Japanese chassis makes it easier to exploit the brilliant engine, but more is needed to bring the S2000 up to date

What is it?

The familiar, nearly-nine-years-old S2000 with the chassis settings of the Japanese market Type-S version, which are designed to be more predictable on the limit and less of a knife-edge drive than the existing version. Which continues alongside this new edition, though we can’t see that remaining the case for long despite slightly higher prices.

The substance of the suspension changes? Re-tuned shock absorbers, uprated springs and thicker anti-roll bars, all with the aim of improving stability, sharpening its handling and improving the steering’s responsiveness.

Determining whether an S2000 has these alterations can be confirmed by a new 17in alloy wheel design, a choice of three new leather interiors (black with red stitching, brown with red stitching or red with black sides) and redesigned headrests which are said to provide better protection. But that’s it.

What’s it like?

The other way to find out - preferably in a wide open space - is to drive it. And on the damp Brands Hatch that we tried it on it didn’t take long to establish that the Honda’s rear end does, indeed, break away with far less of the blood-freezing violence of the previous model, that it can now be teased into angles with the right foot, and that it grips pretty well.

All of which has the effect of making this car gel a whole lot better than the old model. You no longer drive it slightly heart-in-mouth, no longer worry about getting near its adhesion limits and can drive it more positively as a result.

Which means you can enjoy its extraordinary engine more - it revs to 9000rpm, you’ll recall, and does most of its best work beyond an incredible 7000rpm - as well as the old-school mechanical feel of the gearbox and decent brake feel. Just as important, the Honda works well on the road as a keen driver’s tool too.

But there are very definitive downsides. That this is almost a decade-old design really shows now, in the texture of the cabin plastics, the almost crude simplicity of the dashboard moulding, the charmingly olde worlde digital instruments and, more seriously, the refinement shortcomings that render this a short distance car, even with the hardtop of this GT.

The ride is busy - if well-damped - road noise is ever present (though probably not if you remove the roof), the seating position is odd and there’s not much more space in here than you’ll find in an A4 envelope. You’ll want to up sticks once you’ve had your kicks, we fear.

Should I buy one?

Probably not, unless you love these cars. But a solid number do - Honda consistently sells over 500 a year, and these buyers will enjoy a car whose dynamic virtues are vastly easier to exploit, while maintaining the essential, frenetic character of the S2000. And, no doubt, its legendary reliability too.

But this is an expensive toy for what it is, and never mind those 237 yelling horses. Apart from vivid performance - and that’s only available with committed revving - this car offers little that the MX-5 doesn’t, and a whole lot less besides, the Mazda being more spacious, more comfortable, better finished, cheaper to buy and cheaper to run. Alternatively, for the £28,600 Honda asks for this hardtop GT you could buy a 2.0 litre Audi TT Roadster and service it for a couple of years.

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It’s great to see the S2000 survive - not many Japanese models achieve a nine years not out - and great to see it being improved. But it needs more than this if it’s to register as more than an engaging curio.

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aceman 26 April 2009

Re: Honda S2000 2.0 GT

Interesting... I think Honda have refined only the performance part of it. They've got the brakes to be very attentive it's great. I think you'll feel the difference with the gearbox if you know what the old car was like. This thing to say it's only small and it's not your Ferrari, 9000rpm!! That's pretty good revving! But the interior is hey ho, not special, not refined like the performance is. But when Autocar said you shouldn't buy one; I agreed at first, but then, the more I read the article, the more I disagreed with the statement. The S2000 is epic. And it hasn't become a big o.u.t - yet.

hairydan 6 August 2008

Re: Honda S2000 2.0 GT

Interesting this. A few years ago I tried Boxster and S2000. Porsche salesman at one point said to me something along the lines of 'nice engine in the honda but it belongs on a racetrack...' Combined with a feeling that while a great car, the Boxster just didn't excite me, that comment made my mind up for me. Got an early S2000 second hand for about £17k ran it for 18 months. A further 18 months down the line I'd missed it so much i got another. Great car, cheap to run, always reliable. Downsides - Tight for space (I'm 6'3) - with seats designed for Japanese (at one stage I'd bloated to a point where I was wedged bewteen the bolsters), not a relaxing drive - not one for just cruising along. Did have a Z4 3.0 for a while, torque much easier on a day to day level, but until changed the runflats wouldn't go round corners properly, wheels never in contact with the road... Main joy though the engine/gearbox combo - still the best I've come across. Grown up now - into my comfort, so big current XJR. Still miss the S2 though...

hurricaneone 6 August 2008

Re: Honda S2000 2.0 GT

I'm 6' 2" and have no problem sitting comfortably in the S2000, so at 5' 9" you should be fine. But then again, I have knees that bend and things in my arms called elbows, both of which help in arranging seating adjustments.

ha ha.