22 April 2010| Most of us can recall when we saw the Honda S2000 for the first time because it was such a radical departure from the company’s other North American offerings. It was like no other Honda on the road with its roadster design and front-engine, rear-drive layout. While Honda and Acura had been gaining plenty of credibility on the race track, its bread and butter vehicles were solid, reliable commuter cars. The flagship Acura NSX had gained notoriety a serious performer but the lofty price tag was cost prohibitive for many buyers. On the other side of the spectrum was the dazzling performance of the Acura Integra Type R. However, the Type R was overlooked by more mature drivers due to its inherent boy-racer characteristics, such as a lack of air conditioning, sound deadening or even a sunroof in addition to the less desirable front-wheel drive.
It is not widely known that the S2000 was born from a long line of S-roadsters. Dating back to the early 1960s, the 2-seater drop-top with a front engine and rear-wheel drive was an important step for Honda. Truth be told, it was ‘the step’ because the first production car from Honda was the S500 roadster. Innovative for its time, the high-revving machine displaced only 531cc but revved to 9500rpm and breathed through quad carburetors. It produced only 44hp, but with a lightweight and nimble chassis it was a pleasure to drive. With roadster production topping out at 7,261 units, the lifespan of the Honda roadster was over almost as soon as it began and Honda shelved any plans for a follow-up until the mid-1990s.
With the Mazda Miata rewriting the rules of roadster performance and sales, Honda decided they it would not let Mazda or any other manufacturer walk away with that segment of the market. It vowed to release a lightweight, simple roadster that would boast industry-leading, naturally aspirated performance. Introduced at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show as a concept, the sleek new roadster had aluminum components and a perfect 50:50 weight distribution. As the concept made its way around the auto show circuit, the positive response led Honda to put the production version into gear. By 1999, the Honda S2000 was released in its first generation form, the AP1 chassis as a 2000.
Honda seemingly threw everything they had at the S2000 in terms of performance. The chassis was lightweight and extremely stiff, boasting a low-profile double wishbone suspension. The transmission was a close-ratio, 6-speed manual spinning up a Torsen limited slip differential for superior traction. The real shocker was the powerplant, a 2.0L DOHC VTEC engine that produced a whopping 240hp and redlined at 9000rpm. The engine was recognized as the highest horsepower per litre motor at the time- a title it still holds to this day. The impressive performance of the S2000, translated into an even more exciting version in 2004, with the AP2 chassis. With some minor facelift treatments, S2000s now featured more displacement, more torque and a wide, flat powerband. The horsepower remained the same, but the bump in torque from the 2.2L was definitely noticeable.
As the numbers began to dwindle, the S2000 was put out to pasture like many other exciting Honda and Acura products of the past, such the: Acura NSX, the Integra Type R and the Honda CRX Si. Concept sketches have fuelled rumours for years regarding a replacement, but Honda has yet to make an official announcement.
Our thanks to Honda Canada to let us have one last spin in this red 2009. One thing’s for sure, though, as the S2000 rides off into the sunset: it will be sorely missed.