not the most successful automobile and motorcycle producer. This is a company so admired around the globe that it rarely makes what could be called a bad product. From light power generators to aircraft jet engines, the products always seem to work better than any other competing product. However, it is time to take a look at one of Honda’s unique vehicles, a car that has been in production for the past 10 years, updated only when necessary. Let’s take a parting shot at Honda’s quick and probably last true sports car, the S2000 Roadster.
The car was first shown as the Honda Sports Study Model (SSM) concept at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1995, and due to overwhelming interest, it was launched in world markets in 1999. Carrying on the tradition of naming Honda Roadsters of the 1960s based on their displacement, the S2000 is named for its engine displacement of 2-liters. Officially two model designations exist: the initial launch model was called the AP1, while the AP2 designation was given to the models produced from 2004 onwards. The AP1 features a front-mid-engine, rear wheel drive layout with power being delivered by a 1,997 cc (122-cubic-inch) F20C inline 4-cylinder DOHC-VTEC engine producing 240 hp at 8,300 rpm and 153 ft·lb of torque at 7,500 rpm in U.S. models. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission and Torsen limited slip differential. It has been written that the S2000 was the most powerful, naturally aspirated, 2-litre engine in the world with the usual Honda reliability.
The 2001 model was largely unchanged, but Honda upgraded the radio and added a digital clock to the dashboard display. For the 2002 model year, suspension settings were revised, the plastic rear window was replaced with glass, and an electric defroster added. Other updates included slightly revised tail lamps, an upgraded radio, and a revised engine control unit. The AP1 was manufactured up to 2003 at Honda’s Takanezawa, Tochigi plant, alongside the Honda NSX and Honda Insight hybrid. In 2004 production moved to the Suzuka plant.
The 2004 model year incorporated several revisions to the S2000 and was given the chassis designation of AP2. The AP2 included substantial changes to the drivetrain and suspension. The 2004 model introduced newly designed 17-inch wheels and Bridgestone RE-050 tires along with a re-tuned suspension that reduced the car’s tendency to oversteer. The spring rates and shock absorber damping were altered to help the one complaint with the Roadster, its jarring ride. In addition, cosmetic changes were made to the exterior with new front and rear bumpers, revised headlight assemblies, new LED tail-lights, and oval-tipped exhausts.
The AP2 also included the introduction of a larger version of the F20C to the North American market. Designated F22C1, the engine’s stroke was lengthened, increasing its displacement to 2,157 cc (132 cu in). At the same time, the redline was reduced from 8,800 rpm to 8,000 rpm with a cutout at 8,200 rpm, mandated by the longer travel distance of the pistons. Peak torque increased 6% to 162 ft-lb at 6,500 rpm while power output was the same 240-horsepower at a lower 7,800 rpm. The F22C1 was used exclusively in the North American market for 2004-2009 models, with the F20C being used in all other markets. In conjunction with its introduction of the F22C1, Honda also changed the transmission gear ratios, replaced the brass synchronizers with carbon, and included a clutch release delay valve. For 2006 a drive by wire throttle, Vehicle Stability Assist system, new wheels, and one new exterior color, Laguna Blue Pearl, were added. Interior changes included revised seats, additional stereo speakers integrated into the headrests, and additional headrest padding where previous seats had helmet depressions and screens.
Fans of Honda’s S2000 will want to snap one up soon, as production ended at the close of the 2009 model year. The high-revving roadster has always had more in common with the company’s high performance motorcycles thanks to its 9,000 rpm redline and minimal low-end torque than it does with the other cars in Honda’s lineup. It’s a pure sports car in the mold of the British classics that so obviously inspired it. The S2000’s abilities to tackle the twists and turns of the most demanding back roads as well as assault the track have made it one of the go-to choices for enthusiasts. With its well-laid-out cockpit, it’s a machine that rewards its driver at every turn. With plenty of aftermarket support, it has become a prime platform for tuners. Over its ten-year run Honda has sold 110,000 S2000s world wide with about 65,000 making their way to the US.
Honda has produced some world class sports cars, including the awesome NSX. The S2000 along with Mazdas MX-5 are the last of the “proper” 2-seat sports cars available today. They have two seats, a folding top, a manual transmission, a stonking 4-cylinder engine, rear-wheel-drive, and are great fun to drive. I don’t understand why Honda discontinued this car unless it needs the manufacturing space to make more of the fuel-efficient sedans that are all the rage now. If you crave a real driver’s car and would rather not have an MX-5 (Miata) or one of the European boutique brands (BMW Z4, Audi TT, Porsche Boxster), snap one up now or you’ll regret it in the future. Read more of my Retrospective and Recently Deceased articles at Automotive Traveler.