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The Honda S2000 is a cookie that’s too sweet

The Honda S2000 has a legendary reputation, with a high-revving engine and snick-snick manual. But how does it hold up 24 years later?


I must confess something to you – I love cookies. I really do. Specifically Oreos. I would eat them by the box if it wasn’t prohibitive for my waistline. Sure, I can go to Levain Bakery in Manhattan and spend $10 on a single chocolate chip cookie, and it’ll be delicious and tasty. But at the end of the day, I’d walk out wishing I just stayed home and ate an Oreo. And that, dear reader, is the same feeling I had after a turn in the Honda S2000.

It’s all just a bit…much.

Honda S2000

2008 Honda S2000 Quick Take

Get one:

Perfect shifter and chassis. Aged-well looks. 8,000 RPM is always fun.

Don’t get one:

This isn’t a movie, and VTEC isn’t a superhero. A lot of work for a little speed. Cramped inside.

Soul Score: 7

Difficult to say I prefer the S2000 over other cars of the same era.

The 2008 Honda S2000 Overview

Honda S2000

I never really got the Honda appeal. Modded ones were all over by the early 00’s. Civics and Preludes and Accords, trying to emulate the Fast and Furious lifestyle. They’d point to the NSX and tell me that they both have VTEC, but I never saw the connection. An NSX was mid-engine, and rear-wheel drive. Honda never had anything else like it. Hell, even the badge was different.

But there was another. Originally built in the same factory as the NSX, the Honda S2000 is sort of exotic in its own right. A redline of 8,900 RPM, with 124 horsepower-per-liter from its four-cylinder engine. A chassis specifically developed for it alone. Convertible only. Tightly focused (and tight inside).

Honda S2000

No one else made a car like it. Anything with this sort of metal heart was far more expensive, and competitors like the Nissan 350Z were totally different in purpose (even though it came in a convertible as well).

Now, almost twenty years (and many cars) later, I’m back in an S2000 for a test drive. It’s a pretty fancy cookie. Does it need to be to get your sugar rush?

Performance Score: 7. Buzzkill

A sports car should be an amazing experience to drive, because it’s an inconvenience otherwise. The S2000 has some great elements to it, but like most other Honda’s I’ve driven, there’s a “so what?” element to it.

We’ll be in an AP2 for this review – Honda tweaked the engine and chassis a bit when they found the original too extreme. So in 2004, they enlarged the engine, lowered the redline, improved the transmission and softened the rear.


Honda S2000
VTEC acts like a turbocharger

You might be expecting me to sing the praises of this 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, with it’s 8,000 RM redline. Making 240 horsepower at 7,800 RPM and 162 lb-ft of torque at 6,500, this engine requires work to do much of anything. Sure, the old one went to 9,000, but trust me, that’s plenty of tach to use.

Sometimes I’d drive a Honda with the owner looking at me all excited saying “Did you feel the cams change over?!” But here, VTEC really does kick in, ‘yo, right around 4,000 RPMs. It feels like a turbocharger has suddenly sprung from the engine block, creating a mad rush to redline (and a majority of the power). It’s a lot of fun – for awhile. Do a dash through first and second gear to find that you’re only doing 60. It’s sort of like the 911 GT3, but without the power.

Honda S2000
Must rev to enjoy.

Around town it feels pretty pedestrian – dare I say under-powered? At least shorter gearing makes the S2000 eager to run up the tach. Altering the motor allowed more torque to be accessible lower, so I wonder just how lifeless an original S2000 is. Still – defeats the purpose a bit.

Honda S2000
Loud, and a bit buzzy. I’ve yet to hear one and make moaning sounds.

And it sounds fine – like a Honda. Going up top makes a bit of a buzzy (and loud) racket, uncouth by today’s standards. It’s a screamer once you get up there though, just hang out beyond 5,000 and it’s all smiles.


Honda S2000
I don’t know that I could find a better one.

Well, Honda got me here. Aside from the GT4 and 911 combo, no one makes a better manual than Honda.

Start by grabbing the short throw shifter and guiding it into first. Guiding is the right word here – you don’t need to do anything more to get it into gear. The clutch is direct, with instant take up. Honda shortened the first five gears and lengthened sixth on the S2000 for this AP2, but even so, the engine spins at 3,000 RPM at 80 on the highway. Yeesh.

Once underway, each row is short and precise, no motion wasted. If the BRZ was balky, and the M3 lifeless, this feels like working a fine wristwatch’s mechanics. There’s a perfect weight to the entire unit.

Steering and chassis

Honda S2000
From the shape to the weight, it’s all perfect.

The star of this show is the steering and chassis. You’re going to put in some work to get your speed, but it’s the kind of high you get after a good workout.

Feel accomplished in this car about your lap time, because there’s only basic traction control to shield you.

The steering wheel is small and quick to turn, but there’s significant weight behind it. This directness, combined with the S2000’s small size and light weight, make it feel as if you are in an X-Wing fighter turning without the need to worry about gravity.

Honda S2000
The car is easy to drive fast, with an eager suspension.

And the chassis – excellent. Never beating you up despite the short wheelbase, the car is eager to do whatever you ask. This example was stiffened in the front by Honda, and softened in the rear compared to the original. The tweaks worked as far as I can tell – you just have to rev that motor up to get the tail loose if impressing your date is the goal. I got the sense that the chassis was being held back by the four-banger.

I love the simpleness here. No settings or buttons to adjust, no “SPORT” button to make your sporty car sporty. Better times. Perhaps only the BRZ carries that torch now.


Honda S2000
Single pot brakes are an area to upgrade if you want to track it.

The S2000’s brakes are nothing exotic – vented discs being gripped by single-pot calipers. They felt soft and didn’t inspire much confidence. If you want to track this car, a big brake kit should be among your first upgrades – these won’t dissipate heat very well.

Honda S2000

This car is a lot of fun. I suppose it’s what a roadster should be. But the 350Z sounded just as good (if not better), could also be had topless, was faster, and drove just as well. The S2000’s merits lie in its transmission, chassis and, if the redline is your thing, engine.

Everyone else should visit a Porsche store.

Lifestyle Score: 4. Weekend Warrior

Honda S2000
Comfy, just a bit small on the bottom.

Which is pretty much when you can use this car, and that’s okay.

Start in the rear, with a trunk that’s small, but useful. There is an odd cutout in the middle that that either be helpful or annoying depending upon what you carry. The Porsche Boxster has that frunk area as well, so choose your weekender wisely.

Honda S2000
Be thankful.

Up front are seats that give great lateral support, but not much for thighs. The cockpit itself is a bit cramped for someone my size, so if 20-year-old Mike didn’t like it, 40-year-old version surely does not.

Honda S2000
Inside are many cubbies that hold very little.

The S2000 has a power folding soft top that works well at keeping out the elements, and an optional hardtop could be kept on for winter months.

Economy Score: 3. Four isn’t more

Honda S2000
A lot of sound, a lot of gas, but not a lot of power.

The S2000 can get a combined 21 MPG, but you’ll likely see a lot less than that because you have to drive it like you’re running from the EPA. With just 13.2 gallons of fuel on board, you might just have to.

It’s trivial – if you enjoy driving a car than mileage won’t matter. But this being a 20-year old machine, there are a lot of sports cars out there that are more powerful and more efficient.

Features and Comfort 5. Keep on Rollin’, baby

Honda S2000

I think that, as far as Japanese car makers go, Honda wouldn’t be my first go-to for funky choices and styling. They are usually a logical, stolid bunch.

But the S2000 is different, as you’ll soon see.

Button Masher

Honda S2000
Everything focuses on the driver, so only take people that you don’t like.

The early 2000s was great – no one could bother you. No nav, no bluetooth. Sorry babe, the top is down and I can’t hear you.

I’d say the S2000 has everything you need. No automatic climate control, but you do get A/C with some fun switches. Everything is built around you, the driver. The radio controls aren’t even accessible to the passenger – they live on the left side, next to the start button.

Honda S2000
Turn key. Then press button. Don’t confuse with stereo controls.

Speaking of, to start it up, twist the key (which is something I miss), and then press that big red button. Why? Embrace the funkiness.

A few more buttons on the center console, along with a wonderfully old-school dash that houses a digital tach. Fun to watch it count revs and light up, like a video game life bar. Red leather on the seats, and even red carpeting, help offset the black dashboard.

Honda S2000
Honda S2000
Here’s the roof button, a window heater, and hazards. Have fun picking the right one!

It’s a good place to be if you want to focus on driving.

But I will also point out this. If you’ve been inside any other Honda product from the early 2000s, you’ll recognize it when you sit inside an S2000. It’s different, but not necessarily better. That’s in contrast to 90s-era Japanese cars like the 300ZX and 3000GT, which looked nothing like the rest of the model lineup.

Can’t beat a classic

Honda S2000
Soft top deployed.

There are rules in car design that have proven timeless. Short overhangs. A long hood and small rear deck. The S2000 follows tradition, and the look has aged very well.

This being an AP2, you’ll find a revised bumper that’s subtle – you’d need the original parked next to it to tell the difference. Painted in Silverstone Metallic, the look is clean, but if you want attention try Spa Yellow.

Honda S2000
Altezza lights, like JNCO jeans, did not age well.

What did not age well? Maybe the Altezza-style rear lights, though they still somehow fit the car. Aftermarket wheels are okay, though I liked the standard five-spoke design that came on the original.

Honda S2000

No extra gills, slats, spoilers, intakes or other bodily orifices make this an easy car to admire.

The Honda S2000 is the car you’ve always wanted, if it’s the car you’ve always wanted

Honda S2000

This car hearkens back to Honda’s “S” sports cars of the 60s, but I’m far to young to remember those. No nostalgia here.

As it stands today, the S2000 is for…us? People who grew up during the early 2000s can now afford one, and there are plenty on the used market. It being a Honda means you’ll never need to dump a huge load of money to make it run either. Grab one and no doubt you’ll be happy, assuming you’ve always wanted one.

Honda S2000

Problem is, I never did. Maybe it’s because I’m a big guy, or because I prefer cars that have a more substantial feel and more power – whatever the case, the S2000 didn’t leave the impression I thought it would. There’s plenty to love, with maybe the best transmission I’ve ever experienced, along with telepathic steering and a capable chassis. I just don’t remember smiling.

I look at both the S2000 and the original NSX as cars that didn’t reach their full potential. They didn’t need to be word-beaters for speed, but they quickly became outclassed by cars that could do what they did, faster.

I know, I know – raw, manual, rear-wheel drive, topless, naturally aspirated. But just because a car has all the ingredients doesn’t ensure a tasty cookie.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like an Oreo.

Honda S2000

2008 Honda S2000 Specifications


front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger, two-door convertible


Base: $34,000


2.2 liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder
240 horsepower @ 7,800 RPM
162 lb-ft @ 6,500 RPM
six-speed manual transmission


Wheelbase: 94.5 in
Length: 162.2 in
Width: 68.9 in
Height: 50.0 in
Curb Weight: 2,840 lbs


21 combined / 18 city / 25 highway

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