Honda S2000 (2008) review

Published:14 February 2008

Honda S2000 (2008) review
  • At a glance
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Honda’s S2000 is a curious car. Tucked inside that pretty, pointy body are all the ingredients to make it one of the finest sports cars on sale today; ballistic high revving engine, front-engine/rear wheel drive, snappy shift and snappier looks. The S2000's 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine even won International Engine of the Year for four consecutive years (2001 – 2004) and the manual hood opens and closes in an electro-mechanically-embarrassing six seconds.

But the S2000 only delivers its thrills in short, sharp, fleeting moments… usually between 6000 and 9000rpm or when the tail whips around suddenly. No, as a package the S2000 doesn’t deliver. It’s not as deliciously composed or balanced as a Boxster or a 350Z, the SLK is the better all-rounder and if style is your thing the Paul Smith-on-wheels Audi TT trumps it comprehensively.

So how has Honda addressed these issues for the 2008 S2000?

This isn’t an extensive makeover; rather a scrupulous look at the S2000’s flaws and the application of considered revisions, notably to the suspension. The 2008 UK-car is identical to the Japanese-market S2000 Type-S (re-tuned dampers, uprated springs and thicker anti-roll bars), and Honda is promising ‘a more communicative, predictable and exhilarating drive’. We’ll see…

Early S2000s suffered from some decidedly edgy handling characteristics. You’d get the 2.0-litre, 238bhp i-VTEC screaming, the wind tearing at your hair and the S2000 would start to unwind – understeer would switch to unexpected roll-induced oversteer and you’d back off just at the point where you should be pressing on further.

The ’08 car is certainly more predictable and the switch from safe initial understeer to proper rear-wheel drive oversteer is now more measured. The same goes for how the revised S2000 shifts its weight around the centre axis; the roll, pitch and yaw motions are now more controlled and the VSA (Vehicle Stability Assistance) works unobtrusively and effectively.

Click 'Next' below to read the rest of Nick Trott's first drive of the Honda S2000

Success for the Honda S2000 then!

Erm, yes. Grip, composure, balance; it’s all there and the S2000’s rear-slung driving position does a fine job of communicating messages through the seat of your pants. Even the gearknob, gearshift and steering wheel are tactile delights. 

However, the steering still isn’t as good as it should be for a comparatively lightweight (1271kg) front-engine/rear wheel drive sports car. You tend to make several exploratory stabs at turning in until you discover your intended trajectory, rather making than one precise input. It’s not jump-out-and-slam-the-door frustrating, just a little deflating.

The S2000’s engine is still appealingly berserk. You have to alter your driving style significantly (i.e. drive the wheels off it at all times, officer) to feed the rear wheels the grunt from the engine but the Honda’s delightful wrist-flick six-speeder makes this a joy.

The S2000 has been on sale for nine years, how does the rest of the package stand up?

Better outside than in. The styling still works; this is a keenly crafted shape and there’s little wrong with the design roof up, down or hardtop in place. For 2008, the UK S2000 gets a new set of 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels and a new exterior colour – Synchro Silver. It turns heads like a proper sports car should.

Inside, there are three new leather options to chose – black with red stitching, brown with red stitching and red with black sides. The headrests have also been altered to provide greater roll protection.

Overall the interior suffers from nothing more than its age – the S2000’s nine-year old ergonomics, switchgear and (digital) instruments are not bad… they are just nine years old.

Verdict

The Honda S2000 has survived remarkably well for a Japanese car. Three updates in the last six years have kept it relatively fresh and the latest suspension tweaks iron out the chassis’ tendency for unpredictable behaviour. It’s fast, fun, pretty and capable but it’s not the last word in sub-£30K, two-seat, soft-top, rear-wheel drive motoring. The SLK and 350Z Roadster are better cars, the Porsche Boxster well worth the extra £5000 and a Lotus Elise the purer (albeit less practical) sports car.

Nope, the S2000 remains an intriguing curio – almost British in its schizophrenically flawed/brilliant character. No wonder we’re the biggest market for the car.

Specs

Price when new: £28,050
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1997cc 4-cyl, i-VTEC, 238bhp @ 8300rpm, 153lb ft @ 7500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 6.2sec 0-62mph, 150mph, 28.2mpg, 236g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1271/steel/aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4135/1750/1285

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • Honda S2000 (2008) rear three-quarter
  • Honda S2000 (2008) interior
  • Honda S2000 (2008) rev counter
  • Honda S2000 (2008) badge
  • Honda S2000 (2008) front three-quarter
  • Honda S2000 (2008) rear three-quarter
  • Honda S2000 (2008) front three-quarter
  • Honda S2000 (2008) front three-quarter
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