Driving Impressions and Tech Talk

Honda S2000
 "one foot over the line"

David Cipolloni & Charles Leonard
March 21, 2001

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Honda S2000

It was one of those gloomy days in the urban tundra of the Northeast, a light rain falling on partially frozen, manicured lawns of the sagacious residents of Princeton NJ.  One of those days that fills the coffers in many of the quaint little coffee houses and specialty shops that line the streets in and around Palmer Square. 

It was a lazy Saturday, when most are moving slowly about their business, portraying the astute behavior so commonly found of the culture which gives Princeton its long standing social image. A place where Mercedes, BMW, Volvo and Porsche are the vehicles of choice for many of the residents. Is this a place for a Honda dealership? 

The S2000 looks good from any angle

Well, as it turns out, there are many folks in and around Princeton that appreciate the value of low cost, reliable transportation. So when the phone rang and the dealership said the yellow Honda S2000 had arrived, we pulled on the rain gear and set out for our new drop top from Japan. There were two of us in the New Beetle on the way out, but only one of us would be able to log the first few miles on the new Honda. "Oh well, it's raining anyway", I figured a good CD in the New Beetle would make the ride back to Bucks County Pa. a pleasant trip anyhow. "I'll just wait for Charles to show up after the appropriate paperwork is completed". A short time later there was a sound distinctly different then the usual wind whipping in from the North East.

The wind, that normally comes churning along the Delaware river, is typically not much to take notice of. But on this day the wind carried a sinister sound, an eerie high pitched howl, it grew in crescendo until the wind could no longer be heard above its banshee like report. While I knew it was much too early for Charles to arrive in the S2000, and I had made good time in the New Beetle, there must be some explanation. Abruptly the sound was gone and rounding the corner in a slow sweeping turn I could see the bright yellow Honda arriving. As it drew closer I could see the expression of the driver and knew it was going to be a good day. 



There is quite a bit that could be said about the S2000's interior and it really comes down to what the individual buyer is looking for. If you are over 6' tall and a tad on the heavy side you might find the interior to be a little cramped. On the other hand, if you are of average height and appreciate a cockpit that feels like the business end of a Formula One car, you won't be disappointed. 

By now you more than likely have heard all the rave about how great the six speed shifter in the S2000 is and we won't hesitate to say you would be hard pressed to find a quicker or more satisfying shifting experience. Just about every aspect of the interior relating to spirited driving gets kudos from us, there is no mistaking the intent here. 

Where cars like the Audi TT, Porsche Boxster and Mazda Miata have ample room to shift about in your seat, this is not the case in the Honda. Once strapped in the cockpit you have little room to move and you will stay firmly put through those high speed "S" turns. Operating the controls in this Honda as you work your way up the rpm scale is a sensation that is not easily duplicated in the motoring world. The experience is so euphoric you will find yourself repeating the high speed sequence of events time and time again. Don't be surprised when you are idling past your local law enforcement officer that you don't feel a little guilty. If nothing else, this car should come equipped with a full Nomex suit and full face racing helmet. 

In keeping with the "race car" image, the interior does lack a little refinement in the creature comfort department. To be more specific, the radio provides less audio enjoyment than the sweet sounding engine. The windshield wiper motor, which sounds like it's mounted under the dashboard, provides enough electro/mechanical whine to dampen your spirits further on those rainy days. The instrument panel, with its digital readout and orange lighting, looks like something from the 80's Nissan parts bin.  The layout, however, is easy to read and very functional. There is something to be said for that functionality when a quick glance is all you have time for. We found ourselves seldom listening to the radio in this car, it's not that we don't enjoy music, it's just that we enjoyed the symphony from the engine more than the stereo.

Engine and Gearbox

This is the most amazing normally aspirated street-legal engine ever made.

When it comes to engines, Honda doesn't hesitate to claw its way to the top. Without superchargers or turbochargers the little 2.0 liter engine handily cranks out 240 horsepower. Even more amazing is the little trick Honda has played in regard to piston speed the engine is capable of producing. Typically a high rpm engine has a relatively short piston stroke in relationship to the bore diameter. This is not the case with the Honda since the bore is 87mm and the stroke is 84mm. At 8,300 rpm's the piston speed is 4,575 feet per minute (fpm) and 4,960 fpm at the 9,000 rpm redline. Still not impressed? well, you might be interested in knowing that 4,000 fpm was considered some kind of mechanical limit for four stroke engines for many years. The piston speed numbers produced by this Honda engine easily surpass most racing engines in production today, with the exception possibly of the ultra high tech powerplants found in race engines used in Formula One and CART Champ cars. 

A 9,000 RPM redline for a street-legal car in the low $30,000 price range is something to marvel at.

To help the engine breathe, Honda has incorporated variable valve timing technology into the top end of the engine. Using a second set of cam lobes, the intake and exhaust valves are capable of opening sooner at higher engine speeds (starting just under 6,000 rpm's). This, along with a low restriction air induction system, allows the engine to breathe freely all the way to 9,000 rpm's. The bottom end of the engine incorporates similar technology with the use of friction reducing materials. A forged crankshaft, connecting rods and forged aluminum short skirt pistons add strength to the reciprocating mass in the bottom end. The five main bearing caps are incorporated into a single rigid casting that prevents flex in the web area of the block where the crankshaft does its dirty work. Remember, Honda was a motorcycle company before it was an automobile company. 

We mentioned the shifter earlier in the article and need to state further the precision operation of both the shifting mechanism and transmission itself. The stubby six speed shift lever has very short throws and has precision gating to guide the lever through each shift. Snapping the shift lever from one gear to the next, as the tachometer pins the 9,000 rpm redline, is a quick and precise movement. The transmission synchronizers are so good that it's almost impossible to miss a gear. Next time you watch a CART or Formula One race take notice of how quickly the drivers change gears, granted they use the Shift-Without-Lift technology, but you will hear something closely resembling that sound when you make your first high speed pass in the Honda S2000. 

Driving Impression 

Along the banks of Carnegie lake in Princeton, NJ

Wind the tach up to around 6,000 rpm's, let the clutch out, hang on and get ready for the shift into second gear, it's gonna be coming quickly. The car tracks straight and true, right out of the gate, wherever it's pointed that's where you're going to go. The Honda cuts through the air like a shark through water, the engine running up the powerband with a banshee-like wail, the grins come fast. The 6 speed transmission does not incorporate an overdrive, the final drive ratio is 4.10:1 and you have almost 9,000 rpm's of fully usable power on tap. I don't know about the rest of you, but that translates into one hell of a ride from where we are sitting. Oh, did we mention the car only weighs 2,800 lbs?

Well, sooner or later we had to drive the S2000 at a leisurely pace and take note of how compliant the car was for everyday use. No real complaints here either, this car is quite at home on less then perfect roadways, in part due to its rigid body and frame structure. In fact, we didn't really detect any cowl shake or other moans of contortion from the vehicle. The steering is very precise, the brakes didn't exhibit any detectible fade and controls were within easy reach of the driver. There are even radio controls to the left of the steering wheel that make the radio easier to use while driving.  

If you plan on taking a cup of coffee with you on a leisurely outing you better claim the cup holder before your passenger does, there is only one holder in the center console. And don't plan on storing a lot of stuff around the interior of this car either, there is only a small storage compartment positioned vertically between the two seats. There is a small net-type storage area on the right side of the transmission tunnel but whatever you put there will be in plain view of would-be thieves. 

Points to Consider

Grrr....I eat Mazda's, BMW's and Porsche's for breakfast

The Honda S2000 comes with many standard features such as HID headlights, 6 spd, CD player and power top. If you consider the standard features of this car and its performance capabilities, there is little else to choose from in the $32,000 price range. Since a fully loaded Miata is around $30,000 and a Porsche Boxster is almost twice the price, there is little to choose from. The Audi TT, while a great car, does not perform at the level of the Honda. Even the BMW Z3 2.8 comes up short on horsepower compared to the 4 cylinder Honda. For Honda to come up with a car as good as the S2000, in their first attempt at a car in this class, is an indication of the engineering expertise that Honda possess. There is also something to be said for the fact that owners won't have to tap their swiss bank accounts when the warranty expires on this car. Honda is not selling Elixir off the wagon here, this car is the real treatment for the sportscar blues.

Stuff We Liked:

  • Standard Xenon headlights

  • Standard 6 spd close ratio transmission

  • Standard CD player

  • Standard power top

  • Overall style and design

  • Real race car engine technology

  • Honda reliability

  • Shifter

  • Pushbutton starter

  • Great neutral handling 

  • Good brakes

  • Limited slip differential

  • Standard leather interior

  • Standard anti-theft system

  • Standard keyless remote

  • Standard roll bars

  • Honda got it right the first time

Stuff We Didn't Like:

  • Orange instrument lighting

  • Wimpy sounding stereo

  • No tilt wheel

  • Noisy wiper motor

  • limited interior storage 

  • Not for tall drivers

Technical Specs

Type..........Inline 4 DOHC, aluminum block and head, variable valve timing
Displacement..........2.0 liters
Compression Ratio.......11.0:1
Engine-control system..........PGM-FI
Power (SAE net)..........240 bhp @ 8300 rpm
Torque (SAE net)..........153 lb-ft @ 7500 rpm
Redline..........9000 rpm

Transmission..........6-speed close ratio
Final drive ratio......4.10:1

Wheelbase..........94.5 in
Length..........162.2 in
Width..........68.9 in
Height..........50.6 in
Curb weight..........2800 lb
Fuel capacity..........13.2 gallons

It looks good even with the top up

Front headroom..........34.6 in
Front legroom..........44.3 in
Cabin capacity..........48.4 cu ft
Shoulder room........50.2 in
Hiproom...................49.8 in

Independent double wishbone front and rear.

Type..........Coaxial electric power assist, 35.4 ft turning radius
Lock-to-lock.......2.4 turns

4 Wheel Disc with 3 channel ABS standard
60 mph - zero..........110 feet

Wheel size..........F: 16 x 6.5 in, R: 16 x 7 in
Wheel type..........monoblock aluminum
Tires..........Front: P205/55ZR16 Bridgestone Potenza
                 Rear:  P225/50ZR16 Bridgestone Potenza

Zero to 60 mph..........5.8 
Top speed ..........150 mph

EPA city driving..........20 mpg
EPA highway driving..........26 mpg

Comments can be sent to the author at contacts@autoracing1.com.



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