The first Honda since the original S500/S600/S800 sportsters of the Sixties to offer an engine in front and the drive wheels in back, the S2000 was so named for its sports-car chassis and its two-liter engine. It was 180 degrees from anything else in Honda’s lineup, and a much-needed boost to the company’s image among enthusiasts who were disappointed with the aging, soon-to-be-axed Prelude and the watered-down Civic Si. Based on the SSM show car of 1995, which no one really expected to go into production, the S2000 was created to celebrate Honda’s racing spirit on the company’s 50th birthday.
With its stiff chassis, excellent balance, high-revving twin-cam four, precise six-speed gearbox, back-to-basics interior and fresh lines, it gained cult status overnight. “Imagine if Formula One engineers built a sports car. Well, they did, and it’s Honda’s new S2000,” Motor Trend wrote. Car and Driver in 2003 called the S2000 “the most intense open two-seater you can buy south of Ferrari prices…. Its flick-quick reflexes and hummingbird metabolism earn a special place in every enthusiast’s dream fleet.”
The engine was the technical highlight: The F20C, an all-alloy 16-valve, 1,997-cc DOHC VTEC inline-four, with 11:1 compression and 240 horsepower (at 8,300 RPM!), used all of Honda’s racing experience and design knowledge. (Changes made for its 2004 facelift increased driveability in the lower revs without altering the machine’s fundamental character.) The F20C was rated the highest horsepower-per-liter naturally aspirated mill for nearly a decade–almost 120 horsepower per liter…without a power adder. Those were V-6 numbers in the early part of the decade. Compare: a Subaru WRX of the period had 10 fewer horsepower from the same displacement, and was turbocharged.
The aluminum F20C block was infused with a fiber-reinforced metal sleeve, while piston skirts were molybdenum disulfide-coated for reduced friction. The intake plenum was designed with minimal volume for quick engine response; the 14-pound flywheel used until 2003 helped as well. Honda’s VTEC system, introduced in the ’80s and perfected over time, was used on both the intake and exhaust cams; VTEC utilizes two separate lobe profiles per cam, and switches between cam profiles depending on power requirements.
The F20C’s front-mid-engined placement in the S2000’s chassis (with the engine placed entirely behind the line of the front axle) gave it an ideal 50:50 weight distribution. That weight, despite significant use of aluminum, approached 2,800 pounds at the curb–it was no Miata. But then, with a $30,000 price tag to start, Honda wasn’t taking aim at the Mazda’s market, either.
A stiff “high-X-bone” frame (the side sills tie into diagonal braces that connect directly to the front and rear suspension subframes) sports a fully independent “in-wheel” double-wishbone suspension with iron arms. Standard power locks and windows, electrically assisted steering (to decrease drag on the engine), staggered-width 16-inch wheels and tires (17-inch on later cars), four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, and integrated roll hoops were all part of the S2000 package.
There are two distinct generations of S2000: the early AP1 models through 2003, and the AP2 models from 2004-’09. The AP1 generation was built at Honda’s Takanezawa plant, alongside the Honda NSX and Honda Insight hybrid. It featured Honda’s now-legendary F20C; a six-speed manual was the only gearbox available. For 2001, Honda added a digital clock and a better radio, as well as a wind deflector; for 2002, the top’s plastic rear window was changed to glass, taillamps were revised, and suspension settings were altered (read: softened). The 2003 models were largely carryovers.
Car and Driver pitched a 2003 Mosel S2000 against the Porsche Boxster, BMW Z4, Nissan 350Z convertible and turbo Audi TT soft-top with quattro, and it came first–despite not being the newest design in the fleet. “Everything about it is taut and athletic and purposeful. You don’t get in; you put it on as you would your best-fitting jeans. There’s plenty of room to move–well, any moves you’d make in the course of driving–but no room for wrinkles. You know how, when jeans fit, everything comes at the right places? The S2000 is like that.”
- VTEC 4 Cylinder Engine
- 6-Speed Transmission
- ABS Brakes
- Integrated Roll Bars
- Anti Theft System
- Keyless Entry and Remote Trunk Opener
- Leather Interior
- Leather Wrapped Wheel
- Leather Wrapped Shift Knob
- Convertible Top Cover
- Remote Audio Controls
- Push Button Start
- Aero Wind Screen
- Power Soft Top
- ID Headlights
- Body Colored Mirrors
- Dual Exhaust