Yet, for most people, the S2000 was an acquired taste. Its high-revving four-cylinder engine, manual-only transmission, video game digital gauges, minimalist interior design and décor, and seeming lack of refinement were not what people expected in a $35,000 convertible that competed against entry-level Bimmers and Benzes. The Honda S2000 – a car made for driving enthusiasts, by driving enthusiasts – was not for poseurs.
Unfortunately, being a driving enthusiast doesn’t automatically confer driving skills, and the first iteration of the Honda S2000 had a nasty tendency to lose adhesion with little forewarning, resulting in plenty of crunched sheetmetal after owners ran out of talent. Plus, using the S2000 as a daily driver meant ripping around town way up high in the powerband where the engine made all of its thrust, or bopping about in the lower rev ranges where the motor possessed all the muscle of a Mazda Miata.
To resolve these issues, Honda made several changes to the S2000 for the 2004 model year. A larger displacement, 2.2-liter engine with a broader powerband improves around-town responsiveness. Modified gear ratios with carbon synchronizers on all forward gears help to make the most of the power while easing gear engagement. Suspension tweaks aim to improve stability and ride quality, and larger 17-inch wheels and tires increase stick at the limit. Honda also recalibrated the electric steering for better road feel and less bump steer, and improved brake pedal response, too. Inside, the 2004 model got more shoulder and elbow room, along with an added cupholder. Capping off the updates, revised styling and a new wheel design visually signified the new-and-improved Honda S2000.
These recent changes were my excuse to borrow a New Formula Red 2005 Honda S2000 for a week and enjoy the summer sunshine in Southern California. Always exhilarating but never refreshing, the Honda S2000 is not a car for the faint of heart. To love the Honda S2000, you’ve gotta be a fan of four-cylinder engines, variable valve timing technology, manual transmissions, stiff suspensions, and singular-purpose design to feel you’ve gotten your money’s worth. But regardless of its faults, the car is truly a blast to drive, is extremely well built, and represents one of the purest sports cars on the market today. And with the recent updates, it’s better than ever.