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Why You Don’t Want a Honda S2000 April 19, 2008

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Cars.
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I love to drive. More specifically, I love to drive fast. Because of this, and because I was 40 years old at the time, I bought a bright-yellow 2001Honda S2000.

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you’ve been assaulted with pictures of me behind the wheel, mugging for the camera like some drug-crazed lunatic. I do not apologize for such behavior, because driving this car is a mind and mood altering experience, on par with any drug I’m familiar with.

Yellow S2000

However, this car is not for everyone. In fact, many of the attributes of this car that make it so attractive to me, are likely to be the very things that would cause others to walk away (stiff suspension, low to the ground, and so on). What if these attributes are attractive to you too? Does that mean you should rush out and snap up an S2000 from the nearest Honda dealer? Not necessarily.

Here is a quick review of what I believe to be this car’s weaknesses. Based on my discussions with other S2000 owners, I’m not alone with these complaints. Read on, and you can decide for yourself if the short list of annoyances is enough to push you toward a different car.

The Short List

For me, the list of things that are “right” about this car is very long, and includes things like the seats, the headlights, the suspension, the gearbox/transmission (arguably the best 6-speed manual transmission in any mass-produced, sub-$50K passenger car), and the incredibly smooth and high-revving engine. (The 2001 version of this car redlines at 9000 RPM, and produces 240 horsepower from 2 liters of displacement. At the time, it had the highest horsepower/liter ratio of any normally aspirated automobile.) There’s more to love, but you get the idea.

Here then, is my official “Short list of reasons to not buy an S2000”:

  • Worthless sun visors (there is no useful position for these)
  • No rain gutters on the convertible top (guaranteed wet knees when entering/exiting the car)
  • Incorrect “Day/Night” angle of the rear-view mirror (how many years has Honda been building cars?)
  • Expensive to improve performance (Honda squeezed all the easy performance out, so you have to shell out several thousand dollars for even modest improvements)
  • It’s small for anyone taller than 6′ (if you’re 6’2″, like me, you’re certain to get much more wind in your face than you really want)

And that’s pretty much it.

Are there other reasons to not own this car? Probably. You could argue that it doesn’t get the gas mileage that you’d expect for a 2800 lb car with a 2.0L engine and an (apparently) aerodynamic shape, or that the OEM tires wear out too quickly, or that the radio is sub-standard. In each case, you’d be right.

Along Comes Merry

And then, a sunny day comes along and the outside air temperature hits the mid-60’s F. At that point, the top goes down, and all of the reasons on the list above seem incredibly petty and foolish. You turn onto a twisty road, traffic clears out, you put your foot down, and you get to listen to what sounds like a Formula One engine racing toward the redline. You feel the surge of power when the RPM passes 6000, because that’s where the little engine that can (the one under the hood) starts singing a song that begs for repeated choruses.

Sunny day behind the wheel

That’s when you completely forget about the sun visors, because you’re already wearing sunglasses. You forget about how wet your knee got the last time it rained, because with the top down, it’s hard to clearly remember those days of Fall and Winter when the weather was so bad. Since it’s daytime, you’re able to completely ignore the oddity of a Day/Night rearview mirror that gets the angles all wrong, and seems incorrectly adjusted at night, no matter what position you put the mirror in during the day. The performance of the car on this mythical day is so strong that you forget how much you would have to pay to improve the acceleration or top speed.

That leaves you to ponder the wind in your face, and figure out if it’s excessive. As you ponder the wind, you downshift, accelerate up through the next turn, and watch the flickering of sunlight through the leaves of the trees as you pass through. Maybe you’re too tall for this car. Maybe it’s too much wind. You go through another downshift/accelerate cycle.

It isn’t.

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Comments»

1. Mad Scientist - April 21, 2008

I’ve always been impressed by the engineering that goes into the S2000, and there’s no compelling reason not to like it. I do, however, feel that it lacks heart and character, much like the NSX.

And I agree, Honda has never made a day/night mirror that functioned correctly.

2. Tim - April 21, 2008

Mad Scientist,

The really amazing thing (to me) is that I’ve owned Honda’s before, but never have I seen the Day/Night thing so out of whack. How complicated can it be to do this?

WRT the lack of heart/character, I dramatically prefer this car to the ’73 Z28, the ’85 RX7, and the ’91 Probe GT that I’ve owned previously. This car doesn’t feel “sterile” as I’ve heard the NSX described. It will bite you if you lift, but the balance is extremely tight, so you can exit “tail out” if you want at any time, without having to do so by generating ridiculous, power-induced slip angles like I had to with the Z28.

To me, talking about “heart” and “character” is like talking to an audiophile about “warmth” and “height of soundstage.” Those terms are so ambiguous, one can argue that my buddy’s Geo Metro has “heart” and “character.” Using that definition, I’d stick with “heartless.” 😀 – Tim

3. Mad Scientist - April 21, 2008

Tim,

While I can’t disagree about the ambiguity of the terms, I’m using them in my own self-defined terms (defined during years of driving and tuning, and seemingly impossible to nail down in words). I specifically added the words, “I feel” because of the impossibility to nail down exactly what it is I feel or don’t feel for the S2000. I also can’t explain exactly why the CRX is my favorite Honda made (it isn’t necessarily the best designed or engineered, but it’s my favorite just the same) for the same reason.

I’m big on driving a car because you enjoy it and because it feels “right” to you, and I absolutely prefer the feel of FC RX7s to the S2000, even though the S2000 has (slightly) more stable handling characteristics and a more finely tuned engine (rotary engines have multiple pros and cons, but the S2000 only needs to be above 5500rpm to induce an ear-to-ear smile).

I think your complaint about height is one that you’ll have with almost every Asian-built car that has any hint of styling (meaning two doors, sorry STi and EVO owners). I’m pretty short (5’6) so I squeezed into the S2000 easily, moved the seat forward a bit, and let the controlled tornado work. It felt like the S2 demanded little of me. I could push it, or lay off, and it felt very sedate. There was no violent thrashing, it was just controlled the whole time. I like when a car demands respect of its driver.

All that being said, I think the S2000 is a marvel of modern design, it’s a beautiful (yet ugly, somehow) thing. I liked driving it, but it’s not a car I’d buy. It’s just excessive enough that you don’t want to drive it in the rain, but sedate enough that it doesn’t feel like it should be bad for you.

I really enjoyed this post though. It was fun to read and hit on all the points that I’d consider important. Keep ’em coming, and consider me subscribed.

4. Tim - April 21, 2008

That makes sense (the explanation of “heart” and “character”). There’s part of me that still longs for the ridiculous torque of the Z28, including it’s ability to break the tires loose going into second gear (it was an automatic).

Similarly, I loved the RX7’s balance, and the sewing machine feel of the engine at all RPMs. However, that car was way too small for me. Anything more than an hour drive was going to be downright painful. I might have had fonder memories if I’d had the 13B instead of the 12A, but most of my 13B friends complained even more about the gas mileage than I did, so I’d have probably loved the improved torque, but complained anyway.

The Probe GT was actually a surprisingly good compromise. It had a back seat, so when I had small kids that was the reason for moving up from the RX7. It was much faster than the (listed) 175 hp rating, and all in all, felt… right. The only problem with that chassis was some pretty nasty torque steer, which made me wish for 4-wheel drive.

When they brought out the new Probe body style (in ’93?), there were rumors floating around that the SHO group had stuffed the Yamaha 3.0 liter from the Taurus SHO into a probe chassis, and somehow found the pieces to make it full-time 4-wheel drive. If that car had ever been produced, I would almost certainly have bought it. As much as I love the F20C, the Yamaha engine is just… (looking for the right words that are suitable for a G-rated audience, but also express the profound lust that I continue to have for that engine) wow.

I briefly became a sedan-guy, and enjoyed the heck out of a ’97 Nissan Maxima. (That’s another engine that I really enjoyed driving and working on.) The wonderful feel of that car convinced me that the torque steer of the Probe GT was a function of insufficient engineering, and not something inherent in front-wheel drive. If you’ve seen my review of the ’06 Hyundai Azera, it’s “feel” struck me the same way as the Maxima.

(Note to lurkers: I’m fully aware that torque steer is a complicated animal to address, and that the power/weight ratio of the Probe GT was a factor in how much I “felt” that when exiting tight turns.)

I have briefly driven a mid-70’s Vette, and if you want something that demands respect… that thing demanded focused attention ALL THE TIME. I’m OK with something demanding respect, but I’m not crazy about always wondering if a minor loss of attentiveness is going to make me a lost ball in high weeds.

Thanks for taking the time to read, and I’ll keep an eye on the CRX 2.0 project. I find most of the people doing mods on the S2000 to be wasting time, and generally tell my friends that instead of throwing another $10K into that car, you should probably be looking at an M-Roadster or maybe a base Ariel Atom 2. (Which, by the way, is ugly as home-made sin, but I would absolutely not care.) – Tim

5. Mad Scientist - April 23, 2008

It’s interesting that the Probe interested you more than the RX7. I can see where you’re coming from, though. I’m putting CRX 2.0 on hold for a month or so while I solidify my daily driver (v8-powered 240z) and get it to a point where I can realistically rely on it.

As for the mid-70’s Vette, think of my datsun as the same thing (I actually have a 327 that I think is out of a C1 Corvette) with about 1000lbs shaved off it. Talk about a hair-raising experience!

I really don’t see a reason to do anything more than a cam in an F20c. A good (crower, anybody?) set of cams will really bring it to life, you’ll see a notable difference, and you can expect to spend around $500 for a ~25-50hp peak gain. I’ve seen superchargers, I’ve seen carbon fiber this’n’thats, I’ve seen dual 4″ exhaust outlets, and I haven’t seen a marked point to any of them. The engine is built! It’s good! We (meaning consumers) do not have the means to out-engineer Honda. The s2000 really is their crowning achievement in engineering, and they hit the nail right on the head. That doesn’t make it any less ugly, to my eyes 🙂

On the Ariel front, I love the purity of the cars and the fact that they do exactly what they do… perfectly. I’d still rather have a sportbike. That way you get more perfection for less money (and save money on tires). I neither love nor hate the styling of it. It’s a set of wheels with an engine. It commands my respect.

6. Tim - April 23, 2008

Jesse,

I was reading about your 540Z yesterday, and it reminded me that I inherited a ’72 240Z for a couple of months. It was a stock engine with the SU side-draft carbs, but my buddy had gone completely through it to rebuild the body/chassis. All of my friends complained about riding in it because “it’s so rough over bumps,” but I just couldn’t get enough of it. There are days that I wish I still had that car.

However, that can’t compare to the beast you’re looking at. 😀

I haven’t talked to anyone who’s cammed an F20C and been happy with the results. Where’s the torque peak on that, and what are you sacrificing to get that?

My assessment has been that the most cost-effective performance enhancement would probably be a quicker diff gear. I agree completely with the exhaust comments, and feel the same way about intake upgrades. What’s the point? The thing is ridiculously efficient from a volumetric standpoint.

Ariel vs. Bike for me, comes down to a matter of keeping my wife from freaking out about it. Sad, but true. – Tim

7. Mad Scientist - April 25, 2008

Tim,

You think your wife won’t freak out about an Ariel Atom? You’ve got a keeper there!

Back in NH (bad place to own an S2000) I had a buddy who got a pair of Crower cams for his S2, and was very happy with the results other than a marked decrease in gas mileage. It wasn’t as huge a deal in 2003 as it is now, and the power increase (if I started spewing numbers, I’d be making it all up) was noticeable. The idle sounded rough and angry, and overall I’d say it was worth the $400 or so he paid (again, assuming mileage isn’t a big concern.

My 240z has what amounts to cut springs, and it has about 1″ travel before it hits the bump stops. I’m taking the suspension from the 260z in my garage and putting that in (hopefully this weekend), which should really straighten out the ride. That 260z still has the stock motor with two sets of SU side-drafts. It isn’t assembled, so isn’t running, but I think I’m just going to sell all that as-is after I get what I need from it.

8. Tim - April 25, 2008

I haven’t worked through the part where I have to tell my wife about “the Ariel Plan.”

I work in NH a lot, and I can’t imagine driving this car there except for about 6 months out of the year. The only thing I can imagine you’d add with a cam change would be boosting the torque at the low end, which would explain the idle roughness you described. I found some Toda cams that sound like they have this characteristic, but still have to wonder if swapping out the rear gear wouldn’t have more impact/$.

You definitely need to swap those springs. The added weight in the front of the 260 made the stock springs stiffer, but you might want to go stiffer than that based on the 2600/350 weight delta. Even so, it sounds a bit like the “Monster Miata” that a friend used to have. – Tim

9. vanheng - December 19, 2008

cool post, very interest considering I was planning to get a used honda s2000, maybe there at 04 year.

10. Mitch Lazarus - April 27, 2009

Well for what it’s worth I have had my s2000 since 2002. I had to have a blue on with a glass rear window, and that’s when it became available. I love everything about the car, and any issues I had, I have rectified.

It has an upgraded suspension, sound system, and a supercharger.

I worked out the mirror issue long ago. Reverse the way you would normally use the mirror.
Use the night mode for day and once you have set the angle, the other position

jesse - July 12, 2014

I’ve also had mine since 2002, and I love it!! I have never had to replace the brakes. This car is awesome!!

11. Tim - May 21, 2009

Isn’t it difficult to be in love with a car like this. Makes you think though… If Honda spent any more time improving the rear view mirror. Or added a top of the line stereo or any of those other features that BMW and Mercedes tell you you need, would they have missed something on the transmission or the engine or the suspension. I’m happy they didn’t.

12. Bill Wright - July 7, 2009

I own a 2007 S2000. ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT! It’s as close as I can afford to get to a Formula 1 car. Only 2 complaints. The first is I love the way it runs at 8000 RPM. But I wish it would rev to 17000 rpm I keep bumping the limiter just when it really gets going. MORE MORE MORE is all I think of when I shift to the next gear. Second and definitely the most disheartening is the amount of torgue steer this car has. Step of the throttle and the car goes left. Let off the throttle the car goes right. You can steer this car down the highway with the throttle alone. That to me is a major design flaw from Honda’s engineernig team. Why it does it I have no idea!

For those of you who drive WRX’s, NSX’s or any other “so called” sport tuner….. An S2000 is a wild animal (Under $35,000) that wants to run. It is difficult car to drive around without sticking your right foot through the floor, gripping the wheel, slamming the gears and wandering when the police are going to take you to jail.

I find it nearly impossible NOT to run the snot out of it.

Sure, I’ve driven a Z06 and had the opportunity to be driven in a 911. But for $35,000 you’ll find nothing even close.

13. Tim - July 7, 2009

Bill, it sounds to me like there is definitely something wrong with your car. Typically, the term torque steer is used to describe a characteristic of a front-wheel drive car, and is usually a design issue. Unless you’ve got some major problems with the rear suspension, I can’t imagine a properly aligned rear end causing the kind of steering issues you’re describing.

Granted, in a turn, you can definitely hang the tail out (or bring everything around) if you hit the V-TEC point in mid-curve, but your comment about steering it down the highway makes me think that something is seriously wrong. I would have that checked out.

I agree wholeheartedly with all of your other comments. It’s amazing that I’ve not been ticketed in this thing, because it just begs for more and more throttle. Thanks for stopping by. – Tim

14. roger - November 21, 2009

what is your opinion of buying a 2005 s2000, or a 2007 with the wire throttle and stability control? are the improvements made on 2006 enough to get that year or later, or is the 2005 a better car without those improvements?

Tim - December 6, 2009

Roger, I don’t have any first-hand experience with the 2006 and later cars, but I have to say that I’ve been in a couple of situations with mine (caught by surprise in the snow) where stability control would have been extremely useful. Unless there were questions about the condition, I would probably opt for the newer car.

Thanks for stopping by! – Tim

15. Doug - October 16, 2012

I have owned an 2002-S2000 for about 6 years, bought it used. I drive this car every day except December through March or mid-April. I would have absolutely not compalints about the car. How much more performance do I want with with about a 150mph top speed. The 9k redline is like riding in a crotch rocket motorcycle. The radio thing is so what, this is a convertible it is inherently noisy and a spectacular radio is probably useless anyway. This is not a car to drive in the snow not with 4 inches of ground clearance, rear wheel drive and the final drive ratios it has. You are right about not being over 6 feet, I am 5-`10 and traffic signals are obscured by the windshield header and the mirror, those are my only “complaints” but I can live with those.
To me it has heart and soul, I also owned a new 1967 Olds 442 and that by definition had heart and soul, but of the two I prefer this vehicle. My wife and I travel in it all the time, yes with luggage easily for a week, of course using habits gained in motorcycle riding. It rarely does not get a “nice car” compliment. In the under 50k class it in my mind has no comparison. If you want creature comforts do not drive this car because then it is not about the driving experience and being one with the car and road.

16. mick - April 3, 2013

Rain, hell i do not drive my s2k in the rain, that would mean i have to put that black thing that sits behind me up. and if i’m driveing and it rains then up goes the black condom and home i go. i am 6’2″ and yes it is comfy, i do not even fit into a miata let alone drive it.

17. TTMartin - October 18, 2013

For the rear view mirror, set up the normal ‘night’ setting for use during the day, then flip it down for night use. This also keeps the mirror from shining street lights in your eyes when the top is down.

18. Re-posting an Interesting Article | A Guy with an S2000 - December 19, 2013

[…] Re-posting an Interesting Article […]

19. Joseph - February 17, 2014

Never seen so much complaining about a mirror. You have two side mirrors for changing lanes. Rear view mirror is nearly superfluous in this car. My aftermarket top does have rain channels, albeit small ones. Don’t drive this car in the rain anyway. I park and cover mine anytime the temp is below 45 F without the sun out.

The only thing I’ll agree on is the sun visors. There are certain times of day where you’re sunglasses are off due to fading light, but then you turn a corner and the sun is in full tilt. Much easier to flip down a visor than find sunglasses, except the visor doesn’t do much good.

20. rusty - May 24, 2014

12 years, 145,000 miles later and I still smile every time I start my S2k. Your short list of faults are irrelevant to me. It fits me like a custom-tailored suit (I’m 5’9), the visors function acceptably. I haven’t had the top up in months, so I’ll take your word on the wet knees.

TimTheFoolMan - May 24, 2014

In case it’s not obvious, they’re irrelevant to me, too.

jesse - July 12, 2014

Rusty, I agree. This car is fabulous!! There aren’t many S2000’s out there, and people ask me what kind of car it is.

21. jesse - July 12, 2014

I’ve had my S2000 since 2002, and I love it!! It’s very low maintenance. I have never had to change the brakes on this car, and its 12 years old. I enjoy driving it on PCH early in the morning or in the evenings. Downshifting is fun.

22. Lenore Beaudelaire - August 22, 2014

omg, my s2k was lance, and I loved that car. then I flipped it going 90. oh how I whish I still had lance. I have a corvette, but I still whish I had my s2k. a girl really needs both. that’s all. I am a 57yo woman. I like to drive.

TimTheFoolMan - September 4, 2014

A Vette and an S2K sounds like a great combo!

23. Jo Anne - October 23, 2014

I’m a 58-year-old woman, and I’m the second, maybe third, owner of my 2000 Honda S2000. I’ve owned it for ten years and it’s nearing 100,000 miles. Never babied it and it’s been my drive-to-work car from April to November (usually, but I do live in Montana, after all!). My winter driver is my 2011 Subaru WRX and I LOVE it, but my Honda owns my heart. Most women like to accessorize with trendy clothes and shoes, designer bags, and perfect make-up…but me, I love my one gorgeous accessory for my right foot!

24. Eathon and Charlotte Innis - November 20, 2014

Our Yellow 2002 is the new love of our life. Excessive speed from 5th gear at 60 mph or so as we ease into 6th gear and disapeer. I could go on and on but you get the picture…

25. CJ - January 6, 2015

This car was a celebration of Hondas F-1 success and from my point of view it is perfect. Its why I own 9 of them and kept every last one bone stock. My main concern is how millennials are bastardizing them with body kits, turbos, carbon fiber nonsense etc. Come to think of it that will just make all of mine more valuable in 20 years.

26. Fenton Sun - February 12, 2015

Very entertaining write-up, props! I’ve owned my 2004 AP2 (childhood dream car) since 2013. To this day, after test driving a few dozen sports cars ranging from 112hp to 580hp, my car is still the most enjoyable. Only mods I have are coilovers, intake, exhaust, and wheels. I used to drive way too fast through the canyons a couple times a month. Now I’m a bit more mature and addicted to autocross. Track days are in my near future. The only car I will sell my S2000 for is an NSX (adult dream car)!

27. JR - June 1, 2015

How does everyone feel about selling/trading a clean 2002 AP1 with 104,000 miles and getting a new 2016 ND Miata Club?

28. John Mayo - July 20, 2016

I waited until I was 49 to get a used S2000. I simply love the car. I should have bought an S2000 years ago. The car is just awesome.

29. Mark - September 21, 2016

I’m 57 and I bought my son’s 2001 S2000 about 5 months ago with 197,000 miles on it. Changed the plugs and all the oils (engine, transmission, differential) and it runs as smooth as ever. A real testament to Honda bulletproof reliability. This is simply an awesome car. Working on replacing the top now. Every time I drive the S it puts a smile on my face and if I had a bad day at work, I forget about it by the time I get home. Kudos and props to Shigeru Uehara, designer of the S2000, What a genius!

30. J Carlson - January 9, 2017

I’ve owned an ’02 since the model year was released with notable upgrades we all likely know about. I drive it ONLY on great-weather days–always garaged when not screaming, have seen mine at 147mph top-down, and it STILL has less than 30 thousand miles on the ODO…bone stock (oil changes, fuel ups, tires, wipers & fluid, and battery have been changed).
I’ve similar complaints, which all similarly are no-more, as soon as the engine fires strong. One additional complaint: I cannot legally DRIVE this car around town above 1st gear without pushing “reckless”! (with 9000rpm redline, 1st throws me fast beyond the typical speed limit of 35mph…so I suppose red lights ARE nice, because it allows for abrupt stops before ripping those rounds RIGHT BACK to 9000 to the next light, or corner.)
LOVE this car. Dreamt of SIMPLY SITTING IN ONE since it was a concept, still have original cutout pictures of it from the 1st article I’d ever read! lol I don’t plan to sell it ever; I’ll allow my son decide whether to do so, or maybe my grandson, assuming he’ll be born to pass it onto! (my son is barely 4, and I’m 43! haha)
I’ll never forget the test drive I took the sales-kid on from the local Honda store prior to purchase. His manager never let him drive one, and it was his 1st test drive with one—other than myself, I’ve never had even-close to a more excited passenger, since most friends appreciated it, but the jealousy couldn’t allow ’em to fully enjoy it as much as this salesman. 🙂 And boy, did I push that test drive HARD, as soon as engine heated up to allow redline rush…right before I dealer-traded the yellow of their’s for the sebring silver I chose…not like it hurt anything–these S2Ks take whatever is thrown at ’em or whatever they’re thrown into…and laugh: “is that ALL you’ve got, rookie?!”

31. BW - April 24, 2017

I bought my S2000 with 32,716 miles on it in 2008. The car now has 138,400+ miles on it, and has been my daily driver ever since. I’m 52, 5′ 11″, 190 lbs, and love it every time I get inside! Wouldn’t dream of having an automatic! I run Mobile 1 full-synthetic and change the oil every 15,000 miles. Doesn’t smoke or use any oil at all.


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