Iconic S2000 badge to return on a new rear-drive roadster, which will be powered by turbocharged 1.5 and 2.0-litre engines; Type R version possible
7 December 2015

Honda is taking aim at the Mazda MX-5 and Fiat’s forthcoming 124 Spider by developing a successor to its popular S2000 roadster, company insiders have revealed.

Introduced in 1999, the original version of the Japanese manufacturer’s two-seat roadster garnered a reputation for its strong powertrain and lively handling, but the second edition of the car was axed in 2009.

Now a third generation is said to be under development as Honda tries to reconnect with the S2000’s dedicated fan base. Representatives from Honda’s advanced engineering department are said to have attended a recent S2000 owners’ club event in the British Isles - a sign that the firm wants to listen to enthusiasts in order to help it to position the next version of the car accurately.

The new S2000 will stay true to the original’s principles of a front-mounted engine, sited behind the axle line, and rear-wheel drive. It will be pitched as a faster alternative to the MX-5, although its performance should be more of a match for that car’s stablemate, the forthcoming Fiat 124 Spider, which uses a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine instead of the Mazda’s naturally aspirated 1.5 and 2.0-litre units.

Honda has a number of powerplants under consideration for its roadster. More basic editions of the car could be powered by a retuned version of the firm’s forthcoming 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine. The four-cylinder unit has VTEC variable valve timing and produces around 150bhp in the Japanese-market vehicles it powers. This is likely to be ramped up to around 180bhp for the most modest S2000, giving the car around 25bhp more than the most powerful MX-5 and beating the US-market 124’s 158bhp.

This would leave scope for a hotter variant that could use a detuned version of the Civic Type R’s 306bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. It would also feature more extreme suspension and chassis settings, including a rear limited-slip differential, and could give Honda a useful extension to its Type R sub-brand, as well as a rival for the more potent, Abarth-badged 124. All versions of the car would feature a short-throw six-speed manual gearbox.

The biggest obstacle in the way of the S2000 replacement is the absence of a suitable platform. Honda is committing to a new global architecture for front-wheel-drive cars, including the next generation of Civic, which is due on sale in the UK in 2017, but its opportunities to spread the costs of a rear-wheel drive chassis are more limited.

It is therefore likely to pitch the car as a more expensive rival to the MX-5 in a bid to maintain workable margins, with pricing starting north of £20,000. It could slot the model into the line-up of its premium Acura brand in the United States, where it would be a rival to BMW’s next Z4 and the Audi TT Roadster.

Honda has been working on a number of sports car projects as it looks to rebuild its reputation as a manufacturer of enthusiasts’ models as well as more mainstream products and capitalise on its struggling F1 programme with McLaren.

It is understood that a mid-engined, turbocharged ‘baby NSX’ is also under consideration, but company officials have prioritised a return to the open-top two-seater market.

Honda’s global boss, Takahiro Hachigo, recently revealed that despite the NSX’s trick hybrid set-up, future sports cars from the company would not all need to have electric motors in their powertrains. “Whether or not we develop a hybrid depends on the type of car,” he said. “It is not the case that we have a fixed notion that a sports car always has to be a hybrid.”

Honda has decided that the diminutive S660 roadster that’s sold in Japan would not have a broad enough appeal to justify homologation in other markets. Hachigo said: “If there is strong demand from a region then we will always consider possibilities, but the S660 is a car that was developed for the Japanese market and we’d have to do a lot of work on it to make it comply with European regulations. I also wonder: would a car like this, sold in Asia, succeed in Europe?”

He did admit that Honda was considering sports cars beyond the NSX, however. “We are receiving requests from our regions who are saying they would like more sports cars, so we are considering ways to do that,” he added.

Engineers have also been working on a four-motor, all-electric sports car, as demonstrated by the SH-AWD CR-Z that finished 11th in this year’s Pikes Peak hillclimb in Colorado, but the commercialisation of that project faces a number of challenges, not least the cost of the lithium ion battery technology required to deliver the targeted range of 300 miles per full charge.Hachigo admitted that Honda had damaged its image by “abandoning” products such as the S2000 that had a strong reputation and hardcore fan base. The firm did have plans for a successor to the second generation of the car, but these were scrapped in the midst of the global automotive and financial crises in 2009.

It is believed that the firm’s European boss, Toshiaki Mikoshiba, has been given specific targets to improve continuity and nurture customer retention, as well as reducing the gap between product launches in Japan and the US and the arrival of those cars in Europe. The new HR-V and Jazz — plus the newly launched US-market Civic — are seen as prime examples of cars taking too long to reach European customers.

“We need consistency to build the brand,” said Hachigo. “We want to enhance the cars that we’ve already introduced. We are also working so we can introduce models more quickly to Europe. It’s a very important market for us.”

Honda is the latest Japanese brand to publicly state its goal to produce more cars that are fun to drive, although if the firm does get a new, rear-wheel-drive S2000 to market on its own, it will be bucking the recent trend for joint developments. Mazda and Fiat collaborated on the MX-5 and 124, while Toyota joined forces with Subaru to get access to the boxer engines that give the GT86 the handling agility that was the focus for the project.

Toyota is also working with BMW on a sports car platform that’s expected to underpin different sizes of car. BMW will place it under the next Z4 and its Japanese partner will use it to underpin a larger coupé that could carry the Supra badge.

However, some Japanese manufacturers are developing standalone sports car projects. Mazda is working on a rotary-engined successor to the RX-7 and RX-8 and Nissan is considering an expansion of its Z sub-brand.

Honda's S2000 is also seen as an investment car - read more in our used car buying guide.

The cars the new S2000 must beat

Fiat/Abarth 124 Spider - Sister car to the MX-5, the 124 Spider has more power and torque thanks to Fiat’s 1.4 turbo Multiair engine. UK-spec 124s will have a 138bhp engine at launch, but sources are speaking about an Abarth version with at least 168bhp, a more focused chassis and the option of a fixed roof.

BMW Z4 - BMW had been considering a baby front-drive roadster, but that project is on hold, so the next Z4 will remain the firm’s smallest drop-top for now. It’ll be spun off a platform developed with Toyota, although the Japanese brand is expected to use the architecture to build a larger model.

Nissan Z-Car - While Nissan’s Gripz concept shows how it plans to extend the Z line-up to include crossovers, that car is seen as an extension to the sub-brand, not a replacement for the rear-drive sports car. Expect the next Z to use a turbo four-cylinder engine and cost less than the outgoing 370Z. 

Mazda MX-5 - No-frills roadster has received widespread acclaim in its latest generation, which makes do with modest 1.5 and 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engines but sheds weight to ensure decent performance and fantastic handling agility. Its pricing could make the Honda look expensive, too.

Alpine A120 - Reborn French brand’s two-seater is due next year. It will use a 250bhp 1.8-litre turbo engine, but a 300bhp version is also planned. Hardcore dynamics will appeal to the enthusiasts Honda hopes to snare with the S2000, but the A120 will cost more, with prices starting at about £30,000.

Comment - would the S660 work in Europe? 

Honda does have a drop-top sports car in its line-up, but only in Japan - and it should really stay there. The S660 is a kei car, designed to beat Japanese vehicle tax rules, and as such it is (a) tiny and (b) modestly powered by a 660cc engine.

We had a chance to try the car on the eve of this year’s Tokyo motor show, and while it has some fine characteristics, including a particularly sweet short-throw gearshift, it would also be outgunned pretty much anywhere outside of town.

Even if you did have the patience to get it up to motorway speeds, the extreme wind buffeting would probably persuade you to back off.

The cabin is minuscule, too, and anyone more than 6ft tall would struggle to find a comfortable seating position. Honda’s bosses say the costs of homologating the car for sales outside Japan couldn’t be justified by the potential sales, and for all the S660’s charm, we’re inclined to agree. If the firm wants a genuine rival for roadsters such as the MX-5 and 124 Spider -the car that it freely admits its regions are asking for - it’ll need to try harder.

Read more:

Honda S2000 first drive

Honda S2000 2.0 GT first drive

Our Verdict

Here is the fourth-gen Mazda MX-5 - the definitive small sports car

Fourth-generation MX-5 heads back to the roadster's roots

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Comments
31

7 December 2015
autocar wrote:
It is believed that the firm’s European boss, Toshiaki Mikoshiba, has been given specific targets to improve continuity and nurture customer retention
There was a surprise addition of £500-£1000 on to the list price of their HR-V last week. Sounds like the firms European boss didn't get the message.

7 December 2015
I dont get it. Why do this when their current range is such a mess? Its like doing a cake with a hard, old sponge that has sat in the fridge for 5 weeks, concetrating on the cherry topping. No one will fall for it. The reason why the Hondas of the 80's and 90's were so esteemed was because they were engineered to be a cut above everything else. The sports cars were an extension of the same engineering philosophy. Having a S2000 and an NSX isnt going to make people buy an abomination like the current Civic. Total shame. Honda used to be my favourite brand, and I would have blindly brought one after another. Would rather have a Hyundai or Kia now.

7 December 2015
They are both focused on improving their core range and developing models and technologies that bring in profits, that consumers want. Honda, instead of sorting out their engine range which surely must have the highest CO2 emissions of any manufacturer out there, decide to stick the money into a new S2000! Where is the logic to that?

7 December 2015
A decent a modern petrol engine namely a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine to replace the inefficient 1.8. Put it in the Civic now and at least give the car a fighting chance of getting in the top 10, maybe even it'll help stop Honda's decline in the UK.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

7 December 2015
*rolls eyes*

7 December 2015
Really? This rumor seems to bounce back more often than a bad cheque. Is this from the same source that swore up, down, and sideways the Nissan Gripz was going to replace the Z?

7 December 2015
You could describe the 1.8 i-Vtec many ways, but inefficient isn't one of them. Even doing a lot of urban and rural driving, mine refuses to drop below 40mpg and on longer runs, 50mpg is achievable. More torque would be nice though.

7 December 2015
Will86 wrote:
You could describe the 1.8 i-Vtec many ways, but inefficient isn't one of them. Even doing a lot of urban and rural driving, mine refuses to drop below 40mpg and on longer runs, 50mpg is achievable. More torque would be nice though.
Maybe not your particular 1.8 I-vtec and the way you drive it but at 47 mpg and 140 g/km co rating, it comes up as inefficient in my books, look at Audi's A3 COD engine. Also Autocar's description: "Peak torque – and it is a peak, not a broad spread – of just 128lb ft appears up at 4300rpm, and consequently the 140bhp peak power figure appears high up, too, at a lofty 6500rpm. Add long, widely spaced upper gear ratios, presumably to help lower the CO2 figure, and the perverse consequence is that you have to rev the high heavens out of it on wide throttle openings to make the car feel reasonable sprightly, which results in anything but low CO2 figures. It also results in quite a bit of noise in the cabin and the need to shuffle up and down the gearbox to maintain speed "

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

7 December 2015
With the Mazda 3 2.0 120ps Skyactive engine the Honda comes out on bottom. 55.4mpg vs 48.7mpg combined, 43.6mpg vs 38.7mpg urban, 137g/km vs 119g/km. Similar 0-60 figures although the Honda has a higher top speed. The Honda 1.8 NA should have been retired a generation ago.

7 December 2015
With the Mazda 3 2.0 120ps Skyactive engine the Honda comes out on bottom. 55.4mpg vs 48.7mpg combined, 43.6mpg vs 38.7mpg urban, 137g/km vs 119g/km. Similar 0-60 figures although the Honda has a higher top speed. The Honda 1.8 NA should have been retired a generation ago.

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