RE: Honda S2000

Tuesday 8th March 2005

Honda S2000

Chris Mellor revisits Honda's rev-happy roadster -- an ingeniously fast but quirky little number


We first road-tested Honda’s S2000 in 2002, since when there's been a 2004 refresh. The changes from the initial model are subtle, and in some ways make the car a worse ownership prospect, in other ways better. Has the update changed the character of the car, and is it still a car you'd want to own? And what's the technology that makes it all work?

Let's start with the centrepiece of the car, its engine.

Fibre-reinforced metal

As is well-known, the Honda engine revs up to a 9,000rpm limit. At such high revs, the pistons will be doing a super job of abrading the cylinder walls. Other sportscar engine makers have used Alusil and Nikasil liners -- Porsche for example -- to counteract this.

Honda didn’t. Instead it went for fibre-reinforced metal, where the cylinder cores are made up of a combination of alumina and carbon fibres. When the cylinder metal is molten during casting these cores absorb some of the aluminium. Then the block is cooled and the cores bored out, leaving behind a cylinder wall sleeve, about 0.5mm thick, of aluminium reinforced with alumina and carbon fibres. It is extremely tough, smooth and hard wearing.

Honda first used this in its NSX supercar. It produces less friction with aluminium pistons than if they reciprocated in pure aluminium cylinders, adding to the engine's rev-happy nature. The fibre sleeve also reinforces the block enabling thinner gaps between the cylinders, helping to make the engine smaller and lighter.

X-Bone frame chassis

The S2000 has no scuttle shake, that bane of soft tops, because it uses what Honda calls an X-bone frame. (see picture). It's extremely rigid chassis, the centrepiece of which is a box-section central tunnel. From it, two diagonally projecting arms at the front connect to side rails and support the rear of the engine. Also two diagonally-projecting arms at the rear are fixed to a rear transverse rail. The diagonal arms and central tunnel form the X-bone shape.

The top of the centre tunnel and the front and rear longitudinal rails form a horizontal plane; these components are all at the same height. This height -- the centre line rigidity height -- is said to be at the same height as the centre-line rigidity of closed roof – coupé and saloon – cars.

Generally, convertibles have added reinforcing to compensate for the stiffness lost when the roof is chopped off, the downside of which is extra weight. The trick Honda has managed to achieve is to get an open-topped car’s rigidity up without using whacking great deep side sills and a heavily strengthened floor pan. It's the same rigidity as a closed-roof car without such additional reinforcing and weight, says Honda.

The front and side chassis members are made from high-tensile steel and are straight, not curved. There are deep side sills connecting to the front transverse rails at the same points as the centre tunnel X-bone arms. But the sills are lower than the X-bone frame and thus don’t impede cabin entry space too much.

A side floor member runs back from here to the rear transverse rail which is part of a rear transverse frame. The result is a strong passenger cell. This is helped by a cross member in the passenger cell which distributes energy to the central tunnel in the case of a side impact. Passengers may notice this as there is a pronounced well in the cabin floor ahead of it.

There's also a tube-section brace strengthening the windscreen frame, while the roll-over hoops behind the seats also have internal strengthening, and are fixed to the chassis structure.

The net effect is that the car is said to have the torsional rigidity of a coupe. It’s also said to have better bending rigidity than either a coupe or a convertible.

More for comfort than speed

In North America, the S2000 received a 2.2 litre engine for the 2004 model year -- actually 2.157cc. Honda lengthened the stroke to add capacity, the bore and stroke numbers being 87.0 mm x 90.7 mm respectively. Stroked engines typically don't rev as high as their unstroked equivalents because of increased piston speed resulting from the stroke increase but usually produce more torque, as this one does.

So although limited to 8,200rpm, the engine mapping was changed to bring the VTEC performance boost on from 3,000rpm instead of the previous 6,000rpm. The compression ratio was also increased, from 11.0:1 to 11.1:1.

It produces 240bhp at 7,800rpm and 162lb-ft of torque at 6,500rpm, compared to the European 2 litre engine's 240bhp at 8,300rpm and 153lb-ft of torque at 7,500rpm. The Americans get a better deal on torque.

US gearing is different also. Gears one to four are all about four per cent lower geared, while fifth gear is just one per cent lower and sixth gear is two per cent higher.

As a result, Honda says the US car now reaches 60mph in about 5.8 seconds; it was officially 6.2 seconds in North America before. The euro 2.0 litre accelerates like this already. Some US reviews suggests its performance is down on the previous generation S2K, recording 6.4 second to 60mph..

Part of the reason for the different US engine was said to be tougher US emission requirements such as California’s Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards. Possibly another reason was that US drivers don’t like to change down so much and prefer mid-range grunt to a lower gear.

It all makes for a slightly less visceral car; a scalpel-like motor has had its blade blunted.

Space – but not time-saver -- tyre

The S2K has a new wrinkle on space-saver spare tyres. Like many cars, it carries a space-saver as a way of increasing boot space. This is a pain when it’s needed as your car is half-crippled. But Honda has given S2K owners extra pain when there is a rear puncture.

The limited slip differential cannot cope with a space saver rear wheel fitted to one side only. So drivers have to remove and fix two wheels to get home. So you replace a front wheel with the space saver wheel. Then replace the punctured rear wheel with the inflated front wheel. Put the punctured rear wheel in the boot, which has a depression set into the floor for this purpose.

If the boot is full of luggage – two of you are away for a weekend - then that has to be removed to make space for the punctured tyre. So on a practicality count this car scores low – you might even say it’s flat.

When the puncture is repaired, replace the rear wheel with the repaired one and move the temporary rear wheel back to the front as the front and rear tyres are different dimensions.

Front punctures are fixed normally with only the front wheel needing to be removed and replaced.

A fair-weather car?

While being great value for its performance money, the S2K isn’t a great provider of storage space. Cabin stowage space is minimal. Hell, cabin space for two full size adults is minimal – and the boot is small; MX-5 users get a slightly bigger cavity. Boxster owners are better off; they get a comparatively vast boot in the front of their car.

Hard-done-by S2K drivers also need to reckon on a potential need to store a punctured, full size wheel in the boot and, as a result of the potential need to carry it, there's an awkward shape to the boot cavity. You can lose most of the remaining space too, if you store the semi-rigid tonneau cover in it. If going away two up, then you just have to leave the tonneau behind or get a boot lid luggage rack.

It’s not that great a sacrifice. If you are out driving and it starts raining then the six seconds needed to operate the powered hood turns into minutes if the tonneau is in place. Even longer if the boot has luggage in it. Think several long wet minutes while you unfasten the tonneau and re-stow the boot. 

Conclusion

The S2000 is, like the Audi TT, a cleverly-designed car getting a lot of power out of a small package. You might wish for more sheer grunt at the low end and mid-range of the rev curve but that is not what is on offer. You get 150 mph performance and around six second 0-60 times plus a fantastically inspirational exhaust note at high revs and lotsa fun in the twisties.

The S2K will more or less match an ordinary Boxster but is left behind by the S. It’s also way more affordable, Boxsters being £8-12,000 more. You get what you pay for with the S2K it seems, and what you get is a terrifically ingenious package with some flaws.

There are few other roadsters you can think of that fit the gap between MX-5/MGF and TVR/Boxster with 150 mph performance, tight handling, magnificent engine, a screeching wail of an exhaust at high revs and Honda’s bullet-proof reliability. What you don’t get is practicality. But at £8-12K cheaper than a Boxster, what the S2K has on offer is pretty good.

What is not on offer yet is an S2K S with traction control, a beefier engine and better steering wheel/seat adjustments, or an S2K with revised body shape enabling a full-size spare wheel and more cabin space. Honda has tweaked its basic package for Europe a couple of times and provided a more substantial tweaking for the US but there is no word yet on the model’s future.

Enjoy it while you can.

Previous stories:

www.pistonheads.com/roadtests/honda/HondaS2000.htm

www.pistonheads.com/news/default.asp?storyId=7430

www.pistonheads.com/doc.asp?c=120&i=5155

Author
Discussion

dinkel

Original Poster:

24,502 posts

186 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Would the NSX V6 fit in the S2K . . .

This is still a hell of a car. Silent and smooth when shopping / fierce and screaming when steaming.

huge

1,138 posts

212 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
My wife used to have one,nothing put a smile on her face like that car....and I mean nothing !!

tonyhetherington

32,083 posts

178 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Absolutely awesome car and I almost ALMOST bought one. The only thing that stopped me was that I didn't think the interior was the interior of a 27k car!

Absolutely great fun though, quick, and amazingly good through the twisties...as proved by CarZee's S2k on EuroHoon!!

daydreamer

1,409 posts

185 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Absolutely - and I'd disagree that the Boxter S leaves them for dead too - although I am a little biased

eein

237 posts

193 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
I'm surprised Honda havent tried to develope this car further to provide more hard core versions as well as more paractical ones. Maybe even a slightly bigger 2+2 coupe (a la prelude) would be nice. A longer Prelude like nose would certainly give room for larger engines or the V6 VTEC.
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Mark Benson

4,701 posts

197 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
This man has a spare wheel fixation, is the space for a spare wheel that important?

In relation to driving the thing, the reviewer misses out the fact that a torque defecit is somewhat overcome by an excellent gearbox which has the perfect ratio for almost any occasion - it's just that one has to remember to change before making an overtaking attempt and not rely on the engine pulling so strongly from the bottom end of the rev range.
The car sticks to the road like s**t to a blanket in the warm and dry, less so in the cold and wet but to give the car traction control would, to me anyway, dull the experience. The S2000 just requires a bit more caution (the same as any powerful RWD car without driver aids), the car is by no means undriveable or as keen to put itself into a hedge as it's reputation suggests.

The boot? I'm confused here. My girlfriends old MX5 had far less boot space, and for a 2 seater convertible, I would say it's ample (unless you're as prone to punctures as the reviewer would appear to be), certainly enough for 2 adults to go to LeMans and back with full camping gear and luggage.

The choice of an S2000 as my company car was simple - look at the alternatives, TT - a Golf in a dress, BMW 3 series - a saloon with an image problem, and pricey when specced up, what else can be had for under 30k, can be driven every day and which delivers as much fun?

Neil_H

15,313 posts

179 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Strange for a review of a fairly hard-edged sportscar to focus on boot space and spare tyres, two things which most buyers of this car really wouldn't care about. Did he even drive it?

I love mine and for the money there are few cars, if any, that can touch it.

tonyhetherington

32,083 posts

178 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Neil - I agree with you. Those are two things that would not have affected my decision in buying it at all!

Incidentally, just wanted to say thanks for the advice you gave me when I was looking at getting one! Though I didn't go through with it in the end (for reason as above), was still very good of you.

Let me stress though, engineering wise, and capability wise, I think it's superb!

BigGriff

2,192 posts

212 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Have been told by my local Honda dealer that Honda will can the S2k. They are worried by this move at leaves little in the Honda stable that is sporty enough (Civic Type R aside).

R

LuS1fer

33,870 posts

173 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Road & Track tested the S2000 in August 2003. It hit 60 in 5.5, 100 in 14.3 and the quarter mile in 14.1

They've just tested it in a new Group Test but I don't have the results handy but do recall they were very impressed by it.

If Honda are dropping the S2000, it's for the same reason as the NSX, not enough sales. I suppose a Civic Type R convertible is next. LOL.

Neil_H

15,313 posts

179 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
tonyhetherington said:
Neil - I agree with you. Those are two things that would not have affected my decision in buying it at all!

Incidentally, just wanted to say thanks for the advice you gave me when I was looking at getting one! Though I didn't go through with it in the end (for reason as above), was still very good of you.

Let me stress though, engineering wise, and capability wise, I think it's superb!


You're more than welcome Tony, any excuse to talk cars is ok with me

Gazboy

51,965 posts

179 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Think it's time to change journo's...

Bonce

4,339 posts

207 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
Coming from the Elise, I've found the boot of my S2K to be absolutely cavernous!

peter miller

196 posts

180 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
I purchased an 04 S2K this time last year, to replace my Chimaera, which was giving me a real headache with a leaking power steering rack, could not blame the car, it was Tvr who needed 3 attempts to get it right, each time 4 weeks off the road waiting for parts.in the end out of sheer frustration I went out and bought my new Honda.
I only kept it for a couple of months, I quite soon found the total lack of grunt at lower revs really annoying, having to keep over 6K to retain any real response.
everything else about it was better than the Trev, But when I got it back I realised how much I missed the sound and torque of a large capacity V8 which for a weekend fun car I guess thats what really matters. I suppose If I needed to use it for every day commuting as well then I probably would still have the Honda.

CTE

1,174 posts

168 months

Tuesday 8th March 2005
quotequote all
For some months before christmas, I had the depressing task of trying to find myself a new suitable car for business use. Being a sports car nut, and fellow petrol head, no practical, but very capable modern saloon/hatch really caught my interest (so good, they are boring). So I test drove a few more interesting cars, including the S2000. The point of my ramble, is that I loved many elements of the car, including the engine. However, I was very dissapointed with the chassis rigidity. Everytime we went over a manhole cover, or similar piece of poor road surface, my rear seat squab shook, almost as if it were not bolted down correctly. I did not think the ride was particularly stiff, and was therefore surprised. This for me is the lasting impression, which is a shame, because I love everything else about the car.
After test driving a variety of cars including a Nissan 350Z, and a Cooper S works, I bought purely by chance, a mint low mileage Porche 968 Club Sport. Its ride is extremley firm, but it does not shake around over bumps. However it shakes the occupants around, further numbing the old grey cells! However, I love it, and it gives me a buz that very few cars (for me) can match.

jrm

1,978 posts

160 months

Thursday 10th March 2005
quotequote all
BigGriff said:
Have been told by my local Honda dealer that Honda will can the S2k. They are worried by this move at leaves little in the Honda stable that is sporty enough (Civic Type R aside).

R


I thought I read smoewhere last year that Honda were canning the replacement NSX, in order to concentrate on building a replacement to the S2000 that was more of a direct competitor to the Boxster S.
I don't think lack of sales can be much of an issue, everything I hear is that they are flying out of showrooms and Honda have been surprised by the high sales figures

Gentelman

183 posts

172 months

Thursday 10th March 2005
quotequote all
Bonce said:
Coming from the Elise, I've found the boot of my S2K to be absolutely cavernous!



Anyone seen the luggage space on the Toyota MR-Spyder?

'nuff said.

But on the other hand, my Porsche 928 can fit more lumber than my toyota Camry with its seats down, so I think Toyota must have other things its worrying about (don't see what, though).

But in my opinion, those issues are not why one would buy an S2K, MX-5 or Elise. If I remember correctly, the BMW M-coupe and roadster didn't even have a spare!

>> Edited by Gentelman on Thursday 10th March 18:03

dinkel

Original Poster:

24,502 posts

186 months

Saturday 12th March 2005
quotequote all
[quote=Gentelman]
If I remember correctly, the BMW M-coupe and roadster didn't even have a spare! /quote]

Maybe they have those gel-tires that bring you home whatever you run through . . .

FunkyNige

6,224 posts

203 months

Saturday 12th March 2005
quotequote all
LuS1fer said:
Road & Track tested the S2000 in August 2003. It hit 60 in 5.5, 100 in 14.3 and the quarter mile in 14.1


I wouldn't pay too much attention to 0-xxx times for the S2000, or any high-revving Honda, as the 0-30 times is relatively slow due to the VTEC kicking in at high revs. Looking at in gear times (30-70, etc.) would give a better indication of how well it performs.