Honda S2000

Debut: 1999
Maker: Honda
Predecessor: no

A black cloud is moving quickly from the East to the West, covering the whole Europe .... people in Norfolk (Lotus), Blackpool (TVR), Zuffenhausen (Porsche), Munich (BMW) and Stuttgart (Mercedes-Benz) heard a thunderstorm consisting of mostly 9,000 rpm scream. They saw a 240 horsepower lightning hit right on their gates. A letter for challenge was discovered there, in which the signature started by a letter "H". While they thought the 9,000 rpm challenge started by a letter "H" must be a motorcycle, a voice from the sky said, "Sssss TWOoooo THOUSANnnnnnD !" Originally they thought the number "2000" refers to engine displacement, but having scared by the 240hp lightning, they changed the meaning to "Sportscar of the year 2000". The black cloud roared, "2000 c.c. !"

Engine and performance

Honda’s S2000 roadster really amazed people in the world by its near 120hp / litre specific output, despite of its high reputation in this field. Since the arrival of the first VTEC, few Honda sporting machines deliver less than the magic number "100hp/litre" according to Japanese JIS rating. The Integra Type R has about 111hp/litre, Civic Type R has 115/litre. Even the long stroke Accord Type R can reach 100hp/litre. 20 years ago motor engineers believed the magic number is hardly achievable in road cars. 14 years ago the turbocharged Sierra RS Cosworth broke this barrier. Then the VTEC brought this efficiency to even normally aspirated engines. In contrast to many believes, the "Valve Timing and lift Electronic Control" was derived from Honda’s motorcycle racing program instead of F1. Honda never said its F1 engines have VTEC or any variable valve timing.

Yet by Honda’s standard the 2-litre unit of S2000 is extraordinary. While the famous Integra Type R is proud of its 8,400rpm redline, S2000 is enjoying full song at 9,000rpm. According to the stricter European DIN rating, the Integra delivers 104hp/litre, well beaten by S2000’s 118.5hp/litre. Most magazines tell us this is a new world record for road cars, however, someone will argue. Two of them are Chris Craft and Gordon Murray. They would say their little thing called "Rocket", powered by a Yamaha motorcycle engine, is good at 140/litre. Another one is ex-F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, whose name donated to a 250hp, 2-litre Caterham Seven JPE in 1992. In response, Honda would point out that the JPE cannot pass today’s emission test while S2000 is certified as LEV.

Like other Type R, the all-alloy unit has hollow camshafts, forged pistons, con-rods as well as counter weight to reduce moment of inertia of moving parts. The VTEC is still a two-stage design, the second phase cut-in at about 5,000 rpm. Compression ratio of 11:1 is also unaltered. What separate it from other Type R powertrains are the bore / stroke aspect ratio and cam profile. Basically the 87mm bore is identical to Accord Type R’s, but the stroke is as much as 6.7mm shorter thus account for the reduced displacement. Measured at 87 x 84mm, we find it is obviously bias towards top end power and rev compare with Accord’s 87 x 90.7mm and Integra’s 81 x 87.2mm.

Furthermore, in the torque chart supplied by Honda we can see the high speed cam profile has been pushed to even more racy, farther away from the low speed cam. The first peak arrives at 3,500rpm, where 133 lbft is available. Then the curve flat out and even drops slightly until 5,000rpm where the second phase cut-in. At 5,850rpm the high speed cam started to display true colours, carrying the torque curve all the way up to the peak 153 lbft at sky-high 7,500rpm. Yes, it is really 7,500 rpm, a new record that Honda would rather forget.

However, the "true colours" of VTEC is very different from its rivals. We don’t need BMW Z3 (206lbft / 3950rpm) or Porsche Boxster (181lbft / 4500rpm) to disgrace the VTEC’s torque delivery, just an ordinary sedan is enough. For instance, Peugeot 406 2.0SRi pumps out 140lbft at 4,100rpm without any help of VVT or variable induction. The power-biased S2000 couldn’t match that until 6,000rpm.

Drive leisurely in town feels the car nothing spectacular. Forget the 240hp rating, it doesn’t feel more punchy than an Accord sedan (and we are only talking about an Accord 2.0). The only noticeable difference is a louder exhaust note. Well, Mr. Honda would say the car is a present celebrating the 50 years anniversary of the company so that it must be driven with an enthusiastic mind. To access its real potential you must keep the engine at near 7,000rpm, of course this requires a long open road. If you find such road, always shift the 6-speed gearbox as frequent as possible to follow the fast-rising rev. Never up-shift before the rev risen to 8,500rpm. Going into corner, slow down, at the exit phase you’d better to take the shifter back to 2nd gear quickly, then shift up and up again .... in this way you’d enjoy the fun Mr. Honda suggested, although even the drivers of Elise or Boxster would think this is too tiresome for everyday driving. This mean 90% of the time you could hardly enjoy any performance advantage, the remaining 10% is the time for demonstrating you driving skill matching Ayrton Senna.

However, magazines always measured performance on long, open straight road. S2000 took this chance to exploit its substantial potential : 0-60mph was done in merely 5.6sec. The ton was reached in 14.3sec. 30-70mph through gears acceleration took 5.2sec. Among its main rivals, only the superlight Lotus Elise 111S could equal. Yet the 111S could match neither its 147mph top speed nor any acceleration tests take places in excess of 100mph. Porsche Boxster, another our favourite roadster, seems hopelessly slower.

Styling and cabin

Honda’s in-house studio designed a purposeful look for the S2000. The most dramatic place is undoubtedly the narrow nose section, whose width is just 40% of the body. From the big air intake the nose extends linearly towards the wheel arches, forming an outside-faced inclined surface on either side. In other words, 60% of the frontal area faces a direction 30 degrees from the North-South. More description to this feature is useless because it contributes nothing to beauty.

The aggressive headlamps are recessed into those tilted surfaces, so are the ducts underneath them which channel cool air to the brakes. Observe right from the front, you may confuse it with an ET shown in X-file ... and the big mouth is going to have human being as breakfast ....

For the benefit of weight distribution, the cabin locates far behind the front and it is just in front of the rear axle. This makes the bonnet seems too long. The small area, black-frame windscreen stand oddly at an extraordinarily large inclined angle. Everywhere else comprise of angular planes, edges and corners. As a whole, the design works against any existing philosophy.

Open the doors, the first thing you notice is the high transmission tunnel. Common sense tells you it is either a mid-engined sports car or a car with backbone chassis. It isn’t. The cabin is quite lack of design - the transmission tunnel couldn’t be more plain. The facia at the passenger side has nothing other than a ventilation outlet. The centre console is nearly inexist, as the only element (stereo) hides behind a plastic cover. Japanese version adds a navigation screen oddly near the passenger side. So the passenger is supposed to be a navigator as in rally cars ?

Seats and doors are trimmed in red leather, carpet is red too. Honda installed a 9-seconds electric hood with the switch on transmission tunnel, but they forgot to provide the most important ergonomics - the steering wheel is fixed and the seats are mounted too high for a sports car. Otherwise the driver could enjoy seeing the F1-style instrument panel. Dominating the panel is a rainbow-shaped bar graph revcounter as in any F1 car, although the latter by means of LCD while the S2000 needs LED to provide night vision. Most interesting is : the non-linear graph spends more space to higher rev as an encouragement to the driver. The last figure marked is "9". Under the rev graph is a digital speedometer.

Chassis and handling

Although S2000 is built alongside NSX in the human intensive Tochigi factory, it doesn’t share the aluminium chassis technology. For cost reason it is built on a conventional steel monocoque and ride on cast iron suspensions. The only piece of aluminium is the bonnet. (and don’t forget the titanium gear knob !) No problem, Porsche Boxster and  911 GT3 are also built on steel monocoque yet people couldn’t help falling in love with them. Moreover, the 1260kg kerb weight is already lighter than BMW Z3 2.8 and Mercedes SLK, or just 18kg in excess of the less powerful Boxster. The aforementioned performance figures confirm that it needs no more weight reduction.

In fact, the aluminium bonnet is part of the effort to bring front to rear weight distribution to the perfect 50 : 50. Open the bonnet and you’ll see other effort done - the red-head engine is located completely behind the front axle, battery and ABS pump are near the firewall, leaving only plastic air box and lightweight radiator hanging in front of the axle. ( too waste of space !)

The wide and high transmission tunnel is strengthened to enhance chassis rigidity, hence improved handling. Further more, engineers connect the side chassis rails to the tunnel, forming a so-called "X-bone", thus enhance protection against side impact. Without the X-bone, most roadsters need to strengthen (hence raise) the door sills thus making in and out more difficult.

Suspension is in the most perfect configuration - double wishbones all round. Honda called them "in-wheel wishbones" because of their compact design. They are rumoured to be used in the forthcoming BMW-chasing sedan. As the chassis is ruled by pure physics, it needs no more assistance than a Torsen limited-slip differential. No traction control nor stability control is provided.

The steering is rack and pinion with a quick 2.4 turn lock-to-lock. Like Cadillac Seville and more other GM’s new models, steering is assisted by an electrical mechanism instead of conventional hydraulic.

The 16 inches wheels are wrapped with fat Bridgestone tyres - 205/55ZR16 in front and 225/50ZR16 at the rear. Note that a wider rear tyre is unusual for a small FR roadster.

Brakes are ventilated in front, with a class-leading 300mm diameter. However, remember its 50 : 50 weight distribution. Under braking the weight transfer from rear to front so that the front brakes must be stronger than those mid-engined rivals, say, Boxster (298mm). The rear’s are much smaller at 279mm, not ventilated too. The Boxster has 292mm rear ventilated brakes. In fact, most German cars are hard to beat in deceleration - Boxster, Z3 2.8 and SLK all capable to stop from 60mph in 2.6sec. The S2000 takes another tenth. Anyway, pedal feel is terrific.

Is it terrific to handle ?

On one hand, the peaky engine requires the driver to drive in racing style. It’s a joy to shift the short-throw, slick 6-speed box. The horizontal and vertical movement are only 23mm and 40mm respectively, and there is a well defined, mechanical slot for each ratio. The clutch is as light as Civic, also encourage shifting.

On the other hand, it doesn’t attack corner as sensational as Boxster and Elise. The grip is there, the turn-in is super quick, the weighting of steering is perfect, the body roll is minimal, ride is hard but still provide admirable bump absorption. Chassis response is superior to other FR, say, Z3 and SLK and even the 4wd Audi TT. Thanks to the weight distribution, understeer is never a big issue. At the exit phase with sufficient throttle the mild understeer gives way to reasonably neutral oversteer.

However, compare with Boxster and Elise requires more than pure ability. The S2000 still lacks the final 10% steering feel and feedback to match with the mid-engined rivals. Not only the European roadsters, Mazda MX-5 is also more involving to drive. Someone even prefers Accord Type R’s steering, which was tuned in Nurburgring rather than Fuji circuit. Power oversteer isn’t its favourite trick. When the Boxster or Elise can be thrown into power slide like normal business, the S2000 needs a heavy foot on the throttle to introduce rear wheel slide, thanks to the 50:50 weight and 225 rear tyres. When it slide, it goes quite quickly and rather difficult to catch smoothly.

The conclusion is : S2000 is not really a milestone of Honda’s 50 years history. Its engine always suggest a racing style driving but the chassis doesn’t. In addition to the poor exterior and interior styling, it can’t match half the achievement of NSX. The thunderstorm over Europe fades away....
The above report was last updated on 30 May 99. All Rights Reserved.

S2000 2.2

Honda has released the first major update of S2000. Highlight of the change is enlarging the engine to 2.2 litres as a response to criticism about its peaky manner. Unfortunately, the larger engine is only available to the American version but not the Japanese and European version. The latter 2 continue to use the old engine, although they share other changes, such as suspensions, steering, gearbox and tires, with the American version. To confuse us, the American version still calls S2000, not S2200.

By lengthening the stroke, the engine raises capacity from 1997cc to 2157cc. Compression ratio also increases slightly from 11.0:1 to 11.1:1. However, maximum power remains unchanged at 240 horsepower, because its VTEC cam timing has been revised to favour torque rather than horsepower. Maximum torque now reaches 162 lbft (up from 153 lbft) and it arrives at 6500rpm instead of 7500rpm. Between 1000 and 8000rpm, the engine produces 4-10% more torque than before. Not big gain, but undoubtedly welcomed.

Peak power now arrives at 7800rpm (down from 8300rpm). Inevitably, the longer stroke has a negative effect on revability - it can no longer rev to the magic 9000rpm as the old engine. Redline is now set at 8200rpm.

With the new engine, the American S2000 feels more eager in real world driving. In the past, overtaking required to drop a couple of gears and then it took extra patience to wait for the rev to rise to 6,000rpm, where the second phase of VTEC started delivering. Before that happened, the engine was hopelessly weak. Now the 2.2 engine has more usable torque at all rev thus the wait is less painful (if not completely free of pain) and the transition from first to second phase is smoother.

Part of the improved eagerness is owing to the revised gear ratios - the first 4 gear ratios have been lowered to quicken engine response. Besides, the already outstanding shift mechanism has been further improved. It is probably the best manual gearbox in the world.

The old S2000 was also criticized for oversteer - it was not too keen to oversteer, but when it did, it did that suddenly and was very difficult to rescue. Therefore in this revision the suspensions and tires are tweaked to deal with this problem. All tires now grow from 16-inch to 17-inch. They also gain width (front: from 205/55 to 215/45; rear: from 225/50 to 245/45). The much wider rear tires make oversteering more difficult. The front suspension has been stiffened by 6.7% while the rear has been softened by 10% (along with thinner anti-roll bar). This also make the rear end more forgiving at the limit and the oversteer more progressive.

In the steering department, the steering rack ratio has been tightened and power assistance retuned to deliver quicker and better feel.

Outside, the new S2000 gets a restyled front and rear bumper. In the cockpit, much-needed shoulder room is released by making the door panels deeply sculpted.

All these changes added 20kg to the kerb weight, but the dynamics of S2000 is much improved. Now it finally becomes a truly enjoyable sports car. If it were handsomer and had a V6 engine, it could have been a class winner.
The above report was last updated on 17 Dec 2003. All Rights Reserved.

S2000 CR

nce the most driver-delighted Japanese brand, Honda has changed its interest to more profitable recreational vehicles, people carriers and small cars. It let the exciting Integra Type R died without replacement. It delayed the successor of NSX again and again (and the final car will be front-engined and far more civilized, sadly). Now it lets its final sports car, S2000, dying. 8 years has passed since I wrote the original S2000 report, Honda has no plan to renew or replace it. However, to stimulate sales and celebrate the retirement of Shigeru Uehara - the father of S2000 and NSX - later this year, Honda approved a small budget to produce a special edition called S2000 CR. The CR stands for Club Racing and you can easily see that from its aggressive yet extremely ugly aero kits. These aero kits, in particular the rear spoiler and front air dam, reduces aerodynamic lift by some 70 percent. However, headline of the modifications is a 40kg reduction of kerb weight by deleting audio, air con, sound insulation and even the convertible soft top. Yes, it ditched the soft top. This mean the S2000CR offers zero weather protection if you leave the aluminum hardtop at home. Isn't it going too extreme ?

Because of the free of soft top storage, Honda can install a tower brace to the rear suspensions thus reinforces the chassis. Firmer springs and dampers, quicker ratio steering, a set of slightly wider rear tires and stickier Bridgestone Potenza RE070 rubbers sharpen its handling and contribute to faster lap time. What about the engine ? sadly, the S2000 CR is still powered by the peaky 2.2-liter 16V engine like the regular American S2000. In other words, output is 237hp at 7800 rpm and 162 lbft at a sky-high 6800rpm. Shigeru Uehara said it was impossible to boost more horsepower while meeting emission regs. In fact, nothing is impossible if he had a generous budget.

That means while track performance is greatly improved, S2000 CR has few advantages on regular roads. Most people, even the keenest drivers, will find its ride too stiff, its cabin too noisy and too hot in the absence of air conditioning. The lack of weather protection also hampers its usability seriously. After all, it is a track car rather than a road car. Some 1,500 units will be offered this year, only in the US. I doubt how many people will be interested.
The above report was last updated on 2 Sep 2007. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

S2000 (1999)
S2000 2.2 (USA)
S2000 CR
Front-engined, RWD
Front-engined, RWD
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel monocoque Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
Mainly steel Mainly steel
Length / width / height 4135 / 1750 / 1285 mm 4120 / 1750 / 1270 mm 4120 / 1750 / 1270 mm
Wheelbase 2400 mm 2400 mm 2400 mm
Inline-4 Inline-4
1997 cc
2157 cc 2157 cc
Valve gears
DOHC 16 valves, VVT+L (VTEC)
DOHC 16 valves, VVT+L (VTEC) DOHC 16 valves, VVT+L (VTEC)
- -
Other engine features
Max power
240 hp / 8300 rpm
240 hp / 7800 rpm
237 hp / 7800 rpm
Max torque
153 lbft / 7500 rpm
162 lbft / 6500 rpm
162 lbft / 6800 rpm
6-speed manual
6-speed manual 6-speed manual
Suspension layout
All double-wishbones
All double-wishbones All double-wishbones
Suspension features
- -
Tyres front/rear
F: 205/55ZR16
R: 225/50ZR16
F: 215/45ZR17
R: 245/45ZR17
F: 215/45ZR17
R: 245/45ZR17
Kerb weight
1260 kg
1290 kg
1254 kg
Top speed
149 mph (c)
149 mph (est)
0-60 mph (sec)
5.4** / 5.8***
5.7** / 5.3****
0-100 mph (sec)
15.0** / 14.6***
14.7** / 13.7****
Performance tested by: *Autocar, **C&D, ***MT, ****R&T

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