Robert Bowen
Robert Bowen Editor
2/13/19 12:19 p.m.

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Story by Robert Bowen • Photo Courtesy Honda

The Honda S2000 represented an impressive sporting achievement from a company better known for its front-wheel-drive people-movers. Call it a plausible alternative to a Miata, Boxster or M Roadster.

The S2000 debuted in 1999 for the 2000 model year, but Honda had been planning the roadster for years–at least since the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show. That’s when the manufacturer took the wraps off a rear-wheel-drive convertible dubbed the Sports Study Model.

That show car appeared again at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, and at a few similar affairs in between. The lines were clean, and the 2.0-liter engine was mounted low and far back in the chassis.

After the SSM got a warm reception from enthusiasts and the press, Honda launched the production version.

Even though the MSRP was north of $32,000, it wore the “H” badge and not an Acura logo. The Honda branding and model name were intended to echo the firm’s first sporting cars–the S500, S600 and S800.

The S2000 delivered on the SSM’s promise. It had a perfect 50–50 weight distribution, six-speed transmission, Torsen differential, staggered 16-inch wheels and a jewel of a naturally aspirated engine. The chassis was stiff, its A-arm suspension tuned for performance over comfort. Ultra-fast steering and Bridgestone Potenza S-02 tires came standard.

This was a car made to be driven and driven hard, an activity enhanced by the Spartan interior and refreshing lack of electronic driving aids.

It did offer some comforts: Leather upholstery, plus electric windows and a power top, came standard. Only one trim level was available, and there were no options. Everything about the S2000 screamed performance, including its cool racing-inspired start button. (Remember, this was before these buttons became commonplace.)

Among all the standout features, it was the 2.0-liter engine that received the most praise. Its design was unusual at the time for Honda, since it had a timing chain as well as a conventional clockwise rotation. Mechanical tappets instead of hydraulic adjusters sacrificed quiet running manners for a high rev limit: That F20C engine whizzed through its rev range to a stratospheric 9000 rpm redline, producing 240 horsepower at 8300 rpm. On a per-liter basis, no other naturally aspirated production engine could touch it.

Honda revised the car for 2004, with the biggest change under the hood: The engine was stroked from 2.0 to 2.2 liters, while the compression ratio was bumped from 11.0:1 to 11.1:1. While the stated horsepower remained 240, maximum torque moved from 152 lb.-ft. at 7500 rpm to 162 lb.-ft. at 6200 rpm. The original engine’s insane redline was replaced by a more piston-friendly 8000 rpm limit.

Honda added a second S2000 variant, the Club Racer, for 2008. The manufacturer claimed that the Club Racer body kit was designed to reduce lift, while weight was reduced by making air conditioning and a stereo optional rather than standard. The base car’s leather gave way to cloth seats, and the soft top and its mechanism were replaced with a hard top.

Just one year later, the S2000 left Honda showrooms, never to be replaced. After passing through initial deprecation, prices have been on the upturn; good examples now sell for $15,000 to $25,000. Small wonder, because they’re great cars.

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